Trail Destination: New Zealand

Thinking about heading to New Zealand? We’ve got some trails for your feet to explore.


Written by DBR Ambassador Britta Clark

Imagine your dream trail.

Treacherously muddy single track with a 92% chance of getting lost? Nothing to follow except for a technical ridgeline? Miles of beachside bliss?

After a year spent running (and sometimes studying) in New Zealand, I can confirm that ALL of these dream trails, along with so many others, exist in this magical country, which should be featured at the very top of every trail running destination list.

New Zealand Insider Tips N Tricks:

Start dreaming up your trip by checking out the trail directory. Once there, you can sift through over 500 trails for your perfect distance, location, navigability, and ‘grunt factor.’

Many of these routes are uploaded by local Kiwis, who often provide detailed descriptions to augment your running experience, including (most importantly of course) where to fuel up on a famous NZ ‘meat pie’ and a classic Speights beer after completing your mission.

Runner’s Loophole: The more touristy, but also most easily accessible trails are those maintained by the Department of Conservation. The most popular of these trails are the ‘Great Walks,’ which are stunningly beautiful overnight hikes (‘tramps,’ in Kiwi), which book up years in advance. However, no bookings are required if you’re running the whole thing in a day!

With so many runs to choose from, you might accidentally spend all day eating meat pies and drooling over maps. To speed up your search, here are my three favorites.

Trail Running, New Zealand, Trail Destinations, Dirtbag Runners

Britta’s Must-Run NZ Trails:

1. The Routeburn Track:

This is a NZ ‘Great Walk,’ consisting of 30 kilometers of wide and perfectly maintained single-track. The trail features waterfalls, lakes, and numerous awestruck tourists cheering you on.

2. Wanaka Skyline Traverse:

This route will take you up the infamous ‘Roy’s Peak’ track before venturing along a glorious set of ridges and dropping down to a set of farm tracks.

3. The Choose Your Own Adventure:

Start on a trail and pick an appealing mountain. Head up, hiking through deep, grassy ‘tussock.’ Arrive at the top and survey miles of ridges. Run until you see what looks like a ski area. Run to the ski area and take the lift down! There are no limits to off the beaten track runs in New Zealand–check out for endless inspiration.

Britta’s Must-Run NZ Races:

And, of course, what’s a vacation without a race!?

In the summer, there are multiple races every weekend, from international UTMB qualifiers to numerous community races through forests and fields. Note to Northern Hemispherians: a New Zealand summer means your winter.

1. Three Peaks Dunedin:

This was my first race in New Zealand, and consisted of a 30-kilometer slog over three windswept hills around the university town of Dunedin. Sausages, cookies, and a close-knit yet welcoming running community will greet you at the finish.

2. The Oxford Odyssey:

This is an epicly difficult trail marathon in the Canterbury region. It features snow, friendly kiwis handing you lollies at aid stations, and (best of all) over 3500 METERS of vert!

3. The Mount Difficulty Ascent:

Another mission, this time in high country farmland and up trail-less scrubby mountainsides. Steep enough to use your hands!

4. The Kepler Challenge:

One of New Zealand’s most famous races over the ‘Kepler Track,’ 60k of pure mountain bliss. I’d run the whole thing all over again for all the delicious aid station food!

That’s all for now, but feel free to get in touch for any additional NZ trail advice!

DBR Ambassador, Dirtbag Runners, Trail Race

This is Britta’s first contribution to the Dirtbag Runners. Looking for other awesome races to run? Consider the Burning Man Ultramarathon.