Top trail running spots in the North Island of New Zealand

It’s a mildly humid morning on the volcanic landscape of New Zealand’s central plateau and you’re preparing to take on a new trail – one with varying terrain, native foliage and vistas to make you seriously think about taking a break.

As you lace up your trail running shoes and slip on your running vest, the outdoors is there for the taking. It’s time to tackle one of the best trails the North Island has to offer.

Paekakariki Escarpment Track – Kapiti Coast

Let’s start with a stunner less than an hour from Wellington. The Paekakariki Escarpment Track is a relatively short trail that climbs over 200 metres above steep coastal cliffs and the nearby Tasman Sea – for unmatched vistas of the rugged Kapiti Coast.

You’ll be running on a variety of track, steps and a couple of swingbridges while being perched high above State Highway One.

Time your run to enjoy the light changes of sunrise or the setting of the sun over the sea. And if you’re only running it one way, take the trail north from Pukerua Bay so you can finish at one of the reputable Paekakariki cafes.

Distance – 15 kms return (9.3 miles) plus an extra 5 kms (3.1 miles) if running from train station to station

Trail conditions – compacted dirt, steps and swingbridges

When to run – when the light’s changeable

Two people running over a hill near the ocean
You'll find it refreshing to trail run by the ocean

Maketawa Hut Circuit – Egmont National Park

It’s hard to leave the stunningly symmetrical Mount Taranaki (Egmont) out of this best trail running spots guide. The mountain obviously has plenty of trails up and around it – so you have various distances to choose between.

One highly recommended trail is the Maketawa Hut Circuit. Located on the northeast side of the mountain, this looped track is an ideal length for deciding how many circuits suit you.

A typical NZ hiking trail, the Maketawa is only 29 kms (18 miles) south of New Plymouth so it’s easily accessible. You’ll get a lot out of the rise to 1,000 metres (3,280 feet) – both physically and visually.

Distance – 6.5 kms return (4 miles)

Trail conditions – compacted dirt, steps and four-wheel drive track

When to run – early so you can glimpse the sunrise

Spa Park to Huka Falls Walk – Taupo

Smack bang in the centre of the North Island lies New Zealand’s largest lake – Lake Taupo – and not far north you’ll find the white water rush of Huka Falls.

Take some transport to Spa Park and hit the trail towards Huka Falls. An idyllic run that follows the mighty Waikato River. Depending on the time of day, you may encounter plenty of walkers on the trail but you’ll be rewarded with close-up views of Huka Falls.

The trail’s undulating in places yet is relatively short so you could run a few loops or even detour down the Aratiatia Rapids Track. Shared with mountain bikers, this trail has magnificent views of the river and is best finished when the dam spill gates are due to open.

Distance – 6 kms (3.8 miles) return for the Spa Park to Huka Falls Walk and 14 kms (8.6 miles) for the Aratiatia Rapids Track

Trail conditions – compacted dirt and gravel

When to run – early or late to avoid the tourist crowds

Two people running on a lake trail
Simply get out there and run

Tongariro Crossing – Tongariro National Park

Perhaps the greatest walk in the world, the Tongariro Crossing should definitely be on your trail running bucketlist.

‘Pure rugged NZ beauty’ is a phrase that best describes this trail. You’ll see unique geology and breathtaking panoramas while leaving your footprint on active volcanoes. Keep a close eye on the jagged rock as you run over this ankle-testing track.

Distance – 19.4 kms (12 miles)

Trail conditions – dirt, volcanic rock and boardwalks

When to run – it’s likely to be crowded so run when the weather forecast is best in the hotter months

Cooks Cove Walkway – Tolaga Bay on the East Coast

For a short trail run with historical significance and sensational sights, Cooks Cove Walkway is a super wee route while on your east coast holiday. A farm track and coastal flats provide the bulk of your running trail.

Part of its charm is simply how isolated this location is – 55 kms (34 miles) north of Gisborne – and the fact that Captain James Cook visited this area in 1769.

Distance – 5.8 kms (3.6 miles) return

Trail conditions – farm track and coastal flats

When to run – at sunrise

Restrictions – closed for lambing August to October

Image of trail running shoes on the beach
Why not take your running to the beach

Mount Maunganui (Mauao) Summit and Base Tracks – Tauranga

If you’re lucky enough to spend holidays or live at the ‘Mount’, you’ll already know about this jewel in the crown.

A short, sharp trail that elevates to 232 metres (761 feet) above sea level, the Mount Maunganui Summit Track winds around and up the iconic hill. You’ll be standing on top of the Mount in next to no time that you’ll want to run a few laps – or alternatively, switch onto the Base Track which loops around the hill.

Distance – 3.4 kms (2.1 miles) for the Base Track loop and 3.8 kms (2.4 miles) for the Summit Track return

Trail conditions – four-wheel drive track, fine crushed gravel and steps

When to run – as the sun comes up or late afternoon with plenty of the locals

Te Henga Walkway – Waitakere Ranges near Auckland

For a cliff top run that’ll keep you coming back for more, the Te Henga Walkway offers plenty. An uneven and steep trail, the wild west coast is calling you to run alongside it and take in the superb views of lagoons, dunes and surf.

Beginning or ending above the famous Bethells Beach, this trail run is ideal if you reside or work in Auckland. The big smoke is less than 40 kms (25 miles) away.

You should expect some mud and you may even get distracted by gannets diving into the sea for fish.

Distance – 10.3 kms (6.4 miles) or 20.6 kms (12.8 miles) return

Trail conditions – compacted dirt

When to run – outside the hottest parts of the day

Two people running over a hill
Trails with views can often keep you moving forward

Find your ultimate trail running footwear