New Zealand offers many fantastic walks, on both the North and South Islands, with diverse and stunning scenery, awe inspiring landscapes from mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes to ocean views and native forests. The great walks are well maintained tracks which are managed by the DOC (Department of Conservation). You can choose to walk these tracks by yourself or find a guide, either for a personal or group tour.
The Lake Waikaremoana track is located in the Te Urewera National Park in the east of the North Island. The nearest towns are Wairoa (1 hour drive), Gisborne (2 hour drive) and Rotorua (3 hour drive). The track is 46km in total and can be walked over 3 – 4 days, it is well formed and marked, suitable for hikers of a moderate fitness and experience.
The track follows the shores of Lake Waikaremoana and has large areas of native forest. Walk through rainforest, shrub land, wetlands, discover waterfalls and rivers. The area has a spiritual connection for the Māori people of New Zealand and is home to the Maori tribe Ngai Tuhoe - the ‘Children of the Mist’.
It is also home to almost every species of North Island native forest bird, you will hear calls from tui, kereru (wood pigeon) and if you are lucky enough at dusk the kiwi bird. There are five Department of Conservation (DOC) huts and several camp sites along the walk, advanced bookings are recommended during the summer seasons. The walk is not a circular walk so shuttle buses or private transfers at either end of the track are required.
Tongariro Northern Circuit
Located in the Tongariro National Park, in New Zealand's North Island - the Tongariro Northern Circuit is 43.1 km and takes 3 - 4 days to walk in its entirety. This walk winds past Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe, see glacier lakes, volcanic landscapes, craters, native forest, alpine meadows, emerald green and crystal blue lakes; the type of scenery you will have seen on films such as Lord of The Rings.
The Tongariro Northern Circuit is not a loop walk and again requires shuttles or transfers. There are Department of Conservation huts and camp sites along the way, advanced booking is required as the walk is popular.
This walk can be walked independently or with a guide, if you choose to walk independently you should have a good level of fitness and be prepared, the weather can be unpredictable due to its alpine environment.
If you do not have 3 – 4 days to complete the entire Northern Circuit, you could choose to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing - this 19.4km track can be completed in a day and is considered as New Zealand’s best one day walk. Again you do need to ensure you have transport arranged for each end of the walk.
The Whanganui Journey in the central North Island is classed as one of New Zealand’s great walks, however it involves paddling down the river in a kayak or canoe rather than walking on land, so not really a walk! Paddle down 145km of the Whangnaui River, one of New Zealand;s longest river in 290 km at total. The 5 day journey goes from Taumarunui to Pipiriki, with a shorter 3-day option being available from Whakahoro to Pipiriki.
This journey has to be one of the more peaceful ones really getting away from civilisation, with just the sounds of birdlife and ebbing streams. You can leave your kayak or canoe to view “the bridge in the middle of nowhere”, a short easy walking trail takes you deep into the forest to a road bridge spanning a deep ravine. The bridge was built in 1936 to access the Mangapurua Valley Soldiers Settlement, which was then abandoned after 6 years in 1942.
Again the Department of Conservation provides huts along the river banks and also some camp sites. It is easy to paddle the Whanganui journey independently and single kayaks or double Canadian style canoes can be hired.
Abel Tasman Coast Track
Moving from the North to the South Islands, the Abel Tasman Coast Track can be found in the Abel Tasman National Park on the northern shores of the South Island. This walk is probably one of the easiest of the 9 great walks, and a great option for families. The track offers views of golden sands and crystal clear ocean, and native forests. The entire track is just over 54km long, there are areas which are tidal and can only be crossed a few hours either side of low tide.
The track in its entirety would take between 3 – 5 days to walk, depending on how many stops you choose to make. You can choose to walk portions of the track and take water taxis to different locations. There are plenty of camp site options along the track, lots of beaches to stop and take a swim or snorkel, and at Tonga Island Marine reserve you can view seals in their natural habitat.
The closest towns are Nelson, Motueka and Takaka with some fantastic accommodation available in these regions.
Many people consider the Heaphy track as the best of the 9 great walks, it is also the longest at 78.4km. The track is well maintained, sign posted and suitable for hikers of moderate fitness, it is also possible to mountain bike the track between May and September. To walk the entire track would take an average of 4 – 6 days and by bike 2 – 3 days.
The Heaphy Track is located in the Kahurangi National Park at the north-west corner of the South Island. The closest towns to the track are Nelson, Takaka, Westport and Karamea. The scenery on the Heaphy track is forever changing, with rivers, limestone caves, ancient beech forests, lush rain forests, alpine tussocks with views over forests and mountains.
The track is a bird watcher's mecca with, cuckoos, parrots, weka, robins, kingfishers, pukeko, godwits, terns, oyster catchers, herons and shags, and there's even the possibility for the lucky ones to see kiwi. The Kahurangi National Park is also home to half of New Zealand’s 40 species of carnivorous land snail and long tail bats.
Again there are Department of Conservation (DOC) huts along the way, these huts are comfortable but basic and it is likely that you will share them with other walkers. If time is short there are a few options for day walks on the tracks.
The Kepler track is located in the Fiordland National Park in the south-west South Island, with the closest towns being Te Anau or Queenstown. This track is a loop track, which is 60km long and can be covered in 3 – 4 days, and can be reached with an easy 50-minute walk from the township of Te Anau.
There are some steep sections to the track, which can be a physical challenge for some, but those offer rewarding views of Lake Te Anau, the Kepler Mountains and the Murchison Mountains. Highlights of the Kepler track are the Luxmore Caves - take a 10 minute detour from the track with a torch and explore these caves; where you will find stalactites and stalagmites, cross swing bridges over the rivers and if you're brave enough take a swim in the icy waterfalls. For those on a schedule or perhaps with young families there are day walk options on the Kepler Track.
The Milford Track is also located in the Fiordland National Park, and stretches 54km from Lake Te Anau to Sandfly Point in the Milford Sound. The Milford track takes 5 days to hike and accommodation along the way is in Department of Conservation huts, which should be pre-booked. The tracks offers amazing scenery, sheer canyon walls which can look like waterfalls after heavy rain, native forests, rivers and mountains. You'll traverse the Mackinnon Pass and finish at the must see Milford Sound.
The track has Department of Conservation huts and also some purpose-built cabins along the way. The cabins must be booked ahead and utilised as part of a guided hike. There is a day walk option for those not able to take the time to cover the entire 54 km of the track - the day walk is an easy 11km, beginning at Lake Te Anau and includes a short boat ride to the start of the track. The Milford day encounter is easy to arrange from your Queenstown accommodation.
The Routeburn Track is a firm favourite for overseas travellers, possibly due to its easy proximity to Queenstown, or perhaps the stunning alpine mountain and lake scenery. The entire track is 32km and takes an average of 2 – 4 days if you were to walk the full track.
The only accommodation available along the track is camp sites and DOC huts. Most of our clients choose to stay in Queenstown and walk a portion of the track as a day walk. This option is a 13km hike through the Mount Aspiring National Park and following the Routeburn River through a 130 year old forest. You should allow 9 hours for the day option and it is possible to walk independently and self-drive from Queenstown, or choose to have an informative local guide, either as part of a group or privately guided.
The Rakiura Track is located on Stewart Island, which is a 20-minute flight from Invercargill or an hour by ferry from Bluff, at the very bottom of New Zealand's South Island. Raikura National Park is New Zealand's most southerly national park, a truly idyllic experience away from the hustle and bustle.
The track forms a 32km circuit, or 39km with some road. Its an easy walking track for anyone of reasonable fitness. To walk the entire track would take 3 days and it is recommended to book well in advance as transfers and accommodation are limited on the island, especially in the busier summer months. There are camp sites and huts which are shared bunk accommodation. The track follows the coastline and crosses through forests and passes sites of historical interest.
Whichever of New Zealands great walks you decide to do you must plan, prepare and follow the outdoor safety code.
- Plan your trip – the DOC website is a great source of information, maps etc. You can also book the DOC huts on line.
- Always tell someone – let someone know where you're walking, and set a date on when to raise the alarm should you not return
- Be aware of the weather - the weather in New Zealand can be changeable
- Know your limits
- Take sufficient supplies – water, clothing, food, means of communication etc.
Most of all enjoy the great New Zealand outdoors!