How to Plan Your New Zealand Great Walk
The New Zealand Great Walks are pretty, well, great! But, as a full-on hiking trip lasting 2-6 days, there needs to be a bit of preparation involved: make sure you can get to the walking track and back, use the right equipment, and pack the right things. That way your Great Walk can go smoothly and allow you to have peace of mind while enjoying the epic New Zealand scenery! So, with all that in mind, we have put together this guide on how to prepare for a Great Walk in New Zealand.
There’s not a lot that can harm you in New Zealand, but the weather just might, so that’s why it’s essential to be well-prepared for any multi-day hike in New Zealand. Another great resource is the Outdoor Safety Code with five simple steps to staying safe on your next adventure.
6 Things You Need to Plan for a Great Walk
This guide will go through stages of preparation, so you can enjoy your Great Walk knowing you are super organised. Remember you need to:
- Book accommodation
- Book transport
- Pack the right clothes
- Pack the right equipment
- Pack the right food
- Do some training (optional).
Here we go!
Book Great Walk Accommodation
Start with planning a Great Walk by booking your Great Walk accommodation. Availability of accommodation essentially determines what dates you are able to hike the trail, as there are almost always no alternative accommodations on the trail. Note that availability for most of the Great Walks becomes limited during the Great Walks Season (late October to late April), so it’s essential to book as early as possible (or as early as bookings become available) to secure your chosen dates for hiking the trail.
What is the NZ Great Walk Accommodation?
Accommodation on the Great Walks comes in the form of Great Walks huts and campsites, run and maintained by the Department of Conservation (DoC). Despite some Great Walks having extortionate prices during the Great Walks Season, huts are very basic and lack facilities like electricity, bed linen and even cooking facilities in most cases. Campsites have even less in the way of facilities (but note that you cannot camp anywhere along the trails on a Great Walk track; you must book a campsite if you want to camp). We recommend checking out the hut facilities on the DoC website prior to your hike so you can be fully prepared for what you’ll have and, more importantly, what you won’t have. You can also get an idea of the Great Walk huts in New Zealand Hut to Hut Hiking: What is it Like to Stay in a Hut?
How to Book Huts and Campsites on the NZ Great Walks
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.
For more information on accommodations and their facilities, view The Guide to the Great Walks of New Zealand.
Book Transport for a Great Walk
You need to plan how you are getting to and from your chosen Great Walk. The majority of the walks are linear, meaning the track ends in a different location from where it starts.
How to Organise Great Walk Transport
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 Great Walk is to book one of the shuttles (or water taxi services, as is the case for the Abel Tasman Coast Track, Lake Waikaremoana and Milford Track), which can take you to the car park where you started the walk. Some shuttles even offer door-to-door services, taking your training 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.
All towns near the New Zealand Great Walks have transport services to and from the hiking trails, so it’s nothing that a bit of online research can’t handle!
Canoe Hire for the Whanganui Journey
As you may well know, the Whanganui Journey is a canoe journey rather than a hike, so canoes will need to be hired for this unique adventure. Learn more about organising canoe hire in The Guide to the Whanganui Journey.
What Clothes to Take on a Great Walk
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 Great Walk 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 Great Walk 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 the Great Walks offer this service. Also, remember to book your next night at the accommodation after your Great Walk!
What Other Equipment to Pack for a Great Walk
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 outdoors 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!
Other Essentials to Pack
- 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 (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.
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.
Great Hikes App FREE Download: Google Play Store (Android) – NZ Great Hikes // App Store (iOS) – NZ Great Hikes
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 Great Walks in New Zealand, such as in towns like National Park (Tongariro Circuit), Te Anau (Kepler, Milford and Routeburn), Queenstown (Routeburn), etc.
For tips on where to get affordable outdoor gear, check out Where to Buy Camping and Hiking Gear in New Zealand?
What Food to Take on a Great Walk
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 DoC 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 Great Walk 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).
How to Train for a Great Walk
To spend more time enjoying the immense scenery and wilderness environment of your Great Walk rather than, well, feeling like you’re dying, it’s a good idea to do some training in the lead-up to your Great Walk.
Wear in/Break in Your Hiking Boots
Start with the bottom; your hiking boots! It is essential to “wear-in” any new hiking boots before going on a long hike. Wear them in the house, for a short walk around the block and then for all of your Great Walk training so that you can address any rubbing or blisters. Remember, there are various ways to lace up hiking boots, so you might want to look into those if you’re having problems.
How Much Training to Do for a Great Walk
It’s a good idea to start your Great Walk training at least three months before your big hike. Aim for hiking/walking two to three times a week (in your hiking boots) for at least 30 minutes. One of these hikes should be a long-distance hike (10-20km/6-12mi). You’ll also want to sprinkle in some trails that involve stairs and uphill climbs (as all of the Great Walks except the Whanganui Journey have these). All of this training combined will help build up your stamina for an easier Great Walk experience.
Training with a Backpack
Another important aspect of your Great Walk training is hiking with a backpack. Start with a few kilograms and work up to hiking with 10-15kgs (22-33lbs) in your backpack – you can just fill up your bag with water bottles if you actually don’t have much to pack for your training.
More on How to Prepare for the New Zealand Great Walks
There’s no such thing as being too prepared, so check out these other guides to help you prepare for 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 A Guide to the 10 Great Walks of New Zealand.