A guide to notable New Zealand mountains and mountain ranges
Depending on how you look at it, New Zealand is conveniently located on the Ring of Fire, a 40,000 km / 25,000 mile horseshoe shaped tectonic zone that circles the Pacific Ocean. On the one hand this means that we live with the constant threat of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. On the other hand it means that New Zealand has some pretty epic mountains and mountain ranges, formed by volcanic activity and the constant battle between the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates.
We may not have the world’s tallest mountains but what we lack in height, we make up for in splendour. When visiting New Zealand, regardless of how active you are, you’ll definitely want to experience our mountains in some way, be it hiking and climbing, skiing or simply viewing them from the comfort of a scenic flight.
In this guide we’ll cover some of New Zealand’s best known peaks and ranges along with a few ideas on how best you can explore these natural wonders. Just looking for some quick New Zealand mountain facts and figures? Skip straight to the Frequently Asked Questions section here.
New Zealand notable mountains map
What makes a mountain notable? Is it height, beauty, sheer scariness or all of the above? This map of New Zealand mountains is our highly subjective take on the subject. If you’re planning a New Zealand itinerary and want to see some of our most popular mountains, you’ll find this map useful.
North Island mountains and mountain ranges
Location: 39°17’22″S, 175°33’45″E
Mount Ruapehu is most notable for being the highest mountain in the North Island at 2,797 m / 9,977 ft. There are in fact a number of summits on this active volcano with Tahurangi being the highest point. Tahurangi overlooks Turoa, one of three ski fields on the mountain, the others being Tukino and Whakapapa which is actually the largest ski field in New Zealand.
The hike to Dome summit overlooking Ruapehu crater lake is very popular, particularly in summer (December to February).
Location: 39°09’22.0″S, 175°37’59.0″E
Just to the north east of Mount Ruapehu is Mount Ngauruhoe, made famous by being the real world stand-in for Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. This active volcano is a prominent feature on the hugely popular Tongariro Alpine Crossing, arguably one of New Zealand’s best day walks.
While it’s now discouraged for both safety and environmental reasons, we’ve climbed to the summit of Mount Doom and you can read about our adventure here, climbing Mount Ngauruhoe.
Location: 39°17’47.0″S, 174°03’49.0″E
Like Ngauruhoe, Mount Taranaki (or Mount Egmont as it’s also known) is a distinctly cone shaped mountain. This dormant volcano is the second highest peak in the North Island at 2,518 m / 8,261 ft.
While Mt Taranaki can be climbed, it should only be attempted in good weather as being close to the coast, conditions can change very quickly.
Location: 38°13’37.0″S, 176°30’24.0″E
At just 1,284 m / 4,213 ft, Mt Tarawera may not be very tall but what it lacks in stature it makes up for in uniqueness, certainly here in New Zealand. If ever you wanted to see and understand how a mountain can tear itself apart then a visit to this dormant volcano is an experience you won’t want to miss. You can read about our experience here, climbing Mount Tarawera. Note – you can only access Mt Tarawera as part of a guided tour.
Location: 37°55’00.0″S, 178°03’36.0″E
The Eastland region or East Cape as it’s also known feels relatively untouched compared to the rest of the North Island. Taking pride of place in this region is Mt Hikurangi, which at 1,752 m / 5,748 ft is the highest non-volcanic mountain in the North Island. It’s a challenging hike to the summit with a stay in an overnight hut, but the views are worth it.
The Coromandel Pinnacles
Location: 37°02’53.0″S, 175°43’01.0″E
Region: The Coromandel
The Coromandel is a prominent peninsula approximately 60 km / 37 mile east of Auckland. Central to this peninsula is the Coromandel mountain range, which continues south towards the Central Plateau as the Kaimai Range.
One of the most popular hikes in the Coromandel has to be to the summit of The Pinnacles. At 773 m / 2,536 ft the summit is not particularly high but still offers some of the best views of the Coromandel. While you can do this hike in a day, many visitors choose to spend the night in nearby Pinnacles Hut.
Location: 37°51’19.0″S, 174°47’28.0″E
Region: Hamilton & Waikato
Raglan is a popular seaside town on the west coast of the North Island, famous for its surf breaks. As you drive towards Raglan from the east, the skyline is dominated by a large peak. That peak is Mount Karioi, the remains of a now extinct volcano.
There are two routes to the summit of this mountain, with the longer route from the sea facing side of the mountain being the more scenic option. On clear days you can see all the way to Mount Taranaki, 170 km / 106 miles to the south.
Location: 35°49’04.0″S 174°31’01.0″E
Heading north from Auckland, State Highway 1 passes over the Brynderwyn Hills which in themselves aren’t particularly spectacular. But there’s a lookout spot along the road near the top of the pass and from here, looking north you can see the prominent outline of Bream Head at the entrance to Whangarei Harbour.
While Bream Head is a good climb if you have the time, the track to the summit of nearby Mt Manaia is shorter and less challenging but still delivers some spectacular views. You can read about our experience here, climbing Mt Manaia.
Te Mata Peak
Location: 39°42’06.4″S, 176°54’33.7″E
Region: Hawke’s Bay
The east coast Hawke’s Bay region is known for its wines and gentle wine touring cycle routes. While the region’s western border is dominated by the Ruahine mountain range, near the coast, there’s not much to speak of in the way of mountains apart from Te Mata Peak.
Located in a community owned and managed park, Te Mata Park, Te Mata Peak offers some great views of the Heretaunga Plains and surrounding area.
Whakaari / White Island
Location: 37°31’36.1″S, 177°11’31.3″E
Region: Bay of Plenty
Whakaari / White Island is located 50 km / 31 miles off the coast near Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty region. At its highest point, the island only 321 m / 1,053 ft but that’s not why you should visit this amazing place. White Island is New Zealand’s most active volcano and you can safely visit this alien landscape, although you will need gas masks to protect you from the sulphurous fumes.
Important Update: Following the tragic events of December 2019, all on-land tours of White Island have ceased. It is extremely unlikely that these tours will ever be resumed which means that our visit to the island was truly a once in a lifetime experience, and one we’ll never forget. You can read about it here.
Location: 36°47’13.0″S, 174°51’32.0″E
Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, sits on top of a ‘hot spot’ of magma called the Auckland Volcanic Field which consists of over 50 separate volcanoes. Don’t worry, these volcanoes are all dormant and unlikely to become active again although the field itself is still considered to be young (in geological terms) and active.
The most recent eruption, around 600 years ago, was on the island of Rangitoto, 10 km / 6 miles northeast of downtown Auckland. At 260 m / 853 ft it’s the largest volcanic remnant in the city and the short ferry ride and climb to the summit is a popular attraction.
Location: 36°52’41.0″S, 174°45’51.0″E
Another of Auckland’s dormant volcanoes, like Rangitoto, this really is more of a hill than a mountain but it’s a very popular spot overlooking the city. While it used to be possible to drive to the summit, public vehicle access has been restricted but it only takes 5 – 10 minutes to walk to the top.
Location: 37°37’49.5″S, 176°10’19.8″E
Region: Bay of Plenty
No visit to Tauranga would be complete without visiting the seaside suburb of Mount Maunganui, and no visit there would be complete without climbing the hill that gives this suburb its name. There are a number of different walking tracks to the summit and it’s an easy walk that will take you 40 minutes or less. Well worth it for the stunning views along the coast.
Notable North Island mountain ranges
Besides those we’ve already mentioned, there are a number of other mountain ranges on the North Island and while they all offer some form of adventure, mostly hiking and mountain biking, from a tourism perspective they would be considered a little off the beaten track. So if you’re looking for more of a remote or backcountry experience, check out these links:
- Aorangi Range
- Remutaka Range
- Tararua Range
- Ruahine Range
- Kaweka Range
- Kaimanawa Range
- Huiarau Range
- Raukumara Range
South island mountains and mountain ranges
Aoraki / Mount Cook
Location: 43°35’41.9″S, 170°08’30.5″E
Region: Christchurch & Canterbury
The Southern Alps mountain range is a dominant feature of New Zealand’s South Island, stretching some 500 km / 310 miles from Nelson Lakes in the north-east to Milford Sound in the south-west. Taking pride of place in this range is Aoraki / Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain at 3,724 metres / 12,218 feet.
Climbing to the summit of Mt Cook requires some serious alpine mountaineering experience which puts it out of reach of almost all visitors to New Zealand. You can however get relatively close to the mountain on foot via the hugely popular and highly recommended Hooker Valley Track. We consider this to be a must do activity for anyone visiting the South Island.
Location: 43°33’57.7″S, 170°09’26.3″E
Region: Christchurch & Canterbury
A close neighbour to Mount Cook, Mount Tasman is New Zealand’s second tallest mountain at 3,497 m / 11,473 ft. Like Mt Cook, this is also a mountain that most visitors will only be able to enjoy from a distance, unless you have the skills to tackle a serious multi-day alpine expedition.
Fortunately, Lake Matheson provides some spectacular views of both Mt Cook and Mt Tasman. Known for its calm, dark water which makes for some mirror-like reflections, the short easy walk that circles the lake is a popular attraction as you travel along the West Coast.
Location: 44°23’02.3″S, 168°43’42.9″E
Region: West Coast
The small lakeside town of Wanaka is a must-do destination on any South Island itinerary. No visit would be complete without sundowners along the shore and as you sip your favourite drink, your eyes will undoubtedly be drawn to the snow covered peaks in the distance.
Unfortunately, you can’t actually see the summit of Mount Aspiring from Wanaka town itself. For that, you’ll need to take a drive along the lake’s western shore to Glendhu Bay or better yet, climb nearby Roys Peak. It’s a 15 km / 9 mile return hike to the summit of Roys Peak but it’s definitely worth it for the panoramic views, including Mount Aspiring in all its glory.
Location: 43°29’45.1″S, 171°32’22.9″E
Region: Christchurch & Canterbury
With stunning views across the Canterbury plains towards the east coast, Mount Hutt is home to one of the South Island’s largest and highest ski fields. It has some of the best snow and a relatively long ski season from early June through to late October and being less than 2 hours drive from Christchurch it’s easily accessible although snow chains are recommended on the access road.
The terrain is varied, with a dedicated beginner area and some challenging black runs. There’s also a terrain park with half pipes for snowboarders.
Location: 44°52’24.1″S, 168°56’55.9″E
Located in the Crown Range between Queenstown and Wanaka, Mount Cardona is home to the Cardrona Alpine Resort and ski field making it another great destination for a winter ski holiday in New Zealand. It is currently the only ski area in New Zealand with commercial accommodation on the mountain and since it’s the location of New Zealand’s largest snow sports training centre, the terrain is pretty extensive. In summer, the mountain is still very active as it’s a popular mountain biking destination.
Location: 42°57’04.3″S, 171°32’03.1″E
Region: Christchurch & Canterbury
Arthur’s Pass is one of three main mountain passes that cross the Southern Alps. If you’re passing through Arthur’s Pass Village and up (literally) for a challenge, you should definitely consider climbing Avalanche Peak. You do however need to be fit and experienced as this is a tough, exposed climb with 1,100 m / 3,609 ft of elevation gain. The views of the surrounding mountains are definitely worth it though.
Location: 45°00’26.8″S, 168°36’54.7″E
Most visitors to Queenstown will catch the gondola up to the popular Skyline Queenstown complex on Bob’s Peak with its gift store, restaurant and impressive views over the town. But if you’re anything like us, you’ll be looking for opportunities to stretch your legs in which case, a hike to the summit of Ben Lomond is just what the doctor ordered.
It’s a fairly demanding hike, particularly as you get closer to the summit but the views over Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountain ranges are hard to beat and make the climb well worth the effort.
Location: 44°37’57.5″S, 167°51’19.2″E
Located in the southwest corner of the South Island, Fiordland is undoubtedly one of New Zealand’s most breathtakingly beautiful regions. A World Heritage area, Fiordland is home to Milford Sound, with its lush forests and towering peaks. Of all those peaks, Mitre Peak is undoubtedly the most iconic, its summit dominating the skyline… assuming it isn’t raining. Which it does. A lot.
Location: 44°41’41.7″S, 169°02’57.4″E
You can’t talk about Wanaka without mentioning Roys Peak, a rather unassuming ridge to the west of this lakeside town. The 15 km / 9 mile return hike to the summit of Roys Peak is long but not particularly challenging which makes it very popular, and understandably so as the view is spectacular. Just don’t expect to have this mountain all to yourself, especially in peak season (December to February). You can read about our experience here, climbing Roys Peak.
Location: 44°55’37.0″S, 168°44’08.0″E
Only 25 minutes from Queenstown, this popular winter holiday destination is the region’s oldest and most developed ski field. The mountain has a series of interconnected bowls which offer great skiing for all skill levels. Coronet Peak is particularly popular for night skiing on the weekends as well as for hosting regular live music events.
Location: 42°18’39.3″S, 173°36’42.3″E
Located on a prominent peninsula on the east coast of the South Island, the small seaside town of Kaikoura is popular for its marine mammal encounters. But the view inland is dominated by a mountain range that runs parallel to the coast, and if it’s mountains you’re after, that’s where you’ll want to head.
There are in fact two ranges in the region, the Inland Kaikoura Ranges and the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges and one of the more accessible summits in these ranges is Mount Fyffe. It’s a full day return hike to the summit but on clear days, you can see all the way to the North Island, some 150 km / 93 miles to the north.
Location: 43°28’48.6″S, 169°59’38.9″E
Region: West Coast
This mountain is probably a little off the beaten track for most, but we found this to be such a great hike that we had to include it in our list of New Zealand’s best mountains. Nearby Fox Glacier is a popular West Coast attraction and while the best way to experience the glacier is undoubtedly on a guided tour, these can be a little expensive if you’re on a limited budget.
So if you’re happy to simply view Fox Glacier from a distance and you’re up for a challenging but rewarding hike, Mount Fox may be just what you’re looking for.
Notable South Island mountain ranges
We’ve already mentioned the Southern Alps and a few other South Island mountain ranges above. Here is a list of other notable ranges that you’ll want to consider exploring when visiting New Zealand:
Frequently asked questions
What is the tallest mountain in New Zealand?
Located in the Southern Alps of the South Island, Aoraki / Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. The most recent GPS measurement by the University of Otago in November 2013 puts the summit at 3,724 metres / 12,218 feet.
New Zealand’s biggest mountain was originally recorded at 3,764 metres / 12,349 feet but around 13 million cubic metres of rock and ice fell from the northern peak on 14 December 1991, reducing the height by 10 metres / 33 feet. Since then, erosion has continued to reduce the height or our tallest peak to what it is today.
What are New Zealand’s tallest peaks?
In mountaineering circles, 3,000 metres / 9,843 feet often seems to be the height at which a mountain is deemed worthy of making a list of highest peaks. While New Zealand certainly has many peaks over 3,000 metres, if we were to use this cutoff, our list wouldn’t include any mountains on the North Island.
We assume that your interest in this topic is more from the perspective of a visitor touring the country so we’ve only included the peaks that you are likely to encounter in some way, and should in fact make an effort to see.
If you’re a serious mountaineer looking for a definitive list of New Zealand peaks by height, this won’t be for you. You’re better off with this list from the New Zealand Alpine Club.
- Aoraki / Mount Cook – 3,724 m / 12,218 ft (Christchurch & Canterbury, South Island)
- Mount Tasman – 3,497 m / 11,473 ft (Christchurch & Canterbury, South Island)
- Mount Aspiring – 3,033 m / 9,951 ft (West Coast, South Island)
- Mount Ruapehu – 2,797 m / 9,977 ft (Ruapehu, North Island)
- Mount Taranaki – 2,518 m / 8,261 ft (Taranaki, North Island)
- Mount Ngauruhoe – 2,287 m / 7,503 ft (Ruapehu, North Island)
- Mount Hutt – 2,185 m / 7,169 ft (Christchurch & Canterbury, South Island)
- Mount Cardrona – 1,936 m / 6,351 ft (Queenstown, South Island)
- Avalanche Peak – 1,833 m / 6,014 ft (Christchurch & Canterbury, South Island)
- Ben Lomond – 1,748 m / 5,735 ft (Queenstown, South Island)
- Mitre Peak – 1,683 m / 5,522 ft (Fiordland, South Island)
- Roys Peak – 1,578 m / 5,177 ft (Wanaka, South Island)
- Mount Tarawera – 1,284 m / 4,213 ft (Rotorua, North Island)
- Mount Hikurangi – 1,752 m / 5,748 ft (Eastland, North Island)
- Coronet Peak – 1,651 m / 5,417 ft (Queenstown, South Island)
- Mount Fyffe – 1,165 m / 3,822 ft (Kaikoura, South Island)
- Mount Fox – 1,021 m / 3,350 ft (West Coast, South Island)
- The Coromandel Pinnacles – 773 m / 2,536 ft (The Coromandel, North Island)
- Mount Karioi – 756 m / 2,480 ft (Hamilton & Waikato, North Island)
- Mount Manaia – 420 m / 1,378 ft (Northland, North Island)
- Te Mata Peak – 399 m / 1,309 ft (Hawkes Bay, North Island)
- White Island – 321 m / 1,053 ft (Bay of Plenty, North Island)
- Rangitoto – 260 m / 853 ft (Auckland, North Island)
- Mount Maunganui – 231 m / 758 ft (Bay of Plenty, North Island)
- Mount Eden – 196 m / 643 ft (Auckland, North Island)
Where is the real Mount Doom in New Zealand?
No article on New Zealand mountains would be complete without some reference to Lord of the Rings. After all, the scenery, and in particular, epic mountain scenes where an important part of the movie.
In the Lord of the Rings movies, Mount Doom was highly stylised thanks to CGI, but the real world stand-in for Mount Doom was Mount Ngauruhoe, an active stratovolcano located in the Central Plateau region of New Zealand’s North Island. Although active, there is no lava lake like in the movie but there are fumaroles (steam vents) at the summit.
Mount Ngauruhoe is in fact part of the larger Tongariro volcanic complex which was formed by eruptions from at least 12 vents over more than 275,000 years. Ngauruhoe is the youngest of Tongariro’s cones (around 7000 years old) and historically it’s been the most active, last erupting in 1977.
While it’s now discouraged, we’ve climbed to the summit of Mount Doom and you can read about our adventure here, climbing Mount Ngauruhoe.
Where is the Lonely Mountain in New Zealand?
In the Hobbit movies, Erebor or The Lonely Mountain, was quite an imposing peak but unlike Mount Doom, there was no real world stand-in for the mountain itself which would have been more CGI than reality. That said, Turoa, near the North Island Central Plateau township of Ohakune was chosen to depict Hidden Bay, the entrance to The Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. This area on the south western flank of Mount Ruapehu, the North Island’s highest peak, is a popular winter ski resort.
How were New Zealand’s mountains formed?
Until around 60 – 85 million years ago, New Zealand and Australia were connected as part of the Gondwana supercontinent. When New Zealand and Australia parted ways, the single landmass of Zealandia was relatively flat. It’s only been in the last 5 million years that New Zealand’s present mountain ranges have formed. This has been as a result of volcanic activity and tectonic uplift as we straddle the boundary between the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates.
That makes our mountains relatively young by geological standards, and being young, they are still very dynamic. In fact, the Southern Alps are one of the most rapidly rising mountain ranges in the world. So why then are our mountains relatively small compared to say the Himalayas or even the European Alps? The answer – erosion.
New Zealand, particularly the South Island, is right in the path of moisture-laden westerly winds which, on reaching the mountains, dump huge amounts of rain causing massive weathering and erosion. So while parts of the Southern Alps such as the Aoraki/Mt Cook region continue to rise at around 10mm per year, erosion is keeping us from reaching our full potential epicness.
As we mentioned earlier, volcanic activity has also played, and continues to play an important part in shaping our mountainous landscape. This is most noticeable on the North Island. While remnants of the South Island’s volcanic past remain, for example the Banks Peninsula on the east coast, it’s on the North Island where our volcanoes are still very much alive and kicking.
Mount Taranaki / Egmont on the west coast of the North Island is the island’s second highest peak and considered to be active but ‘sleeping’ while the island’s highest peak, Mount Ruapehu, is napping lightly. And this is just one of a chain of active volcanoes stretching north east as part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone. As you can see, New Zealand’s mountains are still forming as we speak. Come and see for yourself.