New Zealand Great Walks Guide

Panorama overlooking Christchurch, New Zealand

Overlooking Christchurch. Photo by Chris Schoenbaum.

Having a Great Walk

New Zealand’s Great Walks are nine well-organised and maintained, lengthy hiking (locally known as tramping) trails through some of the country’s most spectacular scenery, with ‘backcountry’ huts placed at strategic locations. The walks are free but huts incur a small fee to use and booking ahead is vital in the busy summer season.

When to take a Great Walk

Best weather: October-March though December-January gets hectic.

Avoid: May-September, cold and wet, with impassable tracks, especially the South Island.

n. b. The weather is unpredictable at any time so take rain gear whatever month you go.

Easy: Abel Tasman Coast Track (north of South Island)

Abel Tasman National Park coastal walk, New Zealand

The Abel Tasman coastal walk. Photo by Ischa1.

3-5 days, 51km (32m). Well marked and graded, no technical gear required.
Season: all year round with long dry spells through summer and autumn.
Accommodation: there are huts with basic facilities along the track, but take a tent in the summer. This is the busiest track in New Zealand and it’s not difficult to see why. Easy paths follow the coast around bays, beaches and headlands. The track also passes in and out of native bush, providing shady passage in this warm and sunny environment. There’s even the chance to put your feet up and get closer to the sea life; sea kayaking part of the route is a popular option. Fauna encountered along the route include wekas (a native chicken-like bird), possums and sand flies.

Easy – Moderate: Lake Waikaremoana

3-4 days. Another popular year-round North Island track. This one through trundles through native forest with great views, fishing and swimming holes.

Moderate: Tongariro Crossing(North Island, Tongariro NP)

Emerald Lakes, Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand Pictures

The Tongariro Crossing hike. Photo by Follash.

8 hours, 19. 4 kms, very well marked. 4 and 5 day circuits also available.
Season: All year round, but best Nov – April. Snow and ice on track in winter.
Booking: You’ll need to be picked up at the end, usually provided by hotels/lodges in the area.
This is the best one day walk in New Zealand, in an area bubbling with Maori history, live volcanoes, boiling mud pools and craters. The walk passes through alpine tussock-lands before ascending into a dramatic lunar landscape, skirting emerald lakes and hot springs.

Moderate: Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track

This is not officially a Great Walk but popular, long and organised, south west of South Island), a new walk, 3 days, 53km (33m). Well marked, about 18km (11m) per day.
Within a world heritage area the walk goes around the western end of Bluecliffs beach on Te Wae Wae Bay.
Hikers pass through the Waitutu coastal marine terraces and cross the historic Rowallan Maori Lands, taking in indigenous wildlife such as Hector’s dolphins, the kea – a New Zealand parrot – while enjoying diverse scenery from alpine passes to sandstone outcrops.
There are two 40 bunk huts on the track at Okaka (night 1) and Port Craig village (night 2) equipped with cookers, tables, some hot water, plenty of cold water, lighting, heating, toilets and hut wardens with radios from October to April. Book ahead!
Not recommended for children under 10.
Guided walks available with a helicopter service for those who want to miss the first day.

Moderate: Routeburn Track(south west of South Island)

Lake Harris seen from the Routeburn Track, New Zealand

Lake Harris seen from the Routeburn Track by Andre Chalmers.

3 days, 33km (21m). Must be able to carry cooking equipment and food. Alpine experience necessary in winter.
Season: all year round, but much harder in winter. Weather’s best Dec – March but can still change suddenly.
Accommodation: There are four well equipped huts on the route and three camp sites; camping elsewhere is prohibited to protect the environment. Book ahead!
After Abel Tasman this is the second busiest track in the summer and is one of the great walks in the world, covering an amazing variety of landscapes. Walkers go through temperate rainforests, over high passes and through alpine meadows. The mountainous backdrops and rich flora and fauna make this many people’s favourite, even over the classic Milford Track.

Moderate: Rakiura Track(an island south of the South Island)

2-3 days, 29km (18m) on a planked track and roads.
Season: All year round, though it rains a lot (250 days a year).
Accommodation: two huts en route each with 30 places, first come first served – so carrying a tent is recommended.
One of the most remote and unspoiled places on earth, the small community of islanders are outnumbered by abundant birdlife such as kakas (native parrots) and penguins; bird watching is a favoured way to pass time and this is one of the few places where you may see a kiwi on this scenic walk.

Moderate: Heaphy Track(north of South Island)

4-6 days through native forest, red tussock downs and valleys to a quiet beach.

Moderate – Hard: Kepler Track(south west of South Island)

4 days.
This is a well planned alpine route, taking in spectacular views of Fiordland. Some sections are ideal for day walks though the whole route is 60kms long.

Hard: Milford Track, (south west of South Island)

Mirror Lake , Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand.

Milford Sound, Mirror Lake. Photo by Chris Schoenbaum.

4 days, 53. 5 km (34m, picture above). 6 hours a day over uneven terrain.
Season: October-mid-April, though Dec-March is better to avoid sudden changes in weather.
Accommodation: only 40 walkers a day permitted, so book ahead!
World Heritage listed, this is the most famous walk in New Zealand and one of the great walks in the world, though some say Routeburn (above) is more varied.
The track cuts through glacier-cut fiords, deep valleys, spectacular waterfalls, colourful bogs and ancient forest. It ends at Milford Sound, one of the world’s natural wonders, with hundreds of waterfalls thundering down sheer cliffs (weather permitting).