The great hikes and walks in New Zealand

New Zealand is famous for some of the best walks in the world. Both the South Island and North Island boast a huge variety of walking trails.

It is a cliché sure, and the marketing department can’t stop telling us, that New Zealand is Lord of the Rings scenery – but it is true. The landscapes in New Zealand are on a scale that is out of this world and jammed in to two relatively small islands.

For many there is no better way to immerse yourself in said scenery than hiking. Hearing the sounds of the native bush, the fresh smells the trees and plants unpolluted by big cities, an endless supply of waterfalls, secluded beaches, and a big one for us – there are no spiders, snakes, predators or bugs in New Zealand that can harm you! How good is that!

In New Zealand, there are differing classifications of walks whether it’s a stop to enjoy nature along the way or in the case of these nine multi-day walks those that are deemed fantastic! Known as the Great Walks, these trails extend over hundreds of kilometres, ranging from two to six days in length, and through diverse scenery such as rugged coastlines, geothermal areas and high mountain passes.

They all have the option of choosing a guided trip, even ones where you get someone else to move your backpack and you cook your meals, to our preferred way of getting out there and doing it yourself. You do need to pay for the right to use the tracks of course by purchasing a Great Walks pass from a Department of Conservation store (which are everywhere) and be warned hey do sell out quite quickly during high season (October to April) – so plan well in advance.

The Great Walks from North to South are:

Tongariro Northern Circuit

This Great Walk is made all the more popular due to the one-day Tongariro Alpine Crossing which traverse the three active volcanoes that make up the national park. It is often ranked as one of the top ten one day walks in the world. The full 3 – 4 day Northern Circuit walk takes you deep into Tongariro National Park, circumnavigating Mt Ngauruhoe. Or Mt Doom as you might know it famously from the Lord of the Rings. In fact much of the surrounding craters, explosion pits, and lava flows were used in creating the scenes in Mordor.

Lake Waikaremoana Track

Te Urewera is the largest area of native forest on the North Island and contains one of the most popular walking tracks in New Zealand. But it is also much more of an off-the-beaten track experience than most of the other Great Walks. The 2 – 3 day walk takes spends most of the time traversing Lake Waikaremoana taking you through lush rainforest, wetlands and a “magical goblin forest”. There are incredible views from Panekire Bluff to get your Insta-must-have and the spectacular Korokoro Falls which cascade from a sheer cliff amidst the rainforest.

Whanganui Journey

OK so a little weirdness alert. The Whanganui Journey is not actually a walk. It is a multi-day is a floaty journey down the slow-moving Whanganui River. You canoe downstream camping next to the river under the stars in the most fantastic experience. At 145km long some may take as much as 5 days to complete the gradual journey which passes through farmland, remote hills, steep-sided canyons and bush clad valleys. Of all the Great Walks the Whanganui Journey demands the greatest amount of fitness as you may need to paddle up to 6 or 7 hours per day.

Abel Tasman Coast Track

The 3 – 4 day 76 kilometre Abel Tasman Coastal Track takes in the very best of Abel Tasman National Park from Marahau in Golden Bay to Totaranui at the northern tip of the park.. You can expect endless beautiful beaches many of them deserted, unique rock formations, wild seals and the crystal-clear waters stretching along the coastline of the Tonga Island Marine Reserve. You have you try the moss-covered natural waterslide into the natural rock pool called Cleopatra’s Pool. The inlet to Falls River where you cross a 47 metre suspension bridge is also a highlight. For those short on time it is popular to only walk part of the track and get a water taxi back to the start or better still hire a sea kayak and paddle back!

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Heaphy Track

The Heaphy Track is an ancient Maori trail used by pounamu (jade) hunters travelling to and from Golden Bay to the west coast rivers that changes dramatically throughout its 82 kilometres. Of all the Great Walks it is perhaps the one that provides the most diversity. Situated in the Kahurangi National Park it begins with rolling hills and tussock covered hills and progresses through lush rainforests, nikau palms to the first of many stunning approach views along the wild west coast of the South Island. The Heaphy Track is also one of the more difficult Great Walks with a few river crossing and particularly rough sections, but the scenery more than makes up for the difficulty level.

Kepler Track

The majority of the Great Walks are original trails used by the indigenous Maori as trading and exploration routes, the Kepler Track is uniquely purpose-made for visitors to experience the beauty of Fiordland National Park. The walkway through the glacier-carved valleys, natural beech forests, river valleys, tussock highlands, and huge mountain peaks have been wonderfully created with most streams crossed with bridges and bog areas covered in boardwalks to allow easier passage through what would otherwise be prohibitive territory. Allow 3 – 4 days to cover the 60 kilometres.

Milford Track

The steep mountainsides of New Zealand’s “greenstone” heartland are much like the rest of the country; scrumptious. It’s here that the world famous Milford Track is situated, a 53 kilometre hike in the heart of Fiordland National Park. Starting at the head of Lake Te Anau the track winds past 36 named pristine lakes, through colossal mountain valleys, ancient rainforests, over 40 waterfalls, suspension bridges and mammoth “sky-scraping” peaks of over 3,500 feet. A highlight is the spray coming off the Sutherland Falls, New Zealand’s tallest waterfall. On a sunny day the Milford Track is postcard-perfect. But only when it rains, which is does rather regularly, do you truly experience the magic of this New Zealand icon as torrents of water cascade down the steep mountainsides.

Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track is New Zealand’s shortest Great Walk at 32 kilometres but it packs some of the most spectacular scenery – from alpine peaks to waterfall-filled gorges and huge mountain valleys. The route links Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park, winding through glacier carved fiords, towering rock faces, lakes and waterfalls. Friendly warning! This is Kea country – the world’s only alpine parrot might be hilarious (affectionately called the clown of the mountains) its inquisitive nature means it will destroy an unattended backpack, hiking shoes or tent in minutes.

Rakiura Track

Stewart Island at the bottom of the South Island is “peace found” – largely untouched with secluded beaches and an abundance of native forest home to many wild kiwi birds and Morepork (a type of owl). Perhaps no better way to explore the island is on the Rakiura Track, a three-day Great Walk. The majority of the track is on board-walks following the coastline from sheltered bays to the open Southern Ocean. Off the main travelled path the Rakiura walk is one of those hidden gems that you don’t want to miss!

Trips to get you here

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