The Great Walks of New Zealand
Experience New Zealand’s most awe-inspiring landscapes on foot. New Zealand’s ten Great Walks pass through diverse and spectacular scenery - from native forests, remote beaches, vast lakes and wild rivers to snow-capped mountain peaks, dramatic gorges and lush valleys.
Great Walks tracks are well maintained and easy to follow and all offer accommodation at campsites or in Department of Conservation (DOC) Huts. In most cases guided trips offer more comfort and the assurance that all logistics have been taken care of however self-guided itineraries are always an option. All of the Great Walks are accessible from major towns, well serviced by local operators and accommodation and transport providers.
The Milford Track
Known as the finest walk in the world, the 53.5 km Milford Track runs from the head of Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound/Piopiotahi, over the dramatic MacKinnon Pass on the west coast of the South Island within the incredible Fiordland National Park. Walk amid lofty mountain peaks, alongside crystal-clear rivers and through dense rainforest encountering ancient valleys carved by glaciers. During Great Walks season (29 October to 30 April), the track can be undertaken at a comfortable pace within four days. Outside this season, weather can be unpredictable with the possibility of floods and avalanches, however the track is still open during this time.
Waterfalls are a regular and magnificent sight on the Milford Track including the iconic Sutherland Falls dropping 580 meters from Lake Quill far above. The track concludes at the staggeringly beautiful Milford Sound, a worthy reward for the exertion of the journey.
There are three DOC huts on the Milford Track, which must be booked in advance during the Great Walks season, as well as private lodges reserved for guided groups. Most organised tours depart from Queenstown and include transfers, accommodation and all meals however a variety of luxury tour operators incorporate sections of the Milford Track in the itinerary.
View Milford Track Walking Tours
The Routeburn Track
The Routeburn Track runs between the Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks, traversing the Southern Alps and offering unforgettable views of the glacier carved valleys and pristine alpine streams and lakes. The comfortable 33 km track weaves through beech forests, meadows, reflective tarns and alpine gardens surrounded by spectacular vistas over vast mountain ranges and valleys. The track also takes in iconic sights such as the Routeburn Falls, Hollyford Valley and Darren Mountains.
The track can be taken in sections or from end to end at a leisurely pace within three days on an independent or guided basis. DOC huts, campsites and private lodges are positioned along the track and can be booked in advance during the Great Walks season. The closest gateway city is Queenstown and many tours include transfers to and from the track from here.
As you would expect from such a famed area of natural beauty, there are a number of activities to complement a Milford Track walking experience. From hot air ballooning, helicopter tours and cruises to mountain bike tours and water sports, New Zealand’s adventure playground offers something for everyone.
View Routeburn Track Waking Tours
Also within the Fiordland National Park, the scenic 60km Kepler Track is a circuit starting and ending just outside of Te Anau. The diverse terrain crosses lakeshores, tussock lands and mountain tops and will take those with a good level of fitness four days to complete the circuit. During the walk, walkers will experience spectacular alpine, lake and forest views and encounter fascinating sights such as the limestone Luxmore Caves.
For those undertaking the track on a self-guided basis, there are three DOC huts and two campsites along the Kepler Track, which must be booked in advance during the Great Walks season.
For the very best introduction to the Fiordland National Park on foot, multi-day experiences are available incorporating the Routeburn, Kepler and Milford Tracks as well as transfers, luxury accommodation and all meals.
View Kelper Track Walking Tours
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Tongariro National Park, located on the central North Island is New Zealand's oldest national park and a dual World Heritage Site. The Tongariro National Park is rich in Maori cultural and spiritual significance as well as breathtaking natural scenery. Unique landforms, including the volcanic peaks of Ngauruhoe, Tongariro and Ruapehu are located in this world-renowned National Park. The highest of Mt Ruapehu is 2797 meters, of these active volcanoes and some scenes from The Lord of the Rings film trilogy were filmed here.
Within the National Park, the famed Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a track 19.4km in length crossing remarkable alpine volcanic landscapes. Sparkling emerald lakes, endless panoramic views, ancient volcanic craters and lava flows decorate this challenging track which can vary in difficulty thanks to steep sections and rapidly changing, often extreme weather conditions. Seven to eight hours is recommended to complete the circuit. Guided or self-guided options are available however visitors are strongly recommended to avoid parking their vehicles at either end of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and “park and ride” with a licensed operator from the nearby townships of National Park Village and Whakapapa Village. For those undertaking a guided trek, the Alpine Crossing can be combined in multi-day itineraries with other walks within the National Park as well as additional activities such as canoeing or cycling. In the nearby townships it is possible to arrange activities such as river rafting and quad biking.
Accommodation in the region is varied with different budgets catered for at hotels, guest houses campsites and hostels. View Tongariro Alpine Crossing Walking Tours.
The Abel Tasman Coast Track
Lose yourself in the turquoise waters, soft sandy beaches and lush coastal forests of the Abel Tasman National Park. Abel Tasman National Park is located between Golden Bay and Tasman Bay at the northern end of the South Island. It is named after Abel Tasman, who in 1642 became the first European explorer to sight New Zealand and anchor close by in Golden Bay. Winding its way along the coast within the park is the undulating Coast Track. Spread over 55 km the track will take most walkers four days end to end, however smaller sections of the track can be accessed by one of the frequent ferries delivering walkers and day trippers to the park. The nearest airport is Nelson which connects visitors with the larger international airports in Christchurch, Queenstown and Auckland. Most tour companies will collect from Nelson Airport or a nearby hotel and transfer to the starting point of the walk.
The park is famed for its natural coastal beauty; rocky streams tumble to the ocean, stunning marble and rock formations dot the beaches and headlands, and dense native forest fringes the track. Walkers can also see and hear an array of native wildlife along the track. Many animal species found along the Abel Tasman Coast Track are unique to this part of New Zealand including Tui and bellbirds, shags (cormorants), gannets and small blue penguins can be spotted while fur seals lounge on the rocks around the edge of Tonga Island.
There are a number of tour companies operating within the National Park and various itineraries are available, either self-guided or in the hands of expert guides on all-inclusive packages. Regular ferry transfers enable walkers to reduce walking distances in some sections while kayaking and cycling can also be incorporated.
Comfortable lodge accommodation, DOC huts and campsites are positioned along the length of the track in picturesque positions, taking advantage of spectacular views across calm waters to the Marlborough Sounds.
View Abel Tasman Coast Track Walking Tours
Unique among New Zealand’s Great Walks is the Whanganui Journey. Technically not a walk, the Whanganui Journey is a 145 km stretch of the Whanganui River, to be undertaken in a canoe or kayak over five days passing through a serene landscape of remote hills and bush clad valleys. There are options to reduce this distance by competing smaller sections. Gliding down the Whanganui River in a canoe or kayak is one of the only ways to explore this extremely remote part of the North Island, the Whanganui National Park.
This is also the only Great Walk where it is possible to stay in a marae overnight. A marae is a sacred communal meeting place in Māori culture. During the expedition it is also recommended to take the famous Bridge to Nowhere Walk, leading to the eerie and poignant Mangapurua Valley farm settlement which was carved out of the bush and then abandoned between the two World Wars and now lies engulfed in the ever-growing native New Zealand forest.
Campsites are dotted along the river while hut accommodation is only available between Whakahoro and Pipiriki. If undertaking the Whanganui Journey unguided, it is worth noting that once passed Whakahoro, there’s no turning back or stopping the trip mid-way. There is also nowhere to shop for supplies along the river.
Guided canoe trips, mountain biking and helicopter tours are also possible. There are a number of access points to the National Park with equipment hire, services, food and transport at Taumarunui, Whanganui, Raetihi, ōhakune and National Park Village. View Whanganui Canoeing Tours.
View Whanganui River Guided Tour
Trace the shoreline of Lake Waikaremoana, the sea of rippling waters, past enormous podocarp trees and along remote beaches on this 46 km track on the east coast of the North Island (approximately 1 hr 30 min from Gisborne or 40 min from Wairoa by car). Take in incredible views from Panekire Bluff, admire the spectacular Korokoro Falls, marvel at giant native trees and soak up the rich spiritual history of the Te Urewera. The Lake Waikaremoana track has the largest area of native forest in the North Island. This region is also the ancestral home of the Māori tribe Ngai Tuhoe - the ‘Children of the Mist’.
Three or four days is recommended to complete this walk, through pristine rainforest, regenerating areas of wetland, magnificent rivers, waterfalls and a magical ‘goblin forest’. For those short of time it is possible to undertake smaller sections by utilising the water taxi service which can shuttle walkers to various points along the track.
Five DOC huts are located on the track as well as a number of campsites. To walk independently, reservations are required for all huts and campsites. Alternatively, a number of specialist tour operators with highly knowledgeable guides can bring this walking experience to life as well as organise all accommodation, supplies and transfers.
View Lake Waikaremoana Guided Walking Tour
The Heaphy Track
The Heaphy Track, located in the Kahurangi National Park, traverses the wild west coast of New Zealand’s South Island connecting the Aorere Valley in Golden Bay with Karamea. The Heaphy Track is New Zealand's most diverse and longest Great Walk. The trail winds through an ever-changing landscape of tussock lands and lush forests of towering native trees along the beautiful west coast and birdlife such as tui, weka, kea, kaka, kereru and kiwi are regularly sighted.
The 82 km track can be experienced in full over four to six days and can be taken independently or on an organised tour, multiple pre-booked itineraries are available which include transport to and from Nelson to the track, accommodation in basic DOC huts, knowledgeable guides and gourmet meals each evening. A five-day itinerary will involve between four and six hours of walking each day. Those opting for a self-guided tour can book accommodation at the DOC huts which each have comfortable bunks, fireplaces or wood burners, and plentiful rainwater supplies.
The track concludes at the town of Karamea, where a well-earned rest can be taken at one of a small selection of motels and guesthouses.
The Paparoa Track
Be among the first to experience the Paparoa Track. Opening at the end of 2019, the most recent addition to New Zealand's Great Walks is located on the west coast of the South Island. Over a 55 km stretch of track, explore ancient forests and climb to the Paparoa Ranges for breathtaking views, experience the spectacular Pororari River Gorge with striking limestone cliffs, dense beech forest and glades of subtropical nīkau palms, and end each day admiring an incredible Tasman Sea sunset. Here you can also discover the area's fascinating mining history - gold on the Croesus Track, coal in Pike Stream, and uranium prospecting in the Pororari River.
The track is graded moderate and can be taken at a relaxing pace by those with a good level of fitness. Two or three days is recommended for walkers while the track can be completed by mountain bike comfortably within two days. Accommodation should be booked in advance at the two newly constructed huts spaced along the track.
For an active island adventure, the Rakiura Track on Stewart Island is a dream destination. Stewart Island, officially named Stewart Island/Rakiura, is the third-largest island of New Zealand. It lies 30 km south of the South Island, across the Foveaux Strait. Rakiura is Māori, meaning land of the glowing skies, no doubt because of the spectacular sunsets seen there.
The 32 km loop follows open coastline, crossing native forests and winding along the sheltered shores of Paterson Inlet. It passes sites of cultural and historical interest, such as early Māori settlements. Birdlife is in abundance – along the coast is the home sooty shearwaters, mollymawks, cape pigeons and various types of penguin; while inland, the track passes through the habitats of bellbirds, tui, fantails, kaka and many more.
There are two huts and three campsites on the Rakiura Track. A variety of self-guided and guided options are available. The track begins and ends in Honeymoon Bay, the only township on Stewart Island/Rakiura. Oban-Honeymoon Bay is a 20 minute flight from Invercargill or a one hour ferry or water taxi trip across Foveaux Strait from the southern port of Bluff. Accommodation, equipment hire and transport to and from the start of the track is available from Honeymoon Bay.