Celebrate one of New Zealand’s Great Walks

New Zealand’s Nine Great Walks

Among New Zealand’s nearly endless array of walking and hiking trails, nine have been highlighted as truly special. Designated as the Nine Great Walks by the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC), they have been recognized for the exceptional beauty of the area through which they pass.

The trails of the Nine Walks are maintained in excellent condition to allow hikers to enjoy them to the best of their abilities. All but one are multi-day walks. Three on North Island, five on South Island and one on Stewart Island.

All of the walks are located in New Zealand’s national parks or reserves, which make up a third of the country. Some are limited in number and most require reservations for huts that serve as overnight stays. The most popular hikes (such as the Milford Track) are usually fully booked during the summer, so it’s worth booking as early as possible.

For information on booking Great Walks, visit the Department of Conservation (DOC) website here.

Here are New Zealand’s nine Great Walks, in rough geographic order from north to south.

Tongariro North Range.

Location: Tongariro National Park, North Island Distance: 43.1 km / 26.8 miles Duration: 3-4 days

A breathtaking hike through the active volcanoes of Ngauruho and Tongariro on the central North Island. Here you will find glacier-worn valleys and volcanic craters and lakes in an alpine setting.

Also nearby is a very popular day hike, the Tongariro Crossing.

Waikaremoana Lake Trail

Location: Te Urewera National Park, North Island Distance: 46 kilometers / 28.6 miles Duration: 3-4 days

This walk follows the shoreline of Lake Waikaremoana in the remote eastern part of the central North Island. It passes through some rough areas of forests, rivers, and streams.

Wanganui Journey.

Location: Wanganui National Park, North Island Distance: 145 kilometers / 90 miles Duration: 5 days

Although this is one of the great “walks,” it is actually a canoe or kayak trip on the Wanganui River. It is located on the southwest side of the North Island.

Abel Tasman Coastal Trail.

Location: Abel Tasman National Park Distance: 54.4 km / 33.8 miles Duration: 3-5 days

This beautiful walk crosses some of the South Island’s best beaches at the very top of the island. It’s relatively easy to walk – and bring a swimsuit.

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Heaphy Trek.

Location: Kauranga National Park, South Island Distance: 78.4 km / 48.7 miles Duration: 4-6 days

This is the longest of the nine great walks. It passes through a variety of landscapes, including forests, rivers, and the west coast of the South Island.

Routeburn Track.

Location: Mount Aspiring National Park and Fjordland National Park, South Island Distance: 39 kilometers / 24 miles Duration: 2-4 days

In the southwest of South Island, this is one of the most beautiful alpine landscapes in the world. There are lakes, forests, and waterfalls in the backdrop of the Southern Alps mountains.

Milford Trek.

Location: Fiordland National Park, South Island Distance: 53.5 km / 33.3 miles Duration: 4 days

New Zealand’s most famous walk and one of the world’s greatest ramblers, the Milford Trek is located in Fiordland, in the lower southwest corner of the South Island.

Kepler Trek.

Location: Fiordland National Park, South Island Distance: 60 kilometers / 37 miles Duration: 3-4 days

This explores the mountainous country between Te Anau and Manapouri Lakes in Fjordland National Park. It has several steep sections with panoramic views.

Rakiura Trail.

Location: Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island / Rakiura Distance: 39 kilometers / 24 miles Duration: 3 days

Stewart / Rakiura Island is home to New Zealand’s newest and southernmost national park and this wonderful walk. Along this walk there are beaches and forests to explore in this part of the “deep south” of New Zealand.

New Zealand’s Great Walks

In a country with so much beautiful scenery, any of the Nine Walks is truly a highlight. Remember, however, to be well prepared. These can be physically demanding walks, and the weather conditions can also change quickly.

Want to hike the Great Walks of New Zealand? Here’s what you need to know

Want to hike New Zealand's Great Walks? Here's what you need to know

Want to hike the Great Walks of New Zealand? Here’s what you need to know

Video: Want to hike the Great Walks of New Zealand? Here’s what you need to know

Travel Planning

Image

Image

The islands of New Zealand are a dream destination among trekkers, hikers and outdoor adventurers. A reliable way to gauge your ability to face the wilderness of both the North and South Islands is on one or more of the nine Great Walks, which take you through the country’s national parks, open beaches and lush rainforests.

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Beautiful and challenging, each walk takes you away from civilization into the wilderness. Since they’re not for the faint of heart, train at home and hone your climbing skills – or you’ll have a tough time getting started. Here’s a recap of each incredible hike:

Preparing for New Zealand’s Great Walks hike

The most important part of preparing for any hike is to stock up on the right gear. The basics include a hiking backpack, hiking boots or shoes, a portable first aid kit, a water purifier and a vacuum water bottle. You’ll also need backpacking equipment, including a tent, sleeping bag, pad, cooking utensils and fire supplies. Chances are high that you will encounter rain on your way, so be sure to gather rain flies to cover your tent if you plan to camp. A compass and clinometer to measure the slope will also come in handy.

You will also need food that can easily be prepared over a campfire, such as beans, chili peppers, and soup. Pre-packaged campfire meals like Patagonia Provisions are great for optimizing nutrients while taking up minimal space in your pack. Nuts, berries, dried fruit and dark chocolate provide a quick energy boost along the way. Be prepared to “pack and bag” your waste, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because you’re breaking the law if you don’t.

Backcountry huts are available, as are campsites, at points on each of the Great Walks. They are supported by the New Zealand Department of Conservation, and you must pre-book campsites and huts through their website during the “Great Walking Season.

Note that services and lodging are readily available during the “great walks season,” mid-October through April. Although peak seasons for each walk may vary, reservations for the upcoming season begin in June on the DOC website. Services are greatly reduced outside of this time period, and huts are on a first-come, first-served basis. All prices are per person for adults 18 and older. Children are free, but still require reservations in most cases.

Great North Island Walks.

Lake Waikaremoana.

New Zealand

New Zealand

Photo: Karin Wassmer

The Waikaremoana Lake hike is the northernmost of the Great Walks and a great starting point for beginners. The trail follows the lake shoreline to deserted beaches and through dense rainforest, creating a decent but not too challenging challenge for any trekker who is in decent shape. The contrast of the water, the abundance of plants and beaches create incredible photos, and you’ll end up being rewarded with stunning views from Panacheer Bluff.

  • Distance: 28, 5 miles (46 km)
  • Time: 4-5 days
  • Cost of hut: $32 per night
  • Cost of camping: $14 per night
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Tongariro North Range.

New Zealand

New Zealand

Photo: Roman Nikau

This hike takes you to Tongariro National Park, the heart of New Zealand’s volcano country. Famous peaks include Mount Tongariro, Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe, which has become particularly famous for the Lord of the Rings. In valleys carved by glaciers, you’ll pass waterfalls and beech forests on your way to Emerald Lakes within volcanic craters.

  • Distance: 26, 7 miles (43 km)
  • Time: 3-4 days
  • Cost of cabin: $36 per night in season, $15 per night in season
  • Cost of camping: $15 per night in season, $5 per night in season

Wanganui Journey.

New Zealand

New Zealand

Photo: Lucas T. Yang.

This one’s for river rats. You’ll travel down the Wanganui River through Wanganui National Park by canoe or kayak, where there are plenty of opportunities to photograph the surrounding hills. Like the Tongariro Trail North, this adventure is located in the central part of the island, about five hours from Oakland. Bring a guidebook and explore the culture of the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous people, and be sure to walk the Bridge to Nowhere (which is actually quite photogenic). Book this trip in advance to ensure accessibility at Tike Kainga, a hut that is also used as a traditional Maori or meeting place.

  • Distance: 90 miles (145 km)
  • Time: 3-5 days
  • Cost of hut: $32 per night in season, $15 per night in the off-season
  • Camping fee: $20 per night in season, free in the off-season

Great Walks on the South Island

Abel Tasman Coastal Trail.

New Zealand

New Zealand

On the northern tip of the island in Abel Tasman National Park, the Great South Island Walks kick off. Action lovers will love this hike as you slide down a water slide in Cleopatra Basin and make your way over a hanging bridge on the Falls River. If your legs need a break, you can do part of this hike in a water cab or canoe, which also gives you plenty of opportunities to enjoy the gorgeous scenery around you.

  • Distance: 37, 3 miles (60 km)
  • Time: 3-5 days
  • Hut fee: $38 per night in season, $32 per night in the off-season
  • Camping fee: $15 per night
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Heaphy Trek.

New Zealand

New Zealand

Photo: Rudmer Zwerwer.

Birdwatching, rejoice! This hike is for you. New Zealand’s Kauranga National Park is home to many native birds. As you make your way from the green forest to the west coast of the South Island, you can see the infamous great spotted kiwi, along with century, cerulean, tui, kea or kaka. This is the only Great Walk where mountain biking is allowed, but only from May 1 to November 30.

  • Distance: 48, 7 miles (28, 4 km)
  • Time: 4-6 days
  • Cost of hut: $32-34 per night
  • Cost of camping: $14 per night

Milford Trek.

New Zealand

New Zealand

Photo: Puripat Lertpunyaroi

The Milford Trail in Fjordland National Park is an ideal destination for waterfall enthusiasts. They are a constant presence along the way, highlighted by the 1,900-foot Sutherland Falls. Start from Te Anau Lake and trek through green rainforests to Milford Sound. You must book all three huts on this trip, as there are no campsites available.

  • Distance: 33, 3 miles (53, 5 km)
  • Time frame: 4 days.
  • Hut cost: $70 per night in season, $15 per night in season

Kepler Trek.

New Zealand

New Zealand

Photo: Tomek Friedrich

Kepler Trek is another Fjordland Great Walk National Park that leads from the shores of crystal-clear lakes to the mountain peaks with expansive views of the valley. Its location is close to the Milford Trail beginning and ending at Te Anau Lake, making the pair a popular route for taking two Great Walks in one long trip. Book a stay at Luxmore Hut and explore the nearby limestone caves.

  • Distance: 37, 2 miles (60 km)
  • Time: 3-4 days
  • Cost of hut: $65 per night in season, $15 per night in season
  • Cost of camping: $20 per night in season, $5 per night in season

Routeburn Track.

New Zealand

New Zealand

Photo: Naruedd Yampongsa

This third of the Great Walks in Fjordland National Park is the shortest of them all, but it lacks beauty and challenge. The trek is named for the Route Burn, a river so clear you can see through it, and heads toward Routeburn and Earland Falls. You’ll spend most of your time in the Darren Mountains overlooking the surrounding park and valleys.

  • Distance: 19, 8 miles (32 km)
  • Time: 2-4 days
  • Cost of hut: $65 per night in season, $15 per night in season
  • Cost of camping: $20 per night in season, $5 per night in season
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Stewart Great Walk Island.

Rakiura Trail.

New Zealand

New Zealand

The southernmost of the Great Walks and the hardest to reach is the Rakiura Track on Rakiura, also known as Stewart Island. Rakiura National Park makes up about 80% of the island, and this hike shows you the best the park has to offer. As you pass early Maori settlements, dense forests alternate with bright golden beaches. This hike offers the best chance of spotting kiwi.

  • Distance: 19, 8 miles (32 km)
  • Time: 3 days
  • Cost of hut: $24 per night in season, $22 per night in the off-season

Camping fee: $6/night

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