Multi-Day Adventures Through New Zealand’s Best Scenery
If you are going to go for a walk for 3-6 days, you might as well do it in New Zealand. Why? Because 10 walks, in particular, are great! The 10 Great Walks of New Zealand are premier tracks managed and maintained by the Department of Conservation (DOC). Not only is tramping these tracks the perfect way to see NZ’s beautiful backcountry, but they are an unforgettable experience from preparation to the moment you take a long hot shower after your hike.
Not all of us are used to doing multi-day hikes, let alone in another country. This guide to the 10 Great Walks of New Zealand will show you how to compare them, how to prepare for them, how to book accommodation on the trail, as well as all the other nitty-gritty details you need to know. For a taste of what each Great Walk involves, go to The 10 Great Walks of New Zealand.
What are the NZ Great Walks?
The Great Walks are scattered in New Zealand’s most impressive and remote natural environments from the Hawke’s Bay region in the North Island, all the way to the most southern of NZ’s populated islands, Stewart Island. Check out our article on The 10 Great Walks of New Zealand for details of what each Great Walk consists of.
The NZ Great Walks: Ranked!
Ok, so any keen tramper in New Zealand has an opinion on what are the best NZ Great Walks. Each of the Great Walks has its unique appeal, but if we had to rank them (which, looks like we are), our ranking would look something like this:
- Routeburn Track – Spectacular views throughout and not unnecessarily long. The downside is organising transport, as either end of the trail is 325km (202mi) apart by road!
- Kepler Track – Breathtaking glacier-carved scenery and forest that conveniently ends where it starts! On the downside, the 60km (37.3mi) distance with lots of hills can be challenging.
- Abel Tasman Coast Track – Awesome coastal scenery and doable for inexperienced trampers. Water taxi transport allows you to make your hike as long (or short) as you like.
- Tongariro Northern Circuit – There’s nowhere else like the volcanic landscape of this Great Walk. It’s a circuit, so no extra transport is necessary. On the downside, the Tongariro Crossing section can get crowded.
- Paparoa Track – Gorgeous West Coast rainforest and mountains on a compact trail of 2-3 days. Hike or mountain bike. The downside is the ever-changing weather.
- Whanganui Journey – A Great Walk that is not a walk at all! An excellent option for those looking for something unique. The downside is that it’s not great for those travelling solo (or if you’re looking for a hike).
- Rakiura Track – One of the cheapest Great Walks in terms of hut prices, Rakiura is charmingly peaceful and offers the best night skies. The downsides are usually getting to Stewart Island and the mud!
- Heaphy Track – Amazing wilderness experience for anyone keen to spend 5-6 days in the isolated Kahurangi National Park. The 78.4km (48.7mi) length and limited options to shorten your hike make this not ideal for everyone.
- Lake Waikaremoana – Its isolated location down 90km (56mi) of mildly maintained gravel roads combined with it sometimes being difficult to organise water taxis and end-of-trail accommodation makes this one logistically challenging. Amazing once you jump through the hurdles!
- Milford Track – Overrated (it was the first NZ Great Walk), hard to book and the most expensive Great Walk in terms of accommodation and transport, the Milford Track is our least favourite. Of course, the scenery is outstanding.
For an NZ Great Walk list that’s more based on fact than opinion, check out The 10 Great Walks of New Zealand. Oh, and did you know that there are so many multi-day hikes that are not classed as “Great Walks” but are just as outstanding? We list them in the 12 Awesome Alternatives to the New Zealand Great Walks.
Which Great Walk in NZ is the Best?
According to our ranking of the NZ Great Walks, the Routeburn Track is the best Great Walks in NZ! Of course, it all comes down to preference, so take a look at The 10 Great Walks of New Zealand to see which one appeals to you.
What is the Most Difficult Great Walk in New Zealand?
The most difficult Great Walk in New Zealand is often agreed to be the Heaphy Track. Its length 78.4km (48.7mi), its terrain with plenty of hill sections, and its isolated location with limited options to shorten the hike make this the most challenging and one of the least accessible Great Walks.
What is the Shortest NZ Great Walk?
The shortest Great Walk is the Routeburn Track at 32km (19.9mi). It takes 2-3 days to complete the Routeburn Track, with most people taking three days and two nights to complete it. If you’re super fit, it’s possible to complete the Routeburn Track in two days.
How Long are New Zealand’s Great Walks?
With walks ranging from 3 to 6 days, you can usually decide how “great” you want to make your walk by doing detours to noteworthy and camera-clicky features, just sticking to the main trail or simply enjoying a day section of the trail.
Main Trails of the NZ Great Walks
The main trail is the established track for an NZ Great Walk. The Great Walks are impeccably maintained, as they are the hiking trails that receive the most funding, making following the trail extremely easy with established gravel pathways, staircases and easy-to-follow poled routes. Note that it’s usually poor weather conditions that can make following some of the main trails difficult. In any case, we recommend making yourself familiar with your chosen Great Walk trail by having access to a map and compass. We also like the GPS-enabled Great Hikes App (see below).
Side Trails on the NZ Great Walks
Note that there are side trails on the NZ Great Walks that can extend your trip to various noteworthy attractions. For example, take a 30mins detour to Korokoro Falls on the Lake Waikaremoana walk or deviate 1.5 hours to the gargantuan Sutherland Falls on the Milford Track.
Day Walks of the NZ Great Walks
On the other end of the scale, there are also options to do day hikes of the Great Walks, which provides a good taste of the walk’s scenery without the cost of accommodation. For example, there are options to trek sections of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track by getting picked up and dropped off by a water taxi. Additionally, sections of the Routeburn Track are popular to walk in just a few hours, such as the Key Summit Hike.
Stick to the Trail with Ease; Download the NZ Great Hikes App
Free and made in New Zealand, the Great Hikes App is specially designed for the NZ Great Walks. Once you download a trail, the app works fully offline and is GPS enabled to help orientate yourself along the tracks. It includes all the official Department of Conservation Great Walks, including the Whanganui Journey paddle. The companion app, Great Rides App, also has some dual-purpose tracks (bike/hiking trails), such as the Timber Trail, Link Pathway, Queen Charlotte Track and the Welcome Rock Trails.
Accommodation on the NZ Great Walks
Freedom camping is forbidden on the Great Walks, so you must book and pay for your accommodation through the DOC.
Great Walk Huts + Prices
All walks have DOC-managed backcountry huts known as “Great Walk Huts”. During the peak season, late October to late April, hut prices are at their highest. Most hut prices are subject to change during the off-peak season. Due to the frequently changing price structure of the Great Walk Huts, refer to the Great Walk hut price page on the DOC website for updated prices.
It’s important to note that not all Great Walk huts have the same facilities. We recommend checking out the pages on the DOC website of each hut you intend to stay in, so you know what facilities to expect and, most importantly, what not to expect! The Great Walk huts typically include the following facilities:
- Bunks with mattresses (bring your own sleeping bag)
- Water supply (not suitable for drinking; boil first)
- Some have lighting or candle holders
- Some have cooking facilities with fuel (bring your own cooking utensils)
- Some have a fireplace (bring your own matches)
- Broom and pan to clean up after yourself
- Hut wardens.
If it’s your first time staying in a backcountry hut, be sure to look up New Zealand Hut to Hut Hiking: What is it Like to Stay in a Hut? to see what facilities to expect.
Great Walk Campsites + Prices
There are designated Great Walk campsites on all tracks but the Milford Track. Due to the frequently changing price structure of the Great Walk campsites, refer to the Great Walk hut price page on the DOC website for updated prices.
The Great Walk campsites typically include these facilities:
- Washing sinks
- Water (not suitable for drinking; boil first)
- Some have cooking shelters
- Some have picnic tables.
For more information on camping, check out our full guide, Camping in New Zealand.
How to Book Accommodation for the Great Walks?
Booking huts and campsites are done through the DOC website or the closest DOC visitor centre to your chosen Great Walk. During off-peak season, some huts and campsites are on a first-come basis. The Great Walk season (late October to late April) is a whole different story, however. The Great Walks are extremely popular so booking far in advance is essential!
Great Walk huts and campsites are booked through the DOC website by following the links on your chosen hut page or through the DOC booking system. You can pay with a credit/debit card; but not with a hut ticket or a Backcountry Hut Pass. You can also book some huts through DOC visitor centres.
How to Prepare for a Great Walk
After booking your accommodation and therefore securing your dates for hiking a Great Walk, there are a few more ways to prepare for your multi-day adventure.
Great Walk Transportation
Preparation continues with how you are going to get to the Great Walk and back.
Circuit walks are obviously more convenient to finish where you started, which are the Kepler Track and the Tongariro Northern Circuit.
For the other walks, you need to consider transportation at the start and end of the walk. There are plenty of transport operators in Great Walk locations who can take you back to where you parked your car or to and from your chosen accommodation. Car relocation is also a service on offer for the Routeburn Track.
Some Great Walks require water transport, such as the Milford Track and the Abel Tasman Coast Track.
Finally, those tackling the Whanganui Journey also need to hire canoes for the duration of the journey. Canoe hire usually comes with transport to and from the “trail”.
NZ Great Walk Packing List
Sufficient food and water (or means to purify water) need to be taken, as there are no shops along the trails. Clothing for all weather types is also a priority, as well as equipment for camping or staying in a hut.
Your NZ Great Walk packing list should look a little something like the following:
- A good quality 50-60 litre backpack – check out: How to Choose a Good Backpack so you can choose a comfortable backpack with a waterproof liner
- Hiking boots due to the varying conditions on the walks, make sure your boots are waterproofed and have been worn in
- Thermals – a couple of pairs of merino or polypropylene thermal tops are an essential base layer for warmth yet breathability
- Quick-dry shorts/pant-shorts will feel more comfortable for hiking through the day. You can bring thermal leggings to wear underneath shorts for warmth. Alternatively, bring lightweight breathable hiking pants.
- Warmer pants/leggings for the mornings, evenings and for sleeping
- Waterproof coat/jacket for the ever-changing weather
- Warm sweater/overlayer
- Togs (swimwear) and travel towel if you are planning on taking a dip (Abel Tasman, for example)
- Hat, scarf and gloves if you are going into cold conditions
- Gaiters if you happen to have them
- Underwear and woollen socks! Avoid cotton.
- Camping cooking utensils – pot, pocket knife, fork and spoon (or an all-in-one eating utensil)
- Portable stove if you’re camping or the huts don’t have cooking facilities. A light-weight butane gas burner will suffice
- Torch (flashlight)
- Lighter or matches in a waterproof container or bag
- Map and compass (and the Great Hikes App)
- Rubbish bags – you must take all your rubbish from the national park.
- Camera – fully charged (optional, of course)
- Phone, note that network coverage tends to be poor to nothing in remote areas
- First aid kit including painkillers, hayfever tablets, bandage, strapping tape, plasters (bandaids), hand sanitiser, sunscreen and insect repellent. This can include a few essential toiletries too, such as a toothbrush. Remember, you don’t have to bring an entire tube of toothpaste, for example; get creative and find smaller containers for these types of items
- Toilet paper – you don’t have to bring the whole roll, just have some handy in case the toilet paper dispensers are empty.
- Muesli and/or porridge with powdered milk (mix with boiling water and add a bit of jam, honey or dried fruit for taste
- Flatbread – sturdy bread, which doesn’t take up too much space. You can eat it with some humous, cheese and/or chorizo
- Halloumi cheese – it is a firm cheese and protein source, perfect to stick in your backpack
- Chorizo – ready-to-eat meat
- Dried pasta – stock up on the carbs
- Tinned tuna – stick with some pasta or rice
- Sun-dried tomatoes – add a bit of flavour.
- Muesli bars
- Dried fruit
- Jelly beans – a quick energy booster
- Emergency tea and coffee (if you need such things).
Training for a Great Walk and More!
We have a whole guide on preparation tips, including how to train for a Great Walk, over at How to Prepare for a Great Walk in New Zealand. Check it out!
More on the NZ Great Walks
There’s no such thing as being too prepared, so check out these other guides to achieving the New Zealand Great Walks:
- 10 Tips to Prepare for a Multi-Day Hike in New Zealand
- Multi-Day Backpacking Trips in New Zealand: A Complete Guide
- Outdoor Safety When Hiking in New Zealand
Finally, if there’s anything that we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in How to Prepare for a Great Walk in New Zealand.