Everywhere you travel in New Zealand there are spectacular walks you can do, from hiking the marked tracks to strolling along the stunning beaches. While you are here, there are 9 walks that are known as the ‘Great Walks’ of New Zealand, passing through diverse scenery and spectacular landscapes. From native forests, beautiful beaches, peaceful lakes and rivers to rugged mountain peaks, deep gorges and vast valleys… these Great Walks should all be added to your ‘to do’ list.
What are the Great Walks?
These Great Walks of New Zealand are called ‘premier’ walking tracks and are well formed and easy to follow. You can explore these tracks on your own adventure or join a guided trip which offers a little more comfort for those who are unfamiliar with hiking. Either way, you will be taken into the depth of New Zealand’s awe-inspiring scenery and don’t blame us if it’s hard to leave!
The Great Walks are spread across the North and South Islands, from the Tongariro Crossing and Lake Waikaremoana in the middle of the North Island scattered right down to the Rakiura Track on Stewart Island at the bottom of the South Island. Fiordland National Park in the South Island has its fair share of the Great Walks with three of the tramps based in the park but each of the walks offers trampers something different to see from the Routeburn Track’s ice carved valleys to the majestic scenery of the Milford Sound, described as one of the best walks in the world.
Most of the walks are situated in National Parks, maintained by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and all of the tracks are accessible from major towns that are well serviced with quality accommodation and transport providers. They are all multi-day tramps so you need to be prepared for overnight stops along the way. The huts in the parks are operated by DOC and we recommend booking these huts in advance. Free camping on the walks is not permitted but there are designated camp sites on all of the tracks except the Milford Track.
These walks are not for the faint hearted, they can be quite challenging but are extremely rewarding at the same time. They are a great way to explore some stunning scenery so plan your trip now and be sure to share your experiences with us by entering our monthly photo contest!
Preparing for the Great Walks:
Here is a few hot tips and a list of the essentials that you need for your adventure. For more packing and preparation guidance we recommend you check out the DOC website for a list of items that they recommend for your tramp. Remember, you can never be too prepared, it is better to be safe than sorry!
Ezi tips before you set off:
Book accommodation and DOC huts.
Book transport for getting to the start of the track and also getting picked up at the end.
Check the conditions – check with the DOC Visitor Centre for track conditions and weather before your trip.
Tell someone your plans and leave an expected date of return so that in case of an emergency, an alarm can be raised if you haven’t returned. For how to do this, see the AdventureSmart website – Outdoors Intentions process.
Build a good basic level of fitness. The terrain, whilst well marked and in good condition can take you up and down steep hills and mountains so getting your fitness up is a great way to prepare.
What you need:
A comfortable backpack.
First aid kit including sunscreen (and plasters for those nagging blisters), survival kit (with essentials such as a survival blanket and whistle) and safety equipment e.g. map, compass, rope and tide timetable.
Well planned meals and snacks. When planning your food supplies, remember, you’ve got to take everything in and out so you probably don’t want to be carrying lots of cans as you will end up jiggling these the whole way around the track! Go with light and compact high energy food.
Water. Water is one of the most important things when hiking. Carry plenty, check the water access of your route and you might also like to consider carrying a water filter.
Waterproof layers and thermal (or merino) clothing.
A camera – this is definitely scenery you are going to want to capture. We would love you to share your experiences with us so send us your trip photos and enter our monthly photo contest to win!
Each of the Great Walks:
Lake Waikaremoana | 44kms | 3-4 days
Located in the Hawkes Bay Region on the east coast of the North Island, the great Lake Waikaremoana is a 44 kilometre walking track located in the Te Urewera National Park. It traces the shoreline of the stunning lake through a mass of rainforest where you will stumble across waterfalls, pass giant podocarp trees and remote beaches. The spectacular Korokoro Falls drop off a sheer cliff amidst rain forest and Panekire Bluff provides breath taking views of the lake. On a beautiful sunny day there is nothing better than taking a dip in the lake to cool off!
Tongariro Northern Circuit | 43kms | 3-4 days
The Tongariro Northern Circuit takes you on a epic journey through dramatic and active volcanic landscapes and craters, explosion pits, lava flows, glacial valleys, native beech forest, alpine meadows and emerald coloured lakes. This path winds its way past Mt Tongariro and encircles Mt Ngauruhoe, showcasing the spectacular volcanic terrain of the central North Island. Although it’s resting at the moment, this mountain is New Zealand’s most active volcano with 61 recorded eruptions since 1839. The first day of the Northern circuit follows the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is one of New Zealand’s most popular and well known day hikes. So if you are short of time and cant do the full Northern circuit, you can opt to do just do a single day but don’t miss out altogether – hiking around an active volcano must be pretty high up on the list of life’s most memorable experiences!
Whanganui Journey | 145kms | 3-5 days
The Whanganui Journey is the only one of the Great Walks which is not actually a hike. This adventure involves taking a canoe or kayak and paddling up the Whanganui River through the scenic beauty of remote hills and bush clad valleys. Drift along and visit the famous Bridge to Nowhere and be immersed in New Zealand culture and history with a unique stay at Tieke Kainga, the only DOC hut that is also used as a marae. The 145 kilometre river journey from Taumarunui to Pipiriki takes an average of 5 days to complete by canoe but a shorter 3 day journey from Whakahoro to Pipiriki is also a popular alternative.
Abel Tasman Coastal Track | 55.2kms | 3-5 days
This Great Walk follows the coastline in the stunning Abel Tasman National Park. Known as New Zealand’s sunniest location, the area is blessed with golden beaches, lush coastal native bush and a mild climate all year round which means this is a great walk any time of the year. You can walk the whole track in either direction or take a water taxi or kayak between different locations. If you are hiking, the track is well marked and signposted, but some sections can be quite steep and rough. There is also one compulsory tidal crossing – be prepared and be sure to consult a tide timetable before booking your trip. The Abel Tasman Coastal Track boasts many beautiful camp sites beside golden sandy beaches with crystal clear waters enticing you in for a dip after a long days walking. Don’t forget to discover Cleopatra’s Pool , a natural rock pool with a moss-lined waterslide and keep an eye out for fur seals/kekeno which are often spotted in this area.
Heaphy Track | 78.4kms | 4-6 days
The Heaphy Track is located within the Kahurangi National Park, in the north west of the South Island of New Zealand. This track is the longest of the Great Walks, and is definitely more of a challenge! You can start the track either from Brown Hut in Golden Bay (156 km from Nelson) or from Kohaihai on the West Coast (110 km from Westport). This Great Walks combines all of New Zealand’s scenic beauty into one walk. Your journey will take you from pristine mountain scenery to the coast of the roaring Tasman Sea, travelling through expansive tussock downs, lush forests and nīkau palms.
Routeburn Track | 32kms | 2-4 days
This Routeburn track takes you through two of New Zealand’s most spectacular national parks: The Mount Aspiring National Park and the Fiordland National Park. This track is known for its soaring mountain peaks, huge valleys, stunning waterfalls and jewel-like lakes as you hike your way between the snow-capped mountains. The highest point of the track is 1,255 metres above sea level so the views are simply spectacular. This is not a loop track and can be walked in either direction; one track end is at the Routeburn Shelter (near Glenorchy) and the other is at The Divide (closer to Te Anau). Most trampers take 3 days and 2 nights, usually staying at Lake Mackenzie and the Routeburn Falls huts but this can be extended or there is the option of a few day walks.
Kepler Track | 60kms | 3-4 days
The Kepler Track is another lengthy 60 km circular track which travels through more of the spectacular scenery of the Fiordland National Park. This awe-inspiring track showcases the best features of Fiordland – vast tussock-covered ridgelines and spectacular mountains, waterfalls and glacier-carved valleys as well as peaceful lakes and native forest. It is a moderate walking track that takes three to four days to complete. The track is well constructed which makes for easier walking. Most streams are bridged, boardwalks cover boggy areas and the very steep sections have steps. We highly recommend exploring the fascinating Luxmore Caves and a stay in the Luxmore Hut – the views at sunrise are unforgettable!
Milford Track | 53.5kms | 4 days
This is one of New Zealand’s most famous Great Walks. This tramp takes you on a journey along valleys carved by glaciers, through ancient rainforests to cascading waterfalls and finishes at the spectacular Milford Sound. It is an extremely popular hike with approximately 14,000 people completing the Milford track each year. It may only be walked in one direction (Glade Wharf to Milford Sound) during the booked walking season (late October to late April) and a maximum of 40 independent walkers are permitted to start the track each day. For a day-to-day break down of the track you can click here. Not much more needs to be said – just do it! And don’t forget to take your camera to capture the stunning panoramas from Mackinnon Pass.
Rakiura Track | 32kms | 3 days
The Rakiura Track is the best way to explore Stuart Island. The track is a tranquil island adventure, following the open coast, climbing over forested ridges and traversing sheltered coastline. It offers some stunning coastal views and secluded bays where you can enjoy a sense of peace, beautiful birdsong and scenery that has remained largely untouched in thousands of years.