Everything You Need to Know About New Zealand’s Best Mountains
New Zealand is nothing short of world class when it comes to mountains. It’s widely famed for its amazing peak vistas, hikes, and daunting summits. From North Island to South Island, a wide variety of mountains jut up across the landscape, gaining the adoration of the world over ever since the fellowship from Tolkien’s epic fantasy Lord of the Rings traversed the rugged peaks in the films. With some of the best day-hikes in the world and stunning walking trails traversing almost all of them, there’s more than one way to admire the best of New Zealand’s mountains.
The Geography of New Zealand’s Mountains
Straddled on both the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, South Island is dominated by the Southern Alps mountain range, the highest in Australasia. The mountain range extends from the south, beginning at Lake Wanaka before stretching north-eastwards and finishing at Arthur’s Pass. On top are grand glaciers that feed raging rivers, cascading down either side of the range, while the mountains range from heights of 900 metres all the way up to 3,050 metres (3,000 to 10,000 feet).
At the top and bottom of South Island is where you’ll find Marlborough Sounds and Fiordland respectively, awesome mountain ranges that have sunk into the ocean over thousands of years. The resulting jaw-dropping scenery superbly mixes mountains with coastline and fjords, drawing people from all over the world to explore.
Most of North Island’s mountains are situated in the central volcanic plateau, where the now semi-dormant volcanoes have violently moulded the landscapes throughout time. On the coast you can find some smaller mountain ranges as well, providing a lovely backdrop to the more populous island.
Mountainous Day Hikes
Day hikes are no doubt one of the best ways to enjoy some of the spectacular mountains found in New Zealand, getting you up close and personal with the nature on offer. There’s something for everyone in these day hikes that traverse the mountains, but generally the rewards always far outweigh the demands. Here are the best day hikes New Zealand has to offer to catch a glimpse of some of the country’s grandest mountains.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Commonly referred to as ‘the best day hike in New Zealand’, with many arguing it’s one of the best in the world, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a tramp (the Kiwi word for hike) full of astounding natural scenery. Located on the North Island in Tongariro National Park (New Zealand’s oldest national park), the unique volcanic landscapes are some of the best in New Zealand and are impossible to forget.
The trail takes you past a trio of active volcanic peaks: Mount Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu, and Tongariro. Mount Ngauruhoe is what many flock to see – it was made famous as Mount Doom in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The climbs on the 19.4km trek are steep and can be arduous, and the weather can be a bit unpredictable (this is New Zealand, after all, famous for delivering four seasons in a day). But it’s always worth the trouble. You can find out more about the best time of year to visit New Zealand here.
The majestic Aoraki/Mount Cook is New Zealand’s tallest mountain, with a staggering height of 3,724 metres (12,218 feet). Part of the Southern Alps that run up the spine of South Island, it finds itself in grand company, surrounded by many other towering peaks and five of New Zealand’s largest glaciers. The area is protected as the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Area and popular destination for tourists to go hiking for the astounding views on offer.
For those looking for an easy day hike with stunning views, the Hooker Valley Track (10km return) is mostly flat and almost like a footpath, good for people of all ages and athletic ability. The track follows the Hooker River and provides you with views of glaciers, icebergs and gorgeous mountains around every turn. A magnificent vista of Aoraki/Mount Cook awaits at the end of the trail, which is around three to four hours return.
Hiking to the peak of Ben Lomond is the embodiment of the lifestyle you can find living in Queenstown. A nondescript mountain summit hides a tough but rewarding hike towards the top, taking you through a native beech forest before leading you up into countryside, which instantly transports you away from the hustle of New Zealand’s adventure capital. Taking six to eight hours, awaiting avid hikers at the top are, of course, more astounding views into valleys, lakes, and the surrounding mountain peaks. This is also a great spot for some downhill biking.
Roy’s Peak is another of New Zealand’s most famed day hikes. Located in the Southern Alps on the South Island, climbing to the top of Roy’s Peak will take between five and six hours, and is a 16km-long trek taking you through grasslands towards the summit. From the top, astounding views are on offer of the Lake Wanaka region, with the glittering lake at the bottom surrounded by imposing snow-dusted peaks. If you're thinking of spending some time in the Wanaka area, check out the Mahu Whenua Ridgeline Homestead & Eco Sanctuary.
Rising 195 metres (643 feet) up just next to the New Zealand capital city Wellington, Mt. Victoria is an easy hike that lets you claim an amazing panorama over Wellington. Reached by walking through what is known as the Town Belt, an area of bush and forests blanketing the hills surrounding the city, many scenes from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings were filmed in this tranquil setting. Aside from the summit of Mt. Victoria, there are countless tracks meandering through the wild green hills, fading away the sounds of the city and transporting you into a magical world where you can spend a whole day exploring.
It’s easy to enjoy New Zealand’s mountains from afar as well, catching sight of picturesque peaks glinting in the sunset or blanketed with fresh snow. There are several different ways to enjoy seeing these mountains as well. Whether you’re booking a helicopter flyover, taking a boat tour, or just walking or driving past, these are New Zealand’s prettiest mountains where you can find plenty of photo opportunities.
This stratovolcano on North Island is without a doubt one of the most beautiful mountains in all New Zealand. It’s almost-perfect volcanic cone is one of the best in the world, drawing comparisons with Mt Fuji in Japan – it even sat in for the famous Japanese mountain in the film The Last Samurai, starring Tom Cruise. Shooting up 2,518 metres from the flat western plains of North Island, there are more than 300km of walking tracks surrounding the mountain and crawling over its sides. Summiting the mountain will take between eight and ten hours, although it shouldn’t be attempted in the winter without any experience with snow and ice climbing.
Auckland sits on a volcanic field, so there are quite a few volcanic peaks that surround the city and pop up in its outer limits, the most famous of which is Rangitoto Island. The island sits just outside of the city’s harbour, and as the highest peak in the area is a great place to catch some glimpses of the harbour, city, and its surrounding landscape. It’s an easy stroll to the peak, which is only 196 metres tall (643 feet), and is suitable for any level of fitness.
Backdrop to the adventure capital Queenstown are these glittering mountains, collectively called The Remarkables. Very hard to ignore when spending time in Queenstown, these mountains rise from the shores of Lake Wakatipu, and in the winter they turn into a paradise for skiing and snowboarding. Taking a walk along the lake provides one with unfettered views of the picturesque range, with the setting sun lighting up intricate details. Alternatively, enjoy the view from the top before racing down the slopes. The highest peak in the collection is Double Cone, with a height of 2,319 metres (7608 feet). If you are staying in this area, we recommend the beautiful Matakauri Lodge which is set on Lake Wakatipu and has stunning mountain views.
At the bottom of South Island is where you’ll find Milford Sound, a beautiful area of long fjords encased by daunting mountains. Mountains carved out from glacier melts some millennia ago tower over giant fjords, the entire area a paradise of gorgeous vistas and hiking trails, with waterfalls cascading of the sides into the fjords. Most visitors opt to take boat tours around the water to experience the scenery and catch a glimpse of the native wildlife found in the sound and at the mouth of the Tasman Sea. Visiting Milford Sound is one of the best things to do in New Zealand, and is on the bucket lists of most travellers.
Mitre Peak is the most iconic mountain found in the magnificent Milford Sound, with a height of 1,690 metres (5,560 feet). The sharp peak of the mountain is instantly recognisable, and the boat tours that venture out into the fjords always sail past the picturesque mountain. Climbing it is difficult, though not impossible with the right preparation.
Venturing into Mount Aspiring National Park is an experience that brings a beautiful contrast of landscapes. Short walks abound that provide views of the usual suspects – glaciers, mountains, and winding rivers running through valleys. But what really makes this National Park special is the variety of landscapes on offer, from forests of beech to mountainous grasslands. Mt Aspiring/Tititea is the tallest peak in the National Park, sitting at the junction of three different glaciers, the Bonar, Volta, and Therma. Book a helicopter tour or flyover to appreciate the raw beauty of the icy mountains – some tours even land on top of the glaciers.
Summits and Multi-Day Treks
For serious hikers, there’s no greater reward than finally reaching the peak of a mountain after a challenging trek. New Zealand has its fair share of peaks that draw in climbers from all over the world, looking to conquer the most challenging of peaks. The following aren’t for the faint of heart, but with the right preparation summiting these mountains is an achievement that you can take home with you and treasure for life.
The Southern Alps are the place to be, with numerous mountains that reach heights of over 3,000 metres (9,842 feet) lighting up the eyes of avid climbers the world over. Aoraki/Mt Cook, as mentioned before, is the tallest mountain in New Zealand, and as such attracts the most attention. But there are also lower mountain ranges on either side, full of peaks that provide an awesome challenge. Mt Tasman is the second tallest mountain in New Zealand just north of Aoraki/Mt Cook, another popular challenge.
Multi-day treks are a terrific way to escape the crowds and experience a real adventure. Spending a few days out in the wilderness with nothing but your own company or a select few allows one to get in touch with New Zealand nature. The following are the best in the country when it comes to multi-day treks.
In Fiordland National Park on South Island, the Kepler Track is a four-day affair that traverses mountain peaks and gorgeous valleys in the beautiful surrounds of the great fjords. Panoramas of the glittering icy peaks abound as you trek across the mountains, and you’ll feel small in the surrounds as you glance down at the far away lakes and fjords. If you want to combine stunning scenery and outdoor pursuits with luxury, then stay in the Fiordland Lodge. This is the only luxury lodge in Fiordland and it is in an incredible location.
Another multi-day trek to consider is also found in Fiordland National Park: the Milford Track. This has been deemed the world’s finest walk, beginning at Lake Te Anau and making its way into Milford Sound. Following rivers and lakes, the mountainous MacKinnon Pass provides stunning views at 1,153 metres (3,786 feet) before diving down into a valley past epic glaciers and dotted with waterfalls.
Mountains rule supreme in New Zealand, and this list is just a brief introduction to what’s on offer in the country. New Zealand is also home to a wide array of incredible beaches, you can find out more about them here.
To plan out and book your wild adventure into New Zealand and explore its stunning mountains for yourself, contact True Luxury Travel today. The team of experienced travellers can help you plan your New Zealand adventure and ensure you get your fill of the country’s magnificent mountains.
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