New Zealand Trail Running

[Below is the first article in a series that will profile trail running in various countries around the world. We’ve recruited local experts for each of the posts. Please get in touch if you are interested in having your country profiled.]

Trail Running in New Zealand
by Paul Charteris, RD of the Tarawera Ultramarathon

Jez Bragg and myself camped with Bryon Powell at Yosemite in June, a week before we ran Western States. As you can imagine we talked about trail running non-stop. It was one of those wonderful international experiences where we shared our passion for long distance trail running in the UK, USA, and New Zealand. As part of that continuing conversation, here is a brief description of the New Zealand trail running scene.

The Scene
With a population of only four million, a land area identical to Colorado and a coastline longer than that of the continental United States, New Zealand has a huge variety of places to explore in a relatively small area. No matter where you are, you are never far from the coast, are often close to the mountains and always have forests, streams and rivers to go explore. Running around gnarled roots of Pohutukawa on the coast, traversing active volcanic cones, climbing the Southern Alps or zipping over golden tussock lands, New Zealand is pretty much trail running heaven.

Mount Cook National ParkCrossing an alpine ravine in Mount Cook National Park.
(Photo courtesy of

Probably as a result of the terrain, we have an unusually strong history of exploration and adventure. The influence of explorers such as Edmund Hillary, Peter Blake, Rob Hall, Gary Hall, Graeme Dingle and Steve Gurney on the New Zealand psyche are undeniable. So, too, is the towering legacy of Arthur Lydiard to New Zealand running. Every Kiwi kid few up knowing about the great middle distance runners; Lovelock, Snell, Halberg, Walker. All were incredible athletes and a great source of pride for a small nation. Given our landscape, trails and running history you’d think everyone would be a trail runner.

trail running New ZealandRunners exploring the ocean near Aukland.
Photo courtesy of

Spoiled for Choice

The local endurance scene is dominated by multisport races, both adventure racing and triathlon. It’s not surprising. We have an abundance of lakes, rivers and coastline that lends itself very well to hosting triathlon and adventure events. Given the ease of access, superb areas to train and abundance of events, both triathlon and adventure racing will continue to remain popular in New Zealand for a long time yet. The most famous adventure races are the Coast to Coast, Motu Challenge and Lake to Lighthouse. These types of events have probably done more than anything else to get kiwis running in wild and rugged places.

The Trails
I live in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, which is on the east coast of the North Island. My part of Kiwi-land has many ancient forests (such as the Whirinaki Forest), beaches (such as Ohope Beach), volcanic lakes, hotpools, lakes and streams. It’s a trail runners’ utopia. It’s quite a luxury when you are able to run trails and jump into a steaming wilderness hotpool at the end of it.

Thirty percent of NZ is in national parks with many tracks (as trails are known) traversing wild areas. The Department of Conservation (DOC) has an extensive series of huts along these tracks where you can stop for a cup of tea or spend the night. This makes one-day and multi-day runs in to NZs backcountry very feasible and cheap. Just make sure you wear appropriate clothing before heading in to the hills since the weather can change suddenly and check-in with the local DOC office for free maps and advice. Many of our great walks (known in the States as long trails) would provide a truly world class trail running experience. Again, check in with the local DOC office for advice on the Great Walks.

Kepler Challenge forest runningRunning through the forest in the Kepler Challenge on the South Island.
(Photo courtesy of the Kepler Challenge)

In December 2010, the 3,000km Te Araroa Track will open. This will be the newest of the world’s long walks and without a doubt will be hugely attractive for trail ultra runners around the world. Here’s the info on the track to be:

There are well over a hundred organized trail running races in New Zealand. Most of them are clustered in the warmer months spanning October to April with every part of the country with a great variety of terrain, distances and difficulty.

I am the Race Director for the Tarawera Ultramarathon. These races, which take place in March, includes 100k, 80k and 55k point-to-point runs on bush tracks (trails) and forestry roads around lakes and along a river. It’s a really beautiful run through an area that is of great significance to the local Maori people.

Whirinaki Forest Paul CharterisTarawera Ultramarathon RD Paul Charteris running
the Whirinaki Forest near the Bay of Plenty.

Among my favorite local races are the Tois Challenge, the Great Kauri Run, The Goat and the Tussock Traverse. Well-supported trail run series include the Totalsport trail races in Auckland. At the top of the South Island, the Nelson Striders put on a large variety of trail runs, including the internationally known Croesus Crossing.

Sjors Corporaal The Goat ChallengeSjors Corporaal, 2-time winner of The Goat Challenge.
Sjors trains by running after wild boars in Te Urewera National Park.

Among the longer distance races, most are in the South Island, including the Kepler Challenge (60km) ranks as the most popular and has attracted world-class trail ultrarunners. The South Island High Country is also home to the Motatapu. The Routeburn Classic is another high profile alpine run and the Heaphy Five-O is an ultra on one of New Zealand’s Great walks.

Kepler Challenge alpine runnerIn the high country during the Kepler Challenge on the South Island.
(Photo courtesy of the Kepler Challenge)

Tips for New Zealand Trail Running Travel
Here are some hot tips for US trail runners planning a trip to New Zealand.

  1. Visit to get all sorts of resources for planning your travels. Travel guides like Lonely Planet are very useful, also.
  2. Accommodation is generally cheap. New Zealand has a network of Backpackers Hostels that are very affordable (you don’t have to be a “Backpacker” to stay in them). The DOC Hut system opens up some tremendous backcountry exploring options.
  3. The trails are generally superb. In general, there are more stairs and more mud or vegetation than smooth Californian trails. All the same, they are easily runnable and you’ll need no special shoes or equipment. If you need gels, bring your own as they tend to be costly in New Zealand.
  4. Bring clothing that will help you in changeable weather, like a merino shirt or light rain jacket in your running backpack.
  5. Make contact with local runners on forums, such as, to hook up with local trail enthusiasts and check out the comprehensive running calendar on for upcoming events. Kiwis are a pretty friendly lot and often will be very willing to show you the best places to run and explore. Come on down and run.


Paul Charteris

Anyone who has run in New Zealand, either as a local or as a visitor, please share your thoughts on trail running in New Zealand.

Likewise, if you’re considering taking a New Zealand trip that involves trail running, ask away. Hopefully, someone will be able to answer your questions.

Routeburn Classic Eveline CoombeA snowy trail at the Routeburn Classic.
(Photo courtesy of the Routeburn Classic)

There are 29 comments

  1. Paul Charteris

    Thanks Bryon, The invitation is open to any trail runners and visit us in Kiwi-land. We are having a simply brilliant summer down here Cheers, Paul

  2. outdoordevo

    Wow- this sounds incredible!!! I'm planning a summer trip (Kiwi winter) to Australia and New Zealand with some friends – this is some fantastic inspiration!Thanks!

  3. Tony Lafferty

    Hey Paul..a good post and review of where you live and run..One day will make it out there..for now WS2010…Good Luck Paul..Tony Lafferty

  4. garobbins

    Great Post Paul!I spent four months down in kiwi-land in 2000…holy shit it's been a decade already!Wasn't a runner back then but enjoyed many of the great walks and would love to get back down there and test out my new found fitness on some of the classics. That 3000km trek will undoubtedly attract many an adventure athlete by the end of the year!GR

  5. Sarah Lavender Smith

    Paul, great article!I had the pleasure of meeting Paul and running with him during our time on the North Island; I'm currently spending two months traveling and running around the country. My favorite place to run/hike on the North Island was Paul's neck of the woods, around Tarawera falls (where his ultra course runs through) and the nearby Whakarewarea (sp?) forest, aka The Redwoods, next to Rotorua. For pics, please see <a href="… />I just ended a three-day kayak trip around Abel Tasman and have to say the best part was not the kayaking (very rough ocean conditions!) but the trail running in the mornings and afternoons. I highly recommend Abel Tasman as a trail running destination.We're running the Croseus Crossing race on the West Coast in two weeks and then running the Milford Trek. Many thanks to Paul for introducing us to this country!Sarah (travel blog) and (running blog)

  6. S. Baboo

    I have started saving for my wife and I to travel to NZ in order to run the Tarawera Ultra. We should make it in 2011 and I can't wait.

  7. Amanda Dykzeul

    Lovely article Paul, thanks for mentioning Croesus (on this coming Saturday) – we organise a number of other trail runs too, check out for more info on the Abel Tasman Coastal Classic, Furneaux Lodge Captain Cook's Landing, Subway Dun Run, and the new Escape from Tane's Forest – the mystery run (will change each year).Love the trails!

  8. Brian

    Any suggestions for May/June runs? My wife and I are coming down from the States and want to keep training while we're there.

  9. Daniel

    Hey Paul,

    Say someone was to take you up on some trail running in NZ for about 4-5 months of pure vacation. Do you have any recommendations on some groups I might connect with?


    1. Paul Charteris

      Hi Daniel,

      sure thing: 1. come and join us for the Tarawera Ultra. in March (you can hop in a relay team if long distance is not your gig)

      2. join my mate Mal for one of his running tours

      3. call in and see me when you are in Rotorua

      Cheers, Paul

  10. Daniel

    Alright! I just put my resignation in at work. Hopefully I can make it to NZ by February 1st. Time to register for the Tarawera Ultra, just have to decide between the 100k or 85k. Can you recommend a few locations for a long term rental apt/launching point for daily trail runs? Would the South Island or North Island be a better location? Nelson, Christchurch, Queenstown, and Auckland are the current locations I'm look at.

    See you in March!


  11. Elijah Kipruto

    hi I am planning to come over to NZ this March and could like to come and run several trails before going back to my home, Africa. Hope to see you then.

  12. Michael

    I will be living in Pukekohe in June. I am from the states and am not very familiar with NZ. Do you have any recommendations for trails in that area?


  13. Marcus Pletts

    My name is Marcus and I LOVE trail running. If anyone visits Queenstown and wants to run some trails, look me up and I will be happy to show you some awesome runs through some spectacular scenery. Runs range from 6km to 60km (or more!) all through forest and mountain terrain.

    1. Alexandria Law

      Hey! I am a trail runner from The states and I will be coming into New Zealand In January. I will be in queenstown for 4 days and would love to trail run with you!

  14. Chris Stone

    My wife Gill and I spent part of January and a lot of February travelling through north and south islands of New Zealand. Did some trail running along the way but the best was around Wanaka, particularly the Minaret Burn Track. Thanks go to Mal Law for renting us his home there.

  15. AndyMcConnell

    Hi, I know this article and comments are now years old, but its been about the most useful thing I've found! Hopefully someone is still monitoring it!
    I will have 4 days in NZ to fit in as much as possible. I've already planned to run the Goat tongaririo crossing race course (the day before the race – the race was sold out!), but I'd like to do another run as well if possible. I'd appreciate any advice on good runs in the area, or really anywhere between Okahune and Wellington. Or should I just suck it up and drive up to Rotorua and do part of the Taraweera course?

  16. @taraweraultra

    Hi Andy,

    I just did some running in the Tongariro area a couple of days ago. Running the Tongariro crossing is a great one. Oe way is a good run. You can bag the peaks of Tongariro or Ngaruahoe to add extra distance/elevation on your way if you like – or do the out and back. The W2K track near taupo is pretty sweet. Post on the Rotorua Trail Running Club facebook page and and some local may take you out on some sweet runs in Rotorua. If coming here on your own – I'd recommend and out and back on the Tarawera Trail Cheers, Paul C

  17. AndyMcConnell

    Thanks so much for the reply Paul. I ended up just staying around the Tongariro area and did a few really fun runs there, even got a day of clear weather which was nice! Can't wait to come back, hopefully for longer next time.

  18. anita romleigh

    Hi – I was wondering if you could please post this on your website, newsletter, and/or Facebook? We lost our original runner and then the replacement so we are now in a spot of bother, hence the scattergun approach (apologies)…my mobile is 0409 966 979 if anyone needs info – we are not fast but we plan to finish the race.

    It would also be fabulous if you could pass this on to any running clubs you know of, any help greatly appreciated.

    Thanks for your time, Anita Romleigh

    MARATHON DISTANCE RUNNER REQUIRED! Hi all…anyone keen to join Stef McLeod (bike) and me (swim) rom Bayside Tri Club (Melbourne, Aust) for our team for Challenge Wanaka (NZ) on 20 Feb 2016??? (yes that’s right, only about 6 weeks away…) doing the Full distance race.

    We have accomodation sorted from 18-22 Feb. Cost would be about $1400 to cover your share of team entry fee, accommodation (pro rata as needed) and flights (if needed). Need to add share of car hire, petrol and food. Merryn Hancox is also staying with us but plenty of room.
    Direct flights to Queenstown booking out so need a quick decision.

    Email or PM me or Stef via Facebook Messenger if you’re interested. We are aiming for completion, not the podium, so your run speed is irrelevant!

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