What are the 10 Great Walks of New Zealand?
The 10 Great Walks of New Zealand are a group of spectacular 2 to 6 day hikes (and one canoe or kayak trip) that will take you through some of the most dramatic and spectacular landscape in New Zealand.
These multi-day hikes or walks have been designated by New Zealand’s ‘Department of Conservation’ (DOC) and are developed and well-maintained by DOC.
Each walk is unique and will take you through diverse and stunning landscapes including volcanic mountains, lush native forests, lakes, rivers, beaches, snow-covered rugged mountain peaks, glaciated valleys, and vast valleys.
1. Waikaremoana Track
3-4 days- 46 km – Hawkes Bay region- Intermediate
Waikaremoana is somewhat different from the other Great Walks. Located in the heart of Te Urewera she is a taonga (treasure) and now recognized as a legal person in her own right. Te Urewera is the ancestor and homeland of the Tūhoe people and holds great cultural significance.
One cannot spend time here and not help but feel the wairua (spirit) of this special place. Although hut and campsite bookings are still managed by the Department of Conservation, Ngai Tūhoe are the kaitiaki (caretakers) of the Waikaremoana Great Walk.
However, they ask that all who visit also become kaitiaki. That we all care for Te Urewera during our time there.
I was first drawn to Waikaremoana many years ago, in my early days of outdoor adventures. Having already done a number of overnight hikes, this Great Walk was my first multi-day hike and still, to this day, is one of my most memorable.
I was fortunate to head back out there in 2020 only to be reminded what a spectacular and remote part of our country this is.
The walk is 46kms and takes 3-4 days to complete the one-way track from the Hopuruahine Landing to Onepoto. You can walk it in either direction but my preference is to start at the Hopuruahine Landing staying at the Waiharuru Hut, Waiopaoa Hut, and Panekire Hut.
This does mean a big day two with over 18kms but it is worth it to stay in the best huts on the track. Day two also includes a side trip to Korokoro Falls which is a one-hour return trip and a ‘must do’.
On the last day not long after leaving the Panekire Hut, keep an eye out for a track to your left, there is no sign. This will lead you out to Bald Knob lookout where you can enjoy the best views over Waikaremoana.
By finishing in Onepoto, this leaves the big climb to the end of your walk when your pack will be a little lighter. It also means you get to save the best for last, as the views from the Panekire Hut and Bluff are spectacular.
For the most update information you can check the Ngai Tūhoe website.
You will need to organize transfers to help you get from one end of the track to the other. I suggest you leave your vehicle in the Onepoto car park and catch a water taxi to the Hopuruahine Landing.
You can pre-book a water taxi by email or phone – firstname.lastname@example.org or (06) 8373803. Alternatively, you can book a shuttle with Dave by contacting him on email@example.com or 021 148 4855.
By Karllie Clifton from YOLO SOLO TRAVEL
2. Tongariro Northern Circuit
4 days – 41 km- Ruapehu area- Intermediate
One of my favorite memories from my year spent traveling and working in New Zealand was hiking the Tongariro Northern Circuit. This Great Walk is an extension of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is one of the most popular day tramps in the country.
This 43.1-kilometre multi-day tramp takes you through the heart of the Tongariro National Park – which is alive with smouldering volcanic landscapes and emerald-coloured crater lakes.
Highlights of the Tongariro Northern Circuit
- Panoramic views of Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mordor from Lord of the Rings), Mount Tongariro and Mount Ruapehu
- Reaching the highest point of the track, the Red Crater, at 1,886 metres and gazing down at the Emerald Lakes
- Skirting past ancient lava flow and the active steam vents of Pukekaikiore
- Optional (but 100% worthwhile) side-trips that take you to visit cascading waterfalls, crystal-clear streams, the Historic Waihohonu Hut and the sapphire-coloured Tama Lakes
What to know before you tramp the Tongariro Northern Circuit
Unlike the alpine crossing, the Great Walk is a loop which means that you start and end the tramp in Whakapapa Village.
You can choose to tramp clockwise or anti-clockwise but I recommend the traditional clockwise option. This way you have the scenery ahead of you and you’ll hike with the alpine crossers rather than against them.
There are three huts with adjacent campsites on the route. During high season (late October to late April) you must book your spot in advance.
This isn’t necessary during low season but note that during winter and early spring the tramp is only suitable for advanced walkers and you’ll need to take certain gear with you.
On the second day of the tramp, you will essentially hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Because the route gets extremely busy you should plan to be on the move by 6 am at the latest to get ahead of the crowds.
In true New Zealand style, the weather can change without much warning in the national park! Expect to encounter blazing sunshine and bone-chilling winds and pack layers, loads of water and suncream.
Because the downhill hike from the Red Crater is a slippery scree slope make sure you wear good hiking boots and consider taking hiking poles if you have them. I wish I’d had some!
Whilst you can complete the entire loop in 3 days/2 nights I highly recommend taking the full 4 days/3 nights. That way you get to really soak up the landscapes and add-on all the side trips.
The Tongariro National Park is one of the most incredible places to visit in New Zealand, and my experience tramping the Tongariro Northern Circuit was an experience that I’ll never forget. It was totally knackering (my first ever overnight tramp!) but worth every step.
By Hannah Cooper from “ALL ABOUT THE APRES.”
3. The Whanganui Journey
Canoe or Kayak Journey- 5 days -145 km- Ruapehu area
The Whanganui Journey is the most unique of all of New Zealand’s Great Walks, simply because it isn’t actually a “walk” at all! That’s right, the Whanganui Journey is not a hike, instead, it is a river journey that people most commonly complete in Canadian-style canoes.
The entire Whanganui Journey is 145 kilometers long and completed over 5 days. With that said, if you’re not experienced then I wouldn’t recommend attempting the entire thing. 5 days is a long time to spend on a river paddling each day.
For that reason, most people only do 3 days, and complete 88 kilometers starting at Whakahoro.
The Whanganui Journey starts closest to the town of Ohakune. Here is where you can rent gear and organize shuttles. Assuming you’re not traveling with your own canoe and water-tight barrels, you’ll need to rent gear.
Most rental companies have combo packages that include dropping you off at the river as well as picking you up.
Rental companies in Okakune also know the current water levels of the river and can provide safety advice. Most rental packages also come with an emergency locator, which is great to have considering you will not have cell phone reception for the duration of the journey.
One of the best things about the Whanganui Journey is that when compared to the other Great Walks, it isn’t very busy. In fact, if you avoid weekends or school holidays, you can likely book the trip (with campsites and rental gear) fairly last minute.
The huts along the river fill up first, but the many different campsites allow for lots of people to stay and they often don’t book up.
By Daniel from DESTINATIONLESS TRAVEL
4. Abel Tasman Coast Track
5 days- 51 km – Easy – Nelson area-Intermediate
Located on the northern end of South Island, Abel Tasman is the smallest national park in New Zealand. Abel Tasman Coast Track is a perfect multi day trek for all hikers as it runs along the coast, creating an intermediate-difficulty hike.
The full walk is around 60 kilometers taking from three to five days to complete. However, you can take more time on Abel Tasman Track to fully relax on gorgeous beaches and enjoy scenic views.
To hike the entire Abel Tasman Coast Track, hikers should begin in Marahau. Here, they will follow a trail along multiple small beaches, eventually turning inland to proceed in and out of little gullies.
After resting in Anchorage Bay, hikers will continue their adventure by crossing Torrent Bay estuary and hiking across a 47-meter-long suspension bridge over Falls River. Hikers will then follow a path through a lush, coastal forest before arriving at the golden sands of Bark Bay.
The next day, hikers will cross the breathtaking Bark Bay estuary heading to Awaroa. This section of the trek includes awe-inspiring highlights like Tonga Quarry, Onetahuti Bay, and Venture Creek. Following, hikers will enjoy a low tide walk from Awaroa to Whariwharangi Bay along sandy beaches.
The final stretch of the Abel Tasman Coast Track leads hikers to Totaranui. During this segment, they will follow a gentle stream and overlook Wainui Inlet right outside the bay.
When tackling the Abel Tasman Coast Track, hikers can expect milder temperatures between 17 – 21 °C in Spring and Autumn and warmer temperatures between 20 – 25 °C in the warmer months from December to February.
It can be quite windy along the coast, resulting in chilly ocean waters. Prepare for your trek with bug repellent for the pesky sandflies found rampant along the Abel Tasman Coast Track. Before you start hiking, make sure to check the tide schedule as some parts of the trek are only possible to cross during low tide.
By Ellie Ewert from Ellie’s Travel Tips
5. Heaphy Track
4-6 days- 78.4 km- West Coast- Intermediate
When 2020 decided to turn upside down and I found myself back home in New Zealand, I made the decision that I would get out and explore as much as possible.
Fast forward to the decision to head to Nelson for Christmas and my brother saying ‘you should do the Heaphy Track before Christmas and then the Abel Tasman after!’. Great… So I thought at the time, I’ll do it!
Now, little did I know at the time that work was going to go slightly insane in the lead up to Christmas and I’d be working right up until I left to drive to Takaka.
I decided to hike the Heaphy from the West Coast back to Takaka, and as I learned quickly on day one this is something most people don’t do and there is a good reason for that – It’s all up hill!!! However… let’s rewind to before I made that realisation.
Arriving in Takaka, I rocked up to Golden Bay Air and said ‘I’m here!’, and the pilot said ‘Great! Lets go!’, giving me no time to worry about the fact the plane was tiny and I was about to get dropped off to spend 4 days walking back to my car.
The flight was amazing and something I would highly recommend, whether doing it to get to the start or back from the track. To fly over this part of New Zealand and see untouched wilderness below you, was just magical!
Next up was my true blue ‘coaster’, as I soon realised when I got into the shuttle to get to Kohaihai Shelter, with his jokes about the ‘boys collecting the coconuts from the palm trees’ – they don’t produce coconuts, to his ‘we only let Aussies and Aucklander’s swim out there!’ – due to the undertow and currents sending them home again.
However, he was hilarious, genuine, cared, full of knowledge and so encouraging as I set off. He even gave me an extra gas canister as he was worried I would run out – turns out he didn’t need to as I still came home with my full one and his not empty yet.
This is where the fun begins, it was around 230pm when I set off and I had a 5 hour hike in front of me to get to Heaphy Campsite (where I had no idea about the level of sandflies in store for me!).
It was stunning! Walking through insane Nikau Palm forests, over rivers and looking up valleys, to the coastline where the mountains genuinely meet the sea. it made me feel like I was in another world, not the New Zealand I knew.
15.5 km and 5 hours later I made it to the campsite to be greeted by millions of sandflies, Wekas, Kereru and more of our native birds. I setup camp and headed to the river for a swim… ok, so I ended up just rinsing off the sweat as the Heaphy River was freezing!
After cooking dinner – ok so boiling water for a Back Country dinner… and being attacked by sandflies it was time to retire to the safety of my tent… only to be woken at 1am by the best alarm ever!!!
A Great Spotted Kiwi beside me chatting with his mate in the distance – I couldn’t believe it, and only wish I could have gotten out to see him before he ran away.
By Anna Cochrane from https://www.annasreflections.com/
6. Paparoa Track
2-3 days- 56 km – West Coast, South Island Fiordland- Intermediate
The Paparoa Track is the youngest of New Zealand’s ten great walks opening in 2019. The track runs from Blackball through to Punakaiki and was designed and built for both walking and mountain biking.
The 55km trail will eventually be complemented with the 18km PIke29 Memorial Track. However, the opening of this is on hold for now due to mine re-entry procedures.
The Paparoa Track can be walked in either direction and a range of providers offer car transfers or shuttles between the ends. Walkers generally spend two nights on the track whilst mountain bikers will either complete the trail in one long day or spend one night. The track is home to 3 huts: Ces Clark Memorial, Moonlight Tops and Pororari.
Moonlight Tops and Pororari were built specifically for the great walk and sleep 20 people each. They are also home to USB charging ports – a first for any hut I have spent time in.
Starting from the Blackball end the track quickly gains elevation until reaching the Ces Clark Memorial Hut at the 10km mark. From here you begin walking along the specifically built track along the exposed alpine tops until reaching Moonlight Tops Hut.
The following day’s walk to Pororari Hut is a variety of alpine tops, walking along the magnificent escarpment and then descending into ancient podocarp forest while passing over swing bridges and waterfalls.
The final day will see you descend further down to sea level through forest and then along the bank of the Pororari River before reaching your endpoint at Punakaiki.
Temperatures and conditions can vary greatly whilst experiencing the Paparoa Great Walk and forecasts can quickly change while on the track. Walkers need to be prepared for both rain or sunshine at any time of the year.
The exposed alpine sections can offer views all the way to Mount Cook on a clear day, a walk shrouded in mist if it is cloudy, or a thorough test for your wet weather gear in the rain.
The huts are fantastic, however, they do book out quickly, especially the Moonlight Tops which is popular with both walkers and bikers. The option to spend an evening at Ces Clark Memorial Hut is beginning to prove popular while adding an additional night on the track.
By Jacq Nesbit
7. Routerburn Track
3 days – 32 km- Fiordland- Intermediate
Most tourists in New Zealand travel to Queenstown, not realising that the beautiful Routeburn Track is only a short distance away. One of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Routeburn Track leads you through the imposing peaks of the Southern Alps.
The route links Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks, taking you through icy valleys, rolling valleys and alpine gardens. Throughout the track are viewpoints where you’ll see panoramic views of snow-capped mountains and valleys.
The Routeburn Track is a three-day hike that you can do from either direction. You’ll generally be walking from 4-5 hours each day, depending on how far you walk.
There’s also the option to do the ‘The Divide Shelter’ side trip, which takes about an hour and a half. This climb to the key summit gives you a gorgeous, panoramic view of the area.
The Department of Conservation in New Zealand operates three huts and two campsites along the track. These are generally affordable but need to be booked well advanced. If you’re after more luxurious accommodation, it’s possible to do the walk while staying in comfortable lodges – with some packages, your luggage will also be transported for you.
Much of the route goes through the forest. While the path is well-marked, it can be muddy and slippery, so be sure to do the walk during the warmer weather – November to April is generally the Great Walks season. The end of the track is 325km from the start by road, so you’ll need to arrange transport.
It’s generally a relatively easy walk (particularly if you’ve chosen a luxury accommodation option), and the spectacular views really make the experience worthwhile. From mirror-clear lakes, snow-capped mountains and rustic swing bridges, there are stunning views around every corner.
Not only does the Routeburn Track give you a chance to switch off and escape from everyday life, but it also shows you a wild, beautiful side of the country, which not every traveller manages to experience.
By Roxanne from FARAWAY WORLDS
8. Milford Track
4 days- 53.5 km – Fiordland- Intermediate
Lying within Fiordland National Park in the south west of New Zealand’s South Island, the iconic Milford Track takes hikers through some of New Zealand’s most dramatic scenery, and often its most dramatic weather too.
40 independent walkers and 40 guided walkers per day travel in the same direction and stay at each designated hut, travelling 33.5 miles (53.5km) over four days. On the first day, a ferry journey brings walkers to Glade Wharf on Lake Te Anau. From there, a picturesque 5km walk along the banks of the Clinton River brings walkers to Clinton Hut.
Day two is 16.5km of gradual incline along the Clinton Valley, to Mintaro Hut. Towering mountain ranges flank both sides of the valley providing either majestic views or endless waterfalls. Walkers arriving at Mintaro Hut in clear weather should ‘take a side trip’ to the top of the pass to enjoy the views as there is every chance of poor weather and no views the following day.
Day three is a minimum of 14km with a steady 500m climb to the top of MacKinnon Pass and a 1000m descent into the Arthur Valley, finishing at Dumpling Hut.
On a clear day, the pass provides spectacular views down both the Clinton and Arthur Valleys. Once in the valley, a 90-minute return side trip takes hikers to New Zealand’s highest waterfall, Sutherland Falls, at 580m.
The final day is a mostly flat 18km to the end of the track: aptly named Sandfly Point. The bush is jungle-like, the Arthur River a deep emerald green. Bell Rock, the beautiful MacKay Falls, and the dramatic Giants Gate Falls are passed in this section. The track is completed by a short ferry ride into Milford Sound.
Fiordland has an average of 200 rain days with seven to ten meters of rain, per year. This rainfall feeds the famous explosion of waterfalls in the area.
Temperatures at any time on the track can range from warm to snow-inducing or lower, and hikers should always come prepared for all possible weather conditions. No matter what kind of weather is encountered, a truly memorable experience is guaranteed.
About the author: Katherine Baynton
9. Kepler Track
3 to 4 days – 60 km – Fiordland- Intermediate
The Kepler Track is easily one of the best hikes on the South Island of New Zealand! This Great Walk takes you through Fiordland National Park as you walk along Lake Te Anau, through lush forest, up to mountain peaks, and along stunning ridgelines.
Each day the scenery changes and this diversity makes it a hike to remember.
The Kepler Track is 60 kilometers long in total. Most people complete the hike over 4 days and 3 nights which is the recommended amount of time.
With so few campsites and huts along the trail to choose from, the route is almost always completed in this length of time with hikers staying at the famed Luxmore Hut, Iris Burn Hut and Campsite, and the Moturau Hut.
Staying at the Luxmore Hut is one of the highlights along this trail. The panoramic views of the Southern Alps and Lake Te Anau are stunning! Not to mention that there is a very cool cave only a 5-minute walk from the hut and you will most definitely get approached by a Kea or two (an alpine parrot.)
In fact, if you don’t have the time or energy to hike the entire Kepler Track, I recommend just hiking to the Luxmore Hut and then hiking back down. You can hike up for the day, or just spend one night.
One of the best things about the Kepler Track is that it is one of the few Great Walks that is actually a loop track – meaning it ends exactly where it started. This is super convenient because you don’t need to organize transport at the end to bring you back to your car.
The Kepler Track is also conveniently located only a five-minute drive from Te Anau. Te Anau is a small town, but a popular tourist destination as it is the gateway to Milford Sound and only two hours from Queenstown.
At the start of the trail, there is a large parking lot where you can safely leave your car for the duration of your hike.
By Bailey from MY QUEENSTOWN DIARY
10. Rakiura Track
3 days – 32 km Stewart Island- Relatively Easy
The Rakiura Track is an easy tramping track on Stewart Island. It’s great for families and everyone who likes to explore the unspoiled nature of Stewart Island.
The loop track is about 32 km and can be hiked in 2-3 days and can be walked all year round. It is one of the best multi day hikes in New Zealand for sure!
Within one hour the ferry takes people from Bluff to Oban, the only residential town on Stewart Island. The walk starts and ends here and you can decide in which direction you would like to start walking. The description below covers walking the track counter clockwise.
Heading northbound along the sealed road for about 5 km, hikers pass picturesque Halfmoon Bay and Horseshoe Bay to get to the entry of the Rakiura Track at Lee Bay. The pleasant and mostly flat track follows the coastline for about 8 km revealing beautiful views onto Foveaux Strait.
While walking through lush bushes and over sandy beaches hikers make their way to Port Williams Hut. To get there one needs to leave the actual loop track for a short detour.
The next morning hikers get to cross the inland for about 13 km after walking back to the loop track and climbing up and down through the hills and dense bush over an elevation of about 200 meters.
The track conditions might be in a rather muddy condition. Usually, that shouldn’t hinder anybody with good footwear from successfully reaching the lookouts over the Paterson Inlet before descending to North Arm Hut. To watch the sunset there’s a beautiful spot walking down a trail which goes off the hut and leads down to the waterfront.
The final part of the trail along the Paterson Inlet/ Whaka a Te Wera passes beautiful creeks and ancient forests for eleven km before leaving the track and back onto the main road. Now there are about 2 km left to get back to Oban.
Hikers need to make sure they book their accommodation in advance and provide their own cooking facilities. Fees vary depending on the walking season and can be found on the DOC website. The weather changes a lot regardless of the season and hikers should be prepared for all conditions. A torch covered in red cellophane is a must-have to go out at night to look for wild Kiwis.
With the right gear and preparation, one will have a great experience discovering Steward Island on the Rakiura Track.
About the author:
My name is Laura Wallböhmer (23 years of age) and I have been traveling and living in New Zealand since the end of 2019. It has been a great and challenging time. Everything that happened helped me grow and understand myself and discovering multi day hiking showed me a new way to balance my life in this fast-paced world. I will be flying back home to Germany in March 2021.