Don’t Settle for a Good Walk. Go on a Great Walk!
It’s difficult to imagine how so many different landscapes can be in one country. In the North Island, there are volcanoes, native rainforest bush and mighty long rivers with steep valley sides. Then the South Island takes us into beech forest territory, paradise beaches, secluded tussock lands, and majestic mountains.
Tramping just one of New Zealand‘s 10 Great Walks gives a real feeling of serenity and achievement. Tramping all 10, well, you will have the ultimate experience of New Zealand’s backcountry (not to mention, prove you are the ultimate hiking machine!) Whichever walk you choose, make sure you are well-prepared by taking a look at How to Prepare for a Great Walk in New Zealand and downloading the Great Hikes App (more information can be found at the end of this list).
Here is a list of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks to tick off your ultimate hiking list.
1. Kepler Track – Hike the Glacier-Carved Landscapes of the South Island
Kicking off our list of NZ Great Walks is the Kepler Track. One of the Great Walks that traverses through the wild and expansive Fiordland National Park, the Kepler Track also easily earns its place in our 5 Incredible Multi-day Hikes in the Fiordland National Park. Regardless of where it stands in our estimations, the walk is a circuit starting and ending just outside of Te Anau, boasting terrain from lakeshores, to tussock lands, and to mountaintops. What’s more, it’s one of the rare Great Walks where you can get away with not having to book extra transport. Be sure to bring a torch (flashlight) to explore the limestone caves near the Luxmore Hut!
2. Tongariro Northern Circuit – North Island Great Walk into Volcano Country
In this volcano country, you walk past Mt Tongariro, Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe a.k.a Mt Doom in The Lord of the Rings. The Tongariro Northern Circuit includes one of the most popular day walks in New Zealand: the Tongariro Crossing. This includes a magnificent view of the Emerald Lakes that fill the volcanic craters, while the lesser-visited Tama Lakes showcase a whole different view of the North Island’s famous volcanoes. Days of walking are short for most hiking the trail, so be prepared with a book or card games once you reach the hut on this popular North Island Great Walk.
Distance: 43km (26.7 miles), 3-4 days.
Location: Tongariro National Park, Central North Island.
3. Lake Waikaremoana – The North Island’s Remotest Great Walk
Walking the shoreline of Lake Waikaremoana will take you through a mass of rainforest, waterfalls and secluded beaches right in the heart of the North Island’s largest tract of native forest, the Te Ureweras. It is a moderate-level walk full of culture and history. Note that the 4-5-day hike requires a water taxi to return you back to the start of the trail. Access to the Great Walk is very remote, down a 90km (56 mi) gravel road from Murupara or 58km (36 mi) part gravel from Wairoa.
Distance: 46km (28.6 miles), 4-5 days.
Location: Between Wairoa and Murupara, Hawke’s Bay, North Island.
4. Whanganui Journey – The North Island Great Walk That isn’t a “Walk”
The definition of “New Zealand Great Walks” is a bit twisted for this next entry. Not so much a walk, as this trip is done by canoe or kayak, the Whanganui Journey encapsulates steep valley walls and native forest standing on either side of the majestic Whanganui River. The canoe journey possesses a cultural experience, as one of the backcountry huts is a marae (Maori meeting house). Read more about this unique Great Walk in The Complete Guide to the Whanganui Journey.
Distance: 145km (90 miles), 3-5 days.
Location: Between Taumarunui and Pipiriki, Whanganui National Park, North Island.
5. Abel Tasman Coast Track – Coastal Paradise at the Top of the South Island
One of the more easily accessible New Zealand Great Walks, the Abel Tasman Coast Track takes you through stretching golden sand beaches and native bush. You don’t even have to do the whole journey on foot, as taking a water taxi and kayaking are also good ways to revel in coastal scenery. In fact, you will need to organise a water taxi to return to the start. Although the Abel Tasman Coast Track has a reputation for being easier than the other Great Walks, that’s not to say that there are a few climbs to coastal cliffs along the way. Note that some parts of the trail require you to cross estuaries at low tide so plan accordingly if you plan on doing the full four or five days.
6. Heaphy Track – The Toughest New Zealand Great Walk
The Heaphy Track is where the forest meets the West Coast. Along the way, you’ll walk over the Gouland Downs, dense rainforests and along the wild West Coast in some of the most enchanting scenery in the country. A whole bunch of native birds are likely to be spotted in this remote area such as tui, weka, kea, kaka, kereru and if you are super lucky, kiwi. As the longest of the New Zealand Great Walks (that you actually do on foot) combined with limited options to cut the trail short and the mountainous terrain, the Heaphy Track is often considered the most challenging Great Walk. Note that you can also bike the Heaphy Track between May 1 and November 30.
7. Milford Track – The South Island’s Premium Great Walk
On this iconic New Zealand Great Walk, you will see an abundance of waterfalls including the gargantuan Sutherland Falls, which is 580m (1,903ft) high. Walk along (and even cross) the rivers in pure green rainforests on this hike exclusively available for the Great Walks Season (late October to late April). The Milford Track emerges into the famous and stunning fiord of Milford Sound, where boat transport will need to be arranged at the beginning and end of your hike. As there are many logistics to organising this popular hike, we’ve put together A Practical Guide to the Milford Track.
8. Routeburn Track – The Shortest (But No Less Stunning) Great Walk on the South Island
This walk through the mountains of the World Heritage Area of the Mt Aspiring National Park and into the Fiordland National Park gives you some of the best views of the glacier-carved valleys and majestic lakes of the South Island. Out of the three New Zealand Great Walks in the Fiordland National Park, the Routeburn Track spends less time in the forest and more time in the alpine environment. Yet, it’s the shortest of the South Island Great Walks, enabling the fittest hikers to complete this Great Walk in just two days.
9. Rakiura Track – Stewart Island’s Great Walk
The most southern Great Walk, the Rakiura Track is on the sub-Antarctic paradise of Stewart Island, yet it’s only a short ferry ride away from the bottom of the South Island. Because the Rakiura National Park makes up 80% of the island, doing the Rakiura Track is the best way to really see Stewart Island. Hike along golden sand beaches and forests – but watch out for the mud. You never know, you might see or hear the island’s native kiwi!
Distance: 32km (19.9 miles), 3 days.
Location: Stewart Island.
10. Paparoa Track – Hike or Mountain Bike This Great Walk
Rounding off our list of the NZ Great Walks is the Paparoa Track. Delve into the wilderness of the wild West Coast of New Zealand on the most recent addition to the New Zealand Great Walks. Wander among karst limestone landscapes amidst ancient forests and over the Paparoa Ranges for breathtaking views and encounters with interesting historical mining sites. There’s so much to say on this track that we have a full guide at The Guide to the Paparoa Track.
Pro Tip: Use 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.
More on the Great Walks of New Zealand
Tramping the Great Walks is enjoyable but no easy task. Get prepped with How to Prepare for a Great Walk. Otherwise, feast your eyes on these:
- 10 Tips to Prepare for a Multi-Day Hike in New Zealand
- New Zealand Hut to Hut Hiking: What is it Like to Stay in a Hut?
- 10 Tips for Picking the Perfect Hiking Boots for New Zealand
Finally, if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in The Complete Guide to the Great Walks.