What to Expect From a Multi-Day Backpacking Trip (Hiking/Tramping) in New Zealand
You have come to New Zealand to experience the great outdoors! One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the sensational scenery is by doing a backpacking trip, otherwise known as tramping or multi-day hiking, in New Zealand.
Multi-day hiking is extremely popular in New Zealand. That’s why many of our backpacking/tramping trails are well-equipped with accommodation huts, campsites and more. This complete guide to multi-day hiking in New Zealand will go over the types of trails that are available, the accommodation on the trails, how to prepare for a multi-day trip, and transportation to trails.
Be sure to check out our Hiking section of the website to get an idea of what to expect from backpacking trails in New Zealand. Plus, you might find our 10 Must-Know Hiking Tips for New Zealand useful.
What is the Department of Conservation?
The first thing you need to know for doing backpacking trips in New Zealand is the Department of Conservation or the “DOC“. The DOC administers and maintains the vast majority of tramping trails and their accommodations throughout New Zealand including the “Great Walks“.Once you have chosen a multi-day hiking trail, a great place to start preparing is on the Department of Conservation website, which is a huge database of trail and accommodation (hut and campsite) descriptions. It is also the place where you will need to book huts and campsites when required.
For more information, check out What is The DoC, Department of Conservation in New Zealand?
What Multi-Day Hiking Trails are there in New Zealand?
Multi-day hiking trails in New Zealand vary in their facilities and how well the trails are maintained due to popularity and funding. While the majority of the backpacking trails in New Zealand are free to use, staying in huts or a campsite along the trail, as well as transportation, is where the expenses come in.
The New Zealand Great Walks
Most people will have heard of “The New Zealand Great Walks” which are 10 multi-day hiking trails across the country. They are the most popular tracks, the most-maintained trails and have the most well-equipped accommodation. For this reason, the New Zealand Great Walks are more expensive and usually require booking well in advance. Nevertheless, they are called the “Great Walks” for a reason meaning they pass through some of New Zealand’s most epic landscapes.
The Great Walks in New Zealand, from north to south, are as follows:
- Lake Waikaremoana – 4-5 days in the largest tract of native forest on the North Island
- Whanganui Journey – 3-5 days canoe paddle along New Zealand’s longest navigatable river
- Tongariro Northern Circuit – 3-4 days through volcanic scenery incorporating the popular Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- Abel Tasman Coast Track – 3-5 days of idyllic beaches and coastal forest.
- Heaphy Track – 5-6-day wilderness experience in the isolated Kahurangi National Park.
- Paparoa Track – 2-3 days through West Coast rainforest and mountains with the option to hike or mountain bike.
- Routeburn Track – 2-4 days of spectacular alpine and forest views throughout and not unnecessarily long.
- Kepler Track – 3-4 days circuit through mountains, forest and around Lake Te Anau.
- Milford Track – 4 days on the first NZ Great Walk, which is also the most popular.
- Rakiura Track – 3 days on a charmingly peaceful hike with some of the best night skies.
Multi-Day Hikes in New Zealand
New Zealand really has a huge range of multi-day hiking trails outside of the “Great Walks” category that not only offers cheaper accommodation options but also takes you through some amazing landscapes. Hut accommodation tends to be well-serviced like the Great Walk huts but smaller and at half the price. Plus, campsites will either be free or a small fee.
There are so many multi-day hikes in New Zealand that we recommend browsing our Hiking section and the Department of Conservation website to get inspiration. Otherwise, a quick preview of some of our favourite multi-day hiking trails include:
- Te Paki Coastal Trail – 3-4 days in the Far North featuring sweeping beaches and camping in a sub-tropical climate
- Aotea Track – 2-3 days on Great Barrier Island
- Pouakai Circuit – 2-3 days loop with alpine tarns and Mt Taranaki ever in sight
- Mt Holdsworth Jumbo Circuit – 2-3 days through the Tararua Mountains of the North Island
- Queen Charlotte Track – 3-5 days soaking up the scenery of the Marlborough Sounds with upscale lodges
- Pelorus Track – 3-4-day forest experience alongside a picturesque river
- Inland Track – 3 days alternative inland perspective of the Abel Tasman National Park
- St James Walkway – 5 days introductory multi-day hike into sub-alpine regions
- Hollyford Track – 2-8 days one-way adventure through the Fiordland National Park
- Hump Ridge Track – 3 days at the bottom of the South Island featuring mountains, coast and upscale lodges.
For more details on the multi-day hiking trails above, check out the 15 Awesome Alternatives to the New Zealand Great Walks.
Free Backcountry Hikes in New Zealand
If you want to get well and truly off the beaten track then a number of tramping trails in New Zealand have free basic huts (or “bivvies”) to use, essentially making the hike free. The trails to these huts will be far less maintained than your normal Great Walk or a multi-day hike, meaning there may be tree roots and rocks to scramble over, but the tracks will be marked with orange makers or poles to keep you going in the right direction.
For a compilation of tramping trails featuring free huts along the trails, check out the 10 Free Multi-Day Hikes in New Zealand.
Where to Stay on the Hiking Trails in New Zealand
Although tent camping is generally allowed along most hiking trails in New Zealand, it is forbidden on certain grades of trails such as the Great Walks. Camping alongside the trail is certainly not a necessity, however, as multi-day hiking trails in New Zealand are well-serviced by backcountry huts and campsites.
There are more than 950 huts and 200 campsites managed by the Department of Conservation in New Zealand. While some huts and campsites are first-come-first-served, many require booking in advance. You will never be turned away from a hut but you might have to sleep on the floor if the hut is full.
The Different Types of DOC Huts
The Department of Conservation website has profiles of every single hut that they manage in New Zealand so you can get details on the facilities, price and booking for your chosen accommodation. Otherwise, here’s a quick overview:
Great Walk Huts
These are your most-equipped huts with water supply, heating, mattresses, washing facilities, toilets and heating with fuel and a hut warden. Prices range from NZ$25 to $110 per person per night, depending on the walk, season and whether you are a local or international visitor. Head to the pricing page on the DOC website for updated Great Walk hut prices.
Similar to the Great Walk huts, serviced huts have mattresses, water supply, toilets, handwashing facilities, heating with fuel available and sometimes a warden. Prices are NZ$25 per person per night or half the price for a child.
Standard huts have mattresses, a water supply and toilet, and sometimes a wood burner. Fees are NZ$10 per person per night and half per child.
Basic huts and bivvies provide basic shelter with limited facilities. Sometimes there are mattresses. They are free to use.
Staying in a hut in New Zealand comes with a few rules of etiquette, as well as facilities (or lack of) that are worth preparing for. Learn more in our guide, NZ Hut to Hut Hiking: What is it Like to Stay in a Hut?
DOC Hut Passes
It’s also worth noting that DOC Backcountry Hut Passes are available to stay at any number of huts within six months or a year. There are some huts that are not valid with the pass, however, such as the Great Walk Huts, so be sure to take a look at DOC Backcountry Hut Pass: How it Works & Is it Worth it?
The Different Types of DOC Campsites
If you are hiking the trails with your own tent, campsites provide a few more facilities for a more convenient stay on the trails.
Serviced campsites have flush toilets, tap water, kitchen/cooking bench, hot showers, rubbish collection and road access for all types of vehicles. They may have laundry facilities, barbecues, fireplaces, cookers and picnic tables. Fees are NZ$20 per person per night (half per child) for a tent site or NZ$23 per person per night (half per child) for a powered site.
Expect more basic facilities like toilets, water supply (tap, stream, or lake) and vehicle or boat access. BBQs, fireplaces, cold showers, picnic tables, a cooking shelter and rubbish bins may be an added extra. Scenic campsites are a little more expensive than standard campsites due to their location. Standard campsites fees are NZ$10-$15 per person per night (half per child) for a tent site. Where available, a powered site costs NZ$13-$18 per person per night (half per child).
Although free, basic campsites have very limited facilities. They may have a water supply and basic toilets.
Prices and facilities vary for backcountry campsites, but they at least have toilets and a water supply. Picnic tables, cooking shelters or fireplaces may be provided.
Great Walk Campsites
These are designated sites located near Great Walk huts (except there are no campsites on the Milford or Paparoa Tracks). They have toilets and a water supply. Some also have picnic tables and cooking shelters. Fees are NZ$5-$32 per person per night (half per child). Head to the pricing page on the DOC website for updated Great Walk campsite prices.
DOC Campsite Pass
It’s also worth mentioning
Other Accommodations on Multi-Day Hiking Trails
There are some accommodations on a few New Zealand backpacking trails that are privately owned and managed. These tend to provide a complete accommodation service, such as fully-made beds, full bathrooms, meals and more.
Some of the hiking trails boasting these more upscale lodges include:
- Milford Track
- Queen Charlotte Track
- Hump Ridge Track
- Banks Penninsula Track
- Kaikoura Coast Track
- Timber Trail
Expect prices to be between NZ$30-$300 per night.
How to Prepare for a Multi-Day Hike in New Zealand
Taking you away from civilisation where access to food, services and even phone reception can be scarce and the weather changeable, multi-day hiking trails certainly require some preparation.
1. Book Accommodation
Start with planning a multi-day hiking trip by booking your on-trail accommodation. The availability of hut beds, especially on the Great Walks, essentially determines what dates you are able to hike the trail.
Huts and campsites are booked through the DOC website by following the links on your chosen hut page or through the DOC booking system (unless the hut is privately owned). You can pay with a credit/debit card or a Backcountry Hut Pass. You can also book some huts through DOC visitor centres.
2. Book Transport
You need to plan how you are getting to and from your chosen hiking trail. Many trails are linear, meaning the track ends in a different location from where it starts.
If you’re lucky enough to have friends or relatives nearby the trail, organise for them to pick you up from the end of your hike. For most of us, however, the easiest way to get to/from a hiking trail is to book one of the shuttles (or water taxi services, as is the case for some coastal hiking trails), which can take you to the car park where you started the walk. Some shuttles even offer door-to-door services, taking you back to town or to your chosen accommodation.
One of your premium options, especially for Great Walks like the Kepler and Routeburn tracks, is car relocation. Some companies offer services to transport your vehicle from the start of the track to the car park at the end.
Most towns near New Zealand’s main hiking trails have transport services to and from the hiking trails, so it’s nothing that a bit of online research can’t handle!
3. Pack the Right Clothes
It’s important to strike the right balance between packing light and packing clothes that are suitable for the conditions you’ll be hiking in. Here’s our tramping clothes packing list:
- 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.
Luggage Storage for the Great Walks
Needless to say, you don’t want to carry all of the possessions you’re travelling with on a hike with you. To keep your extra luggage secure, use your chosen accommodation’s luggage storage for a small fee (or sometimes free). Most hostels, motels, hotels and lodges nearby multi-day hiking trails offer this service.
4. Other Equipment to Pack
If You are Camping…
… you’ll need your tent, sleeping mat and four-season sleeping bag.
Whether your tent is old or new, make sure it is prepared to survive a downpour. A new tent will be waterproof but sealing the seams will make sure water doesn’t find a way in.
If your tent has seen many backpacking trips, you can reproof tent material with wash-in waterproofing liquid, which you can usually buy from outdoor stores in New Zealand.
For Those Staying in a Hut…
… you will need your own four-season sleeping bag. We also recommend taking some earplugs as huts can get pretty noisy with the snoring!
With those out of the way, other essentials to pack for a tramping trip include:
- 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
- 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
- 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.
Where to Get Hiking Equipment in New Zealand
Hiking equipment can be purchased from outdoor stores in New Zealand at brands such as Torpedo7, Bivouac Outdoors, Macpac and Kathmandu, as well as at secondhand stores (op shops). There are also gear rental shops close to many of the popular hikes, like the Great Walks in New Zealand, such as in towns like National Park, Te Anau, Queenstown, etc.
For tips on where to get affordable outdoor gear, check out Where to Buy Camping and Hiking Gear in New Zealand?
5. Food to Take
Drinking Water on the Great Walks
Make sure you drink plenty of water on your hike. Of course, hiking with three days’ worth of water is extremely cumbersome, so take a large water bottle to refill along the way. Although huts have water sources, they are not usually suitable for drinking without boiling the water (for at least 10 minutes) first – so make sure you take and use that portable camping stove! Alternatively, we like to use water-purifying bottles like LifeStraw to take the hassle out of boiling the water.
Make a Tramping Meal Plan
Make a plan of what you intend to eat each day so you don’t end up making extra weight in your backpack with the food you aren’t going to eat. You also don’t want to be stuck in a situation with not enough food!
Muesli and/or porridge with powdered milk mixed in boiling water. Add a bit of jam, honey or dried fruit for taste.
Take some (or all for longer hikes) of the following:
- 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
- Fruit (or dried fruit will be lighter)
- Jelly beans – a quick energy booster
- Emergency tea and coffee (if you need such things).
There’s no such thing as over-planning, so if you want some more literature to plan your multi-day hike, check out our 10 Tips to Prepare for a Multi-Day Hike in New Zealand.
New Zealand might have a reputation for being a safe country but one of the most hazardous things can be the weather and outdoor conditions. Although we have a full guide to Outdoor Safety When Hiking in New Zealand, some of the key safety elements to keep in mind are as follows.
Plan Where You are Going
Obviously, you need to know where you are going to go! Do you know what route you are going to take? Do some research before you leave, such as the route information on the DOC website or ask at a local i-SITE or DOC information centre. For backcountry hikes on unmarked tracks pick up a map and compass with you. It also helps if you know how to use them too! Also, consider if you have the right fitness level for the hike you intend to conquer.
Check the Weather
Look on the MetService website to get an idea of the weather forecast. Be prepared for any weather scenario, as the weather can change quickly in New Zealand. However, you should also consider whether it’s worth going ahead with the hike if the forecast is heavy rain, strong winds or snow. Not only can bad weather ruin the enjoyment of the trip but impact your safety.
Find out more about the typical weather by month in What is the Weather Like in New Zealand?
Tell Someone Before You Go
Tell a trusted individual your plans for where you are going, who you’re going with, what transport you’ll use, and the date you are due to return. That trusted someone needs to know what to do should you not return. They should contact you directly and the people you are with on the day you’re due to return. If they get no response about an hour later, then they should call the police at 111.
For a list of things to cover when telling your trusted someone when going on an outdoors adventure, download the Outdoors Intentions Form from the AdventureSmart website.
Safety Tips During the Hike
You may feel insanely organised with all the planning you have done for a hike, but there are just a few things to keep reminding yourself while on the hike:
- Discuss with others on your trip (and yourself) how you are feeling. You don’t want to continue into a situation where you will overexert yourself or do something you cannot handle
- Drink liquid frequently
- Allow time for breaks
- Don’t get too hot while moving – sweat dampens clothes and increases heat loss. That said, put layers on to keep warm enough.
Again, take a look at Outdoor Safety When Hiking in New Zealand for a complete guide.
More Information About Multi-Day Hiking, Backpacking and Tramping in New Zealand
That’s it for our complete guide to multi-day hiking, backpacking and tramping in New Zealand. For more hiking tips, get your eyes on these guides:
- 10 Tips for Picking the Perfect Hiking Boots for New Zealand
- 5 Best Hiking Tours of New Zealand: Guided Tours Around NZ!
- 10 Tips to Prepare for a Multi-Day Hike in New Zealand
Finally, check out some of the best hikes across the country in The Top 50 Hikes in New Zealand.