10 Great Walks Of New Zealand (Start Here)

Tristan Balme Heaphy Track 23

If you want to experience the outdoors, then you’ve got to tackle some of the Great Walks of New Zealand.

To date, New Zealand has 10 of these multi-day hikes, all with something unique to offer. They offer a range of experiences, from alpine traverses to battling river rapids, to wandering through native wildlife like Kiwi and Takahe.

In this article, I’ll share details of each of these walks and what you need to know before you go.

Lake Waikaremoana, North Island

Lake Waikaremoana is a stunning tarn surrounded by pristine forest in the heart of Te Urewera. The trail is famous for its tranquil beauty and rich Maori history and follows the lake’s shore for most of the way. The hike’s major highlight is the Panekire Bluff–a high ridge with panoramic views of the lake and mountains. 

It’s a relatively easy trail, and the shortest great walk aside from Rakiura, but has some steep and rocky sections. You can hike it from either end–from Onepoto to Hopuruahine Landing or vice versa–but you’ll need to arrange transport to and from the trailheads. Most opt for a taxi boat back to the start.

Highlights

  • Lake views
  • Waterfalls
  • Native forest
  • Wetlands
  • Birdlife
  • Māori history
Distance (km)DurationElevation GainDifficultyHutsCampsites
44km one way3-4 days1125 mIntermediate45

Tongariro Northern Circuit, North Island

Tristan Balme How Hard is the tongariro crossing my experience

This track is renowned for its spectacular scenery and volcanic activity. The Tongariro Northern Circuit encircles the active volcanoes of Mount Tongariro and Ngauruhoe in the Tongariro National Park. 

The track passes through lava flow landscapes, craters, alpine meadows and emerald lakes. It also includes the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the finest day hikes in the world. 

Experience hiking peaks with complex ascents and descents is a bonus because the trail has steep and exposed sections. You can start the track from either Whakapapa Village or Mangatepopo Road end. 

Highlights

  • Volcanic landscapes
  • Alpine lakes
  • Craters
  • Hot springs
  • Māori culture
  • Lord of the Rings scenery
Distance (km)DurationElevation GainDifficultyHutsCampsites
45km loop 3-4 days1314 mIntermediate33

Whanganui Journey, North Island

Tristan Balme Whanganui River Journey 9

One of the adventures notable for its cultural immersion, the Whanganui Journey is a canoe or kayak trip down the most extensive waterway: the Whanganui River. 

The journey starts from Taumarunui and finishes at Pipiriki. It takes you through a scenic and historic landscape of forested hills and gentle rapids, with many cultural and natural sites of interest along the way. 

It’s a fantastic way to experience the manaakitanga (hospitality) and kaitiakitanga (guardianship) of the local iwi (tribes), who have a deep connection with the environment.

Distance (km)DurationElevation GainDifficultyHutsCampsites
87km or 145km one way3-5 daysN/AIntermediate311

Abel Tasman Coast Track, South Island

Tristan Balme My Complete Guide To the Abel Tasman Great Wallk

The Abel Tasman Coast Track is a 60 km track that follows the coastline of the Abel Tasman National Park. The track meanders through golden sandy beaches, clear blue waters, granite headlands, and native bushes. There are plenty of water activity and wildlife spotting opportunities, too. 

You’ll also discover the history and culture of the area, from the Māori and European settlers to the conservation efforts and projects. It takes 3 to 5 days to complete and you can approach it from either direction–Marahau to Wainui or vice versa. 

One of the track’s prominent features is the tidal sections. It can only be crossed within a few hours before and after low tide. The walk is mostly flat and gentle, and the only challenge you’ll likely encounter is timing your walk with the tides. 

Highlights

  • Coastal scenery
  • Golden beaches
  • Clearwater
  • Native forest
  • Wildlife
  • Water activities
Distance (km)DurationElevation GainDifficultyHutsCampsites
603-5 days800 mEasy418

Heaphy Track, South Island

Tristan Balme Heaphy Track 23

This 78.4 km trail boasts diverse and remote scenery, with opportunities to spot unique fauna, like giant snails and spotted kiwi. It crosses the Kahurangi National Park and lets you travel across various landscapes, from tussock grasslands and alpine forests to subtropical rainforests and rugged coastlines. 

You can walk or bike the track from Brown Hut to Kohahihai or vice versa and expect to complete its entirety in 4 to 6 days. 

Highlights

  • Diverse landscapes
  • Forest, tussock
  • Wetland
  • Coast
  • Wildlife
  • Māori 
Distance (km)DurationElevation GainDifficultyHutsCampsites
78.44-6 days915 mIntermediate78

Routeburn Track, South Island

The Routeburn Track is a 33 km (20.5 miles) one-way track filled with diverse and beautiful landscapes. It crosses the Southern Alps between Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park. 

You can walk it in either direction, but most people start from the Routeburn Shelter near Glenorchy and finish at The Divide on Milford Road. And complete it within 4 days. 

Though the track is properly signposted and well-preserved, it’s not a walk in the park. You’ll encounter steep and exposed sections, so good fitness levels are a MUST. There are also several side trips and alternative routes you can explore along the way, like the Greenstone and Caples Tracks, the Hollyford Track and the Milford Track.

Highlights

  • Alpine scenery
  • Mountain views
  • Lakes
  • Waterfalls
  • Forest
  • Birdlife
  • Lord of the Rings locations
Distance (km)DurationElevation GainDifficultyHutsCampsites
33km one way2-4 days1125 mIntermediate32

Kepler Track, South Island

This 60 km (37 mi) loop track takes you through stunning landscapes of Fiordland National Park. It has stunning lakes and mountains and lush beech forests. Along the way, you’ll also immerse yourself in panoramic views of the surrounding peaks, valleys, waterfalls and various native birds. 

It’s one of the more accessible walks, with boardwalks, bridges, and steps. But this doesn’t mean it’s an easy feat. It’s quite challenging. Especially on the second day when you have to cross the highest point of the track at Luxmore Saddle (1472 m). You can walk from the Kepler Track car park near Te Anau and travel anti-clockwise to complete the entire track.

Highlights

  • Mountain ridges
  • Alpine lakes
  • Forest
  • Caves
  • Birdlife
  • Māori legends
Distance (km)Duration (days)Elevation GainDifficultyHutsCampsites
60 km loop3 to 41472 mIntermediate32

Milford Track, South Island

image 1
Photo: Thomas Hetzler, Unsplash

The Milford Track is the most famous and iconic of the Great Walks, and for good reason. It’s a 53.5 km track that takes you from the head of Lake Te Anau to the spectacular Milford Sound. 

You’ll hike along the Clinton River, climb up to the Mackinnon Pass and descend into the Arthur Valley, where you will see the impressive Sutherland Falls. One of the tallest waterfalls in the country. 

This challenging trail rewards you with views of ancient rainforests, glacial valleys, alpine meadows, and a rich array of flora and fauna.

I found this to be a moderate hike, but a decent level of strength and endurance makes the rugged sections more bearable. Unlike the above walks, you can approach it from one direction: Glade Wharf to Sandfly Point. 

Highlights

  • Fiordland scenery
  • Mountain views
  • Lakes
  • Waterfalls
  • Forest
  • Wildlife
  • Milford Sound
Distance (km)DurationElevation GainDifficultyHutsCampsites
53.5 km one way4 days1755 mIntermediate3N/A

Rakiura Track, Stewart Island

Tristan Balme rakiura stewart island

Another track that lets you explore remote scenery, Rakiura is a southernmost walk located on Stewart Island. It’s a 32 km loop that takes 3 days to complete and passes through dense native forests, coastal sand dunes, and wetlands. The walk is relatively easy, with only a few steep sections and some muddy patches. 

Because Stewart Island is home to around 20,000 kiwis, the chances of spotting one are high, especially at night. You can also see seals and penguins, and catch a glimpse of the history and culture of the island along the way.

Highlights

  • Coastal scenery
  • Forest
  • Wetland
  • Wildlife
  • Māori heritage
  • Bridge to Nowhere
Distance (km)DurationElevation GainDifficultyHutsCampsites
323 days1300 mIntermediate23

Paparoa Track and Pike29 Memorial Track, South Island

Opened in 2019, the Paparoa Track is one of the longest walks and stretches 55 km across the Paparoa Range on the West Coast of South Island. It’s a tribute to the 29 miners who lost their lives in the Pike River Mine disaster in 2010. Also, it’s conjunct with the Pike29 Memorial Site, which is set to open in 2024. 

This is a moderate to hard walk with plenty of steep climbs, descents, and exposed sections. 

The track showcases the diverse and spectacular lush rainforests and limestone karst formations to alpine tussock. You can also take a detour and explore the caves, waterfalls, and rivers along the way.

Highlights

  • Mountain ridges
  • Limestone karst
  • Forest
  • Coast
  • Wildlife
  • Mining history
  • Memorial
Distance (km)DurationElevation GainDifficultyHutsCampsites
55 km one way3 days (walking)2 days (biking)1500 mIntermediate33

How To Book The Great Walks?

You can book Great Walks online through the Department of Conservation (DOC) website or at any DOC visitor centre. A fee applies to book the huts or campsites along the trails.

How Much Does Hiking A Great Walk Cost?

Hiking a Great Walk is free. But you’ll have to pay for accommodation–huts or campsites–along the way. The huts cost around $32 per person per night, while the campsites average $15 per person per night.

Best Time Of Year To Hike New Zealand’s Great Walks

The best time to hike New Zealand’s Great Walks is from October to April. The weather is milder and the days are longer, which means more time to enjoy the trail. I also enjoy hiking in spring–September to November. It’s the perfect time to experience crisp, sunny days with blooming native flora. 

What Do You Need To Pack For A Great Walk?

  • Backpack (40-60 litres) with a rain cover
  • Tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat (if camping)
  • Gas cooker and fuel
  • Cutlery and cooking utensils 
  • Food (high-energy, lightweight, and easy to prepare)
  • Plenty of water
  • Water filters or purification tablets
  • Warm and waterproof clothing (layers that you can adjust for different weather conditions)
  • Hiking boots or shoes
  • Sandals or sneakers (for river crossings or hut use)
  • Toiletries (including sunscreen and insect repellent)
  • Sunglasses
  • Swimwear 
  • Rubbish bag
  • First aid kit 
  • Map, compass, torch, and backup batteries
  • Camera
  • Power bank
  • Distress beacon

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