New Zealand Great Walks

For a little country, New Zealand really packs a punch when it comes to landscape diversity. From Middle-earth like volcanoes to lush-green rainforests, fiords, snowy mountains and tropical beaches, we really do like to mix it up! And for those who love walking and hiking, this has got to be music to your ears. Landscapes as contrasting and dramatic as ours really do invite some pretty epic exploring when you lace up your hiking boots.

New Zealand’s Great Walks (all nine of them) are designed to celebrate the diversity of our landscapes. Winding through various National Parks from North to South, these well-kept trails are dotted with Department of Conservation huts or campsites and are designed to be walked independently.

Wondering which New Zealand Great Walk would suit your needs best, or confused about how to organize logistics? Then our New Zealand Great Walks guide is for you.

A Guide to New Zealand’s Great Walks

South Island

Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park from the Kepler Track

Kepler Track

  • 60km, 3-4 days
  • Loop or point to point (organize transport in Advance)
  • Near Te Anau, 2 hours from Queenstown

Unlike other Great Walks, which are based on old Maori trade trails or pioneer journeys, the Kepler was tailor-made to showcase the very best of Fiordland. Choose to hike this track, and you’ll see the most awesome bits of Fiordland. Think golden tussock high country, thundering waterfalls and limestone formations. Cheeky Kea birds, enormous mountain ranges and mossy green rainforests. I could go on, but you get the picture – the Kepler is a stunner! Any of the tricky parts have boardwalks and stairs, and the huts (3 of them) are serviced during the summer months of October to April, which means gas cooking stoves and resident wardens. Because it’s not as well known, you won’t see as many people as you would on the Milford or Routeburn, but you still need to book in advance.

Kepler Track Booking Link
Winter on the Kepler Track

While the Kepler is technically still open during the winter months, there’s the risk of avalanche and facilities are greatly reduced. We recommend the Abel Tasman, Lake Waikaremoana or Whanganui Journey further north during these months.

Bobbie’s tip: A popular option is to finish the Kepler at Rainbow Reach in just 3 days.  The last day is often a long one and it is helpful to have a car waiting for you, meaning no rush to meet bus transport.   Let us take care of things like transport to and from the start of the track, quality gear hire and food – here are our Kepler Track options.

Lake Harris on the Routeburn Track

Lake Harris on the Routeburn Track

Routeburn Track

  • 32km, 2-3 days
  • Point to point (organize transport in advance)
  • One side is near Queenstown, the other is near Milford Sound/Te Anau

In terms of bang-for-your-buck, you can’t beat the Routeburn. The views are out of this world amazing – some of the most dramatic in the country – but the entire track is only 32km, and at 2-3 days, it’s an easy length to fit into any itinerary. Linking together two of our most beautiful National Parks, the Routeburn is simply a stunner. It’s also quite popular, so booking in advance is essential, especially in the high summer months of December, January and February. It’s not a loop track; one end of the track begins at the Routeburn Shelter near Glenorchy and Queenstown and the other is at The Divide, halfway between Te Anau and Milford Sound.

Routeburn Track Booking link
 Winter on the Routeburn Track

While the Rotueburn is technically still open during the winter months, there is a very high risk of avalanche and facilities are greatly reduced. Because of the danger associated with walking the Routeburn in winter, we’d recommend the Abel Tasman, Lake Waikaremoana or Whanganui Journey during these months.

Bobbie’s Tip: Vehicle relocation makes the logistics of the Routeburn a breeze and you can change into fresh clothes when you get to the end!  Also, you have the perfect opportunity work the Routeburn into your itinerary saving you driving time and expense.  Visit Milford Sound before or after you finish the Routeburn Track – there is no need to waste an entire day for a Milford Day trip from Queenstown. Imagine visiting Milford Sound in the morning (before most other people), then taking a short drive to The Divide to start the track. Perfect! We offer heaps of options to make the logistics of the Routeburn Track a breeze.

View from Mackinnon Pass on the Milford Track

View from Mackinnon Pass on the Milford Track

Milford Track

  • 53.5km, 4 days
  • Point to point track (organize transport in advance)
  • The track begins near Te Anau, and ends in Milford Sound

If you’re a keen hiker, there’s a high chance you would have heard of the Milford Track – it’s the jewel in New Zealand’s crown in terms of our most famous walks! And it’s no wonder. The Milford really is something special. From the magic of New Zealand’s tallest waterfall to the enormous views you’ll enjoy from atop MacKinnon’s Pass, this is a trail you’ll never forget. Keep in mind that it’s no longer a secret, and you’re likely to see a fair few people on the track, especially if you’re walking it in the height of summer. Because of its popularity, we can’t emphasize enough how much you need to book the Milford well in advance. Track bookings usually open in early April but this varies.

Milford Track booking link
Winter on the Milford Track

Like all Great Walks, the Milford Track is technically still open during the winter months. However, it can be very dangerous – many of the bridges are removed and, like the Routeburn, there’s high avalanche risk.  Again, the Abel Tasman, Tongariro Circuit, Lake Waikaremoana or Whanganui Journey are much better options during these months.

Bobbie’s Tip: Because it’s a point-to-point track that also involves water taxis, there are a fair few logistics involved if you’re hiking the Milford independently. Let us take care of the hassle – many of our Milford packages include water taxi transport as well as car relocation, hiking food and quality gear hire. One also includes a night at Milford Sound Lodge (in Milford Sound itself – highly recommended!) Learn more here. 

Karamea Limestone Caves - near the Heaphy Track

Karamea Limestone Caves – near the Heaphy Track

Heaphy Track

  • 78.4km, 4-6 days
  • Point to point track (organize transport in advance)
  • The track begins near Nelson, and finishes in Karamea on the West Coast

The Heaphy Track is steeped in early NZ history – the path the track follows was initially used by Maori pounamu (jade) hunters travelling from Golden Bay to the pounamu-rich waters of the West Coast. It’s wildly contrasting, beautiful and has a very ‘kiwi’ feeling to it – think palm-fringed surf beaches, beautiful Nikau palms and even the Great Spotted Kiwi Bird. Scenically, every day on the Heaphy is different – which is something people love. It’s also the longest and most challenging of all the Great Walks, so make sure you’re in relatively good shape and don’t be afraid to take the full six days to complete it (if you’re fast, it is possible in less).
Heaphy Track Booking link
Winter on the Heaphy Track

The Heaphy track is still open in winter, and offers a safer option than Fiordland’s Great Walks. The sandflies are also on holiday during the cooler months. Keep in mind the huts are not serviced, and you’ll need to be prepared for all kinds of weather.

Stewart Island Views

Stewart Island Views

Rakiura Track 

  • 36km, 3 days
  • Loop track – no transport logistics required
  • Begins near Oban in Stewart Island, south of Invercargill

Discover a landscape that has hardly changed in a thousand years when you journey to Stewart Island – at the very bottom of New Zealand – to hike the Rakiura Track. This is the Great Walk where you’re most likely to hear the call of the kiwi or see its footprints – on Stewart Island, kiwis outnumber humans! A compelling mix of beautiful coastline and native forest, the Rakiura Track is also dotted with plenty of history, from early Maori settlement sites to sawmilling relics. It’s also a relatively easygoing track. Before walking the Rakiura, you’ll first need to get to Stewart Island. You can do this by either small fixed plane or ferry.

Rakiura Booking Link

Winter on the Rakiura Track

During the winter months, Stewart Island’s weather is cool yet very settled – so the Rakiura is a great option if you’re looking for an option for the cooler months. Again, huts are not serviced and you’ll need to be better prepared – especially for walking through mud!

Abel Tasman Coast Track

  • 51km, 3-5 days
  • Point to point track (organize transport in advance)
  • The track begins in Marahau, near Nelson, and finishes near Wainui

If idyllic, golden beaches, beautiful headlands and playful marine life appeal, you can’t go past the Abel Tasman Coast Track. This is the only Great Walk that offers a combination of walking and kayaking if that’s what you would prefer, because of its easy accessibility to boats. One piece of golden advice on this hike – don’t forget your swimming clothes! There’s nothing better than working up a sweat for a few hours, then jumping into the water at one of the many glorious beaches along the trail. Keep an eye out for fur seals, dolphins and our little blue penguins – they’re endemic in this part of the country. Make sure you book this track well in advance – it’s very popular, especially during the summer months. It’s also one of the easier Great Walks.

Abel Tasman Booking Link
Winter on the Abel Tasman

The tip of the South Island gets some of the best weather in the country – even in the middle of winter! Combined with how close this track is to the coast, May, June, July and August offer a great hiking experience. You’ll also have many parts of the track to yourself, as it’s not nearly as popular during the cooler months.

North Island

Whanganui Journey

  • 145 km, 5 days (paddle-power, not on foot!)
  • Point to point adventure (organize transport in advance)
  • The journey begins near Taumarunui, and ends in Pipiriki

The Whanganui Journey is a paddle-powered adventure on one of our most mighty waterways – the Whanganui River. You got it; instead of walking this ‘Great Walk’, you complete it by canoe, stopping at Department of Conservation huts and campsites along the way. Venture into the depths of the densely forested Whanganui National Park, far from any sort of civilization. Discover the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’, listen for the call of native birds and brown kiwi and soak up being in the wilderness.  While this adventure definitely calls for more logistics and organizing than others, it’s also more ‘wild’ in its nature.
Whanganui Journey booking link

Winter on the Whanganui Journey

Winter in the North Island is much more mild, and the Whanganui Journey is definitely a viable winter option. Ensure you bring the right equipment and clothing – thermals for layers and a good sleeping bag. Bookings are not required during winter.

Lake Waikeremoana

Lake Waikeremoana

Lake Waikaremoana Walk

  • 46km, 3-4 days
  • Point to point track (organize transport in advance)
  • The track begins near Te Urewera. The closest nearby town is Wairoa.

A strong focus on Maori history and legend makes this walk pretty magic. Winding its way around Lake Waikaremoana, the track is a part of the ancestral home of Maori tribe Ngai Tuhoe – the ‘Children of the Mist’. You’ll walk through rainforest, past beautiful shoreline and discover ghostly valleys of mist. This part of New Zealand is a national treasure where nature is fully in charge – it’s also home to every species of native bird, giving hikers a glimpse of the birdlife that once flourished in New Zealand.

Lake Waikaremoana booking link
Winter on the Lake Waikaremoana Walk

Again, because the track is the North Island (and also near the East Cape), winters here are very mild and winter hiking is not discouraged. The track is open year-round and you’ll see significantly less foot traffic during the cooler months.

Crater Lake Mt Tongariro

Crater Lake Mt Tongariro

Tongariro Northern Circuit

  • 41km, 3-4 days
  • Circuit track – you’ll return to where you started out
  • Near National Park and Ohakune

After all my talk of lush forests, enormous valleys and snowy peaks, it’s hard to imagine that the Tongariro Northern Circuit – which encircles active volcano Mount Ngauruhoe – is in the same country. Located in the Central Plateau near Taupo, this circuit looks like an otherworldly adventure. Think craters, explosion pits, lava flows and more. On Day 2 you’ll see the emerald lakes – a bright turquoise hue against volcanic desert landscape, these are a real highlight. Being a circuit track, there are less logistics involved and you can jump back in to your car where you left it in Whakapapa Village.

Tongariro Northern Circuit booking link
Winter on the Tongariro Northern Circuit

This is a bit of a tricky one – there can be a lot of snowfall in the Central Plateau during the cooler months (Whakapapa Village is actually home to a ski field!) and there’s also the risk of avalanche risk. You’ll have a far easier (and enjoyable) time if you walk this track during summer.

Independent hiking with Easyhike

There you have it – all nine of New Zealand’s Great Walks, from South to North. Don’t let the logistics put you off, especially if you’re travelling from overseas. We can help with the Kepler, Milford or Routeburn Tracks; and the Department of Conservation Great Walks site is a great resource of information. Tourism New Zealand’s website also has great overview information on each of the tracks.

Happy hiking –  I’ll see you out on the trails!

Bobbie Mulgrew
Creating the perfect work/life balance by helping people experience our beautiful country. We enjoy helping others and continually being wowed by what our backyard can offer.

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