New Zealand is without a doubt a land of great adventures and there’s nothing like getting out into our beautiful countryside and breathing in that pure, 100% New Zealand air to blow the cobwebs away and feel free. Everywhere you look there are walks you can do from marked trails to wandering on the beautiful sandy beaches. If you want some real adventure however there are 9 walks in New Zealand that are known as the ‘Great Walks’ and something you need to add to your ‘to do’ list.
What are the Great Walks?
The nine Great Walks of New Zealand are called ‘premier’ walking tracks and pass through some diverse and pretty awe-inspiring landscapes from the stunning coastline to the snow-capped mountains. These great walks will take you into the heart of New Zealand and leave you yearning for more. They are all multi-day walks (or tramps as we like to call them in NZ) meaning you will have to plan for at least one and often 2-3 overnight stops along the way.
Where are the Great Walks?
The Great Walks are pretty well spread out across New Zealand as you would expect – we have some pretty amazing landscapes wherever you are. There are none north of Auckland however there are three in the North Island which are accessible from both major cities of Auckland and Wellington. Here’s a full list of the walks:
- Lake Waikaremoana – Te Urewera National Park, North Island
- Tongariro Northern Circuit – Tongariro National Park, North Island
- Whanganui Journey – Whanganui National Park – North Island
- Abel Tasman Coast Track – Abel Tasman National Park – South Island
- Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park – South Island
- Routeburn Track – Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks – South Island
- Kepler Track – Fiordland National Park – South Island
- Milford Track – Fiordland National Park – South Island
- Rakiura Track – Rakiura – Stewart Island
When it comes to the South Island, the stunning Fiordland National Park has its fair share of the Great Walks with three of the walks based in the park. It’s a truly stunning place and each of the walks brings something a bit different from the ice carved valleys on the Routeburn Track to the stunning sight of world famous Milford Sound.
To find out more about each of the walks, click on the links to be taken to the relevant walks at the bottom of this post.
Accommodation on the Great Walks
Freestyle camping is not permitted on any of the Great Walks so it’s important you book your accommodation and pay for it before setting out through the Department of Conservation (DoC). All of the walks have DoC managed huts along the route at sensible distances apart. The huts are pretty awesome and give you a real sense of community, especially in the peak seasons when there are more people out on the walks and you get the chance to share war stories in the evenings and compare your photos from the day! The cost of the huts vary from walk to walk – more information is available on the DoC website and there is more info below.
The backcountry huts offer up the following in terms of facilities – they’re basic but perfect for this type of adventure:
- Bunks with mattresses (bring a sleeping bag)
- Some have lighting or candle holders
- Some have cooking facilities with fuel (bring your own utensils)
- Broom and pan to keep the place clean and tidy
- Hut wardens
Although free camping on the walks is not permitted, there are designated camp sites on all the walks except the Milford Track and these can help to keep your costs down although you will need to carry your tent.
Booking your accommodation – booking your accommodation is a pretty essential part of your Great Walk planning – there is no point in getting all your dates sorted if you have nowhere to stay so this should be one of the first things to tick off your list. Reservations for both the huts and the campsites can be made through the DoC website so make sure you get on there early and get that bit sorted.
Preparing to take on one (or more!) of the Great Walks
Once you’ve got your accommodation sorted and your dates are all set in stone, you need to make your arrangements for getting to the start of the walk and getting picked up at the end. The circuit walks are pretty straightforward as they start and finish in the same place but other walks can be trickier.
You obviously need a good basic level of fitness to complete any of the walks. The terrain, whilst well marked and in good condition differs from kilometre to kilometre and can take you up and down big hills and mountains so getting your fitness up is a great way to prepare. As the time comes nearer, you need to think about the food and drink you are going to take on the walk and how you are going to pack everything into your backpack. When planning your food supplies, remember, you’ve got to take everything in and out so you maybe don’t want to be carrying too many cans of beans with you as you will end up rattling around the walk!
Here is a list of a few essentials but you can also see the DoC website for a list of things they recommend bringing along with you:
- First aid kit including suncream
- A camera
- A rubbish bag
- Sleeping bag
- A good pair of walking shoes or boots (and your flip flops for the end of the day)
- Thermal clothes (merino stuff is ideal)
- Food and water
- Snacks (like nuts and raisins to keep in your pocket – trail mix is perfect!)
The Great Walks are a pretty special thing to do whether you’re a Kiwi who’s lived here all your life or you’re visiting our beautiful shores for a short or longer visit. They are challenging but so rewarding it’s untrue. It’s a great chance to meet people, get out into the beautiful fresh air and explore some truly stunning landscapes. All we can say is, get out there and explore any of the Great Walks and make sure you let us know all about your experiences with lots of photos!
Below you can find a bit more information about each of the Great Walks:
1. Lake Waikaremoana | 46kms | 3-4 days
Situated in the Hawkes Bay Region to the east of the North Island, the Lake Waikaremoana walk takes you around the shoreline of this beautiful lake through a mass of rainforest where you will stumble across stunning waterfalls. Panekire Bluff provides breath taking views of the lake and on a hot day, there is nothing better than taking a dip in the lake!
2. Tongariro Northern Circuit | 43kms | 3-4 days
Famous for its one day walk, the Tongariro Crossing, the Tongariro Northern Circuit is your chance to get out and explore this area even further. This walk is rich in geological features as you walk across active volcanoes and climb craters and peaks. There are also some beautiful glacial lakes with stunning turquoise waters and amazing views at every turn.
3. Whanganui Journey | 145kms | 3-5 days
The only one of the Great Walks which is not an actual walk – this journey takes you down the Whanganui River as you wind yourself from mountains to the sea through the lush green hills and bush-clad valleys. Drift along at your own pace in your canoe and visit the famous Bridge to Nowhere. There is a shorter 3 day option that is really popular but this is a great journey of discovery.
4. Abel Tasman Coastal Track | 55.2kms | 3-5 days
This is one of our favourites as you follow the coastline in the stunning Abel Tasman National Park. New Zealand’s sunniest location, the area is blessed with year round climate which means this is a great walk any time of the year. The camp sites on this walk are amazing. Camp out on golden sandy beaches with crystal clear waters just calling out to you after a long day of walking.
5. Heaphy Track | 78.4kms | 4-6 days
The longest of the walking tracks, the Heaphy Track is not for the feint hearted! Another journey that will take you from mountains to coast this Great Walks combines all of New Zealand’s scenic beauty into one walk. This is a great walk for the nature lovers with all kinds of native wildlife to be seen along the way. Listen out for the kiwi birds at night time and if you’re lucky you may just catch a glimpse.
6. Routeburn Track | 32kms | 2-4 days
This track takes you through two of New Zealand’s most spectacular national parks; The Mount Aspiring National Park and the Fiordland National Park. This walk is perhaps most famous for its stunning reflective lakes and tarns and ice-carved valleys formed by glaciers. This is a walk between giants as you make your way between the snow-capped mountains. You may need more than one camera!
7. Kepler Track | 60kms | 3-4 days
Another big walk at 60kms, the Kepler Track is another of the Great Walks that takes you through the Fiordland National Park. This is a walk that take you up high and often above the clouds which presents a stunning scene. There’s also heaps of lakes to take a dip in if you get too hot from all the exertion! We highly recommend the Luxmore Hut for one of your stopovers – the views at sunrise are something you will never forget.
8. Milford Track | 53.5kms | 4 days
This is perhaps one of the most famous of New Zealand’s great walks mainly thanks to one of the world famous features on the route – Milford Sound. This walk is however about much more than the end point – the journey to get to Milford Sound is a spectacular one as mountains soar above you and waterfalls cascade down rock faces. It is a truly spectacular walk with a fitting end. Do it!
9. Rakiura Track | 32kms | 3 days
There is perhaps no better way to explore Stewart Island than on the Rakiura Track. This is a true escape from the world and a chance to get back to nature. The next stop beyond Stewart Island is the Antarctic and it sometimes feels as though you are the last people on earth as you explore the islands fascinating past. As you would imagine, this walks offers some stunning coastal views with secluded bays where you can sit back and watch the world go by at your own pace.
A big thank you goes to the Department of Conservation/Te Papa Atawhai for all the images found in this blog post.