New Zealand’s Great Walks are spread throughout the North and South Islands. Although the bias is towards the South Island with a total of 8 great Walks. With diverse and stunning scenery and varying lengths, there is a walk to suit all tastes. From mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes to ocean views and native forests, the choices are plentiful.
The great walks are well maintained tracks which are managed by the DOC (Department of Conservation). You can choose to walk these tracks self-guided or Luxury Adventures can organise one of our experienced guides. They will show you the way, impart their knowledge and generally enhance your experience. The guided options can be with a small group or private. There are both day walk and multi day options available.
Why not choose a couple of the day walks and have our team work them into an itinerary for you, including accommodation, transfers and guides? Or mix the walks up with a selection of alternative activities, and enjoy great New Zealand food and wine! Below are the 11 Great Walks of New Zealand designated by DOC. The Paparoa & Pike29 memorial track is scheduled to open in December 2019. The Hump Ridge Track is scheduled to finish upgrades in late 2022.
New Zealand’s 11 Great Walks
– Lake Waikaremoana
– Tongariro Northern Circuit
– Whanganui Journey
– Abel Tasman Coast Track
– Heaphy Track
– Paparoa and Pike29 Memorial Track
– Kepler Track
– Milford Track
– Routeburn Track
– Rakiura Track
– Hump Ridge Track
The Lake Waikaremoana track is located in the Te Urewera National Park in the eastern part of the North Island. The nearest towns are Wairoa (1 hour drive), Gisborne (2 hours drive) and Rotorua (3 hours drive). The track is 46 km (28.5 mi) in total and can be walked over 3 – 4 days. It’s well formed and marked, suitable for hikers of moderate fitness and experience. Following the shores of Lake Waikaremoana, the track has large areas of native forest. Walk through rainforest, shrub land, wetlands and discover waterfalls and rivers. The area also has a spiritual connection for the Māori people of New Zealand and is home to the Maori tribe Ngai Tuhoe. The ‘Children of the Mist’.
Waikaremoana is home to almost every species of North Island native forest bird. You will hear calls from Tui & Kereru (wood pigeon), and if you are lucky enough at night, even the bashful Kiwi bird. There are five Department of Conservation (DOC) huts and several campsites along the walk. Advanced bookings are recommended during the summer seasons. This walk isn’t a circular walk so shuttle buses or private transfers at either end of the track are required.
There are several accommodation options in Rotorua or Taupo depending on your requirements and budget. We can recommend, Acacia Cliffs Lodge, Treetops Lodge and Huka Lodge. Of course there are many others and you’ll find these under the accommodation section on our website.
Tongariro Northern Circuit
Located in the Tongariro National Park, in New Zealands north Island. The Tongariro Northern Circuit is 43.1 km (26.7 mi) and takes 3 – 4 days to walk in its entirety. This challenging walk winds past Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe, circumnavigating Mt Ruapehu. You’ll see glacier lakes, volcanic landscapes, craters, native forests, alpine meadows, and emerald green & blue lakes. The type of scenery you will have seen on films such as Lord of The Rings. The Tongariro Northern Circuit is not a loop walk and again requires shuttles or transfers.
There are Department of Conservation huts and camp sites along the way and advanced booking is required. The Tongariro Northern Circuit can be walked independently or with a guide. If you choose to walk independently you should have a good level of fitness and be prepared. The weather can be unpredictable due to its alpine environment.
If you don’t have 3 – 4 days to complete the entire Northern Circuit, you could choose to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing instead. The Tongariro Crossing is 19.4 km (12 mi) and can be completed in a day. It’s also considered to be New Zealand’s best one day walk. Again you do need to ensure you have transport arranged for each end of the walk. Luxury Adventures can arrange guides and transport from Taupo (1 hour drive) or you could stay at accommodation in National Park.
Accommodation options for the Tongariro Crossing
Taupo has a range of accommodation to suite everyone. Our team can recommend Acacia Cliffs Lodge, a lovely hosted boutique lodge at Acacia Bay. Or Point Villas a luxury private villa with its own pool and private beach. The Lodge at Kinloch near Taupo is one of New Zealand’s better lodges. There is also a selection of accommodation options in the Tongariro National Park and Ohakune. Either the iconic Powderhorn Chateau or Chateau Tongariro.
The Whanganui Journey in the central North Island is classed as one of New Zealand’s great walks. However it involves paddling down the river in a kayak or canoe rather than walking on land, so not really a walk! Paddle down 145 km (90 mi) along the Whanganui River which is one of New Zealand’s longest rivers at 290 km (180 mi) in total. The 5 day journey goes from Taumarunui to Pipiriki, with a shorter 3 day option being available from Whakahoro to Pipiriki. The Whanganui River Journey has to be one of the more peaceful “Great Walks”. Really getting away from civilization, with just the sounds of birdlife and ebbing streams.
The Bridge to Nowhere
You can leave your kayak or canoe to view “The Bridge to Nowhere”. A short easy walking trail takes you deep into the forest to a road bridge. Spanning a deep ravine, the bridge was built in 1936 to access the Mangapurua Valley Soldiers Settlement, which was then abandoned after 6 years in 1942. Hence the name “bridge to nowhere”. Today it provides stunning views and a great photo opportunities. Again the Department of Conservation provides huts along the river banks and also some camp sites. It’s easy to paddle the Whanganui journey independently with single kayaks or double Canadian style canoes, which can be hired.
Abel Tasman Coast Track
Moving from the North to the South Islands, the Abel Tasman Coast Track can be found in the Abel Tasman National Park on the northern shores of the South Island. This walk is probably one of the easiest of the 11 great walks, and a perfect option for families. The track offers views of golden sands, crystal clear ocean, and native forests. The entire track is just over 54 km or 33.5 mi long. There are areas which are tidal and can only be crossed a few hours either side of low tide. The Abel Tasman Coast Track track in its entirety would take between 3 – 5 days to walk, depending on how many stops you choose to make.
Abel Tasman Coast Track day walks
If you haven’t got the time you can chose to walk portions of the track instead, by taking water taxis to different locations. There are plenty of camp site options along the track with many beaches to stop and take a swim or snorkel. At Tonga Island Marine reserve you can view seals in their natural habitat, which is a worthwhile trip in itself. If you’re just doing a day walk then this makes time for other Abel Tasman Activities.
Where to stay when walking the Abel Tasman Coast Track
The Luxury Adventures team can plan everything for you from transfers, guides, and accommodation. The closest towns are Nelson, Motueka and Takaka with some fantastic accommodation available in these regions. We recommend Split Apple Retreat, located on the edge of the Abel Tasman National Park. Or Eden House and Clifftop Retreat, in Nelson among others. Each property is unique and special in their own with way something to suit all travel budgets.
Heaphy Track (*Dual use, both walk and bike)
Many people consider the Heaphy track as the best of the 11 great walks, but it is also the longest at 78.4 km (48.7 mi). The track is well maintained, sign posted and suitable for hikers of moderate fitness. If you’re a mountain biker it’s also possible to ride the track between May and September. To walk the entire track would take an average of 4 – 6 days or 2 – 3 days by mountain bike. The Heaphy Track is located in the Kahurangi National Park at the north-west corner of the South Island. The closest towns to the track are Nelson, Takaka, Westport and Karamea. The scenery on The Heaphy track is for ever changing, with rivers, limestone caves, ancient beech forests, alpine tussocks and rugged West Coast beaches for miles!
The Heaphy Track abounds with wildlife
The Heaphy Track is also a bird watchers mecca with, cuckoos, parrots, weka, robins, kingfishers, pukeko, godwits, terns, oyster catchers, herons and shags. There is even the possibility for the lucky ones to see kiwi! The Kahurangi National Park is also home to half of New Zealand’s 40 species of carnivorous land snail and long tail bats. Again there are Department of Conservation (DOC) huts along the way. These huts are comfortable but basic, and it’s likely that you’ll share them with other walkers. If time is short there are a few options for day walks on the tracks. Our team can arrange transfers to and from your local accommodation for you. *biking the Heaphy Track is seasonal, check the DOC website for further details.
Paparoa & Pike29 Memorial Track (Dual use, both walk and bike)
New Zealand’s tenth and newly created “Great Walk” will open on December 1, 2019. The Paparoa Track Great Walk will cross the Paparoa Range and take you through alpine tops, limestone karst landscapes and thriving rainforests. There is also the opportunity to take a side track via the Pike29 memorial track which leads to the site of the former Pike River Mine. The Paparoa track should really be called the tenth “Great Walk/Ride” as it will be dual use. Open to both walkers and mountain bikers year round. Further information can be found on the Department of Conservation website, where you can also download the Paparoa Track Brochure.
The Kepler track is located in the Fiordland National Park in the south-west of the South Island. The closest towns are Te Anau or Queenstown. This track is a loop track, which is 60 km (37 mi) long and can be covered in 3 – 4 days. You can reach the beginning of the Kepler Track via an easy (50 minute) walk from the township of Te Anau. There are some steep sections to the track, which can be a physical challenge for some. The flip side of this is the rewarding views of Lake Te Anau, and the Kepler & Murchison Mountains.
Kepler Track Highlights
Highlights of the Kepler track are the Luxmore Caves, where you can take a 10 minute detour from the main track with a torch to explore the caves. You’ll find stalactites and stalagmites and at only 10 mins, plus whatever time you spend there, it’s worth the detour. Or perhaps cross the swing bridge over the river and if you’re brave enough take a swim in the icy waterfalls!
Kepler Track day walk options
For those on a tight schedule or with young families there are day walk options on the Kepler Track. There are currently no guided hike options on this track, however the Luxury Adventures team can help with transfers to the track, maps and tips. We can also book accommodation for you in Te Anau or Queenstown.
The Milford Track is also located in the Fiordland National Park, and stretches 54 km (33.5 mi) from Lake Te Anau to Sandfly Point in Milford Sound. The world famous Milford track takes 5 days to hike and accommodation along the way is in Department of Conservation huts. These most definitely have to be pre-booked. The Milford Track offers incredible scenery, with sheer canyon walls that can look like waterfalls after heavy rain, native forests, rivers and mountains. You’ll eventually traverse the mystical Mackinnon Pass and finish in Milford Sound.
Overnight and day options on the Milford Track
The track offers department of conservation huts and also some purpose built cabins along the way. These cabins must be booked ahead of time and utilised as part of a guided hike, which our team can assist with. There is a day walk option for those not able to take the time to cover the entire 54 km of the track. The day walk is an easy 11km return, beginning at Lake Te Anau and includes a short boat ride to the start of the track. The Milford Track day hike is easy to arrange from your Queenstown accommodation. Our team can arrange transfers, guides and even a picnic lunch for you.
The Routeburn Track is a firm favourite for overseas travellers and our clients alike. Possibly due to its close proximity to Queenstown, or perhaps the stunning alpine, mountain and lake scenery. The entire track is 32 km or 20 mi and takes an average of 2 – 4 days if you were to walk the full track. The only accommodation available along the track is camp sites and DOC huts.
Routeburn Track day walk option
Some of our clients choose to stay in Queenstown and walk a portion of the track as a day walk. This option is a 13 km (8 mi) hike through the Mount Aspiring National Park, following the Routeburn River through a 130 year old forest. You should allow 9 hours for the day option and it is also possible to walk independently self driving from Queenstown. Alternatively you can choose to have an informative local guide, either as part of a group or privately guided. Transport can be arranged from your Queenstown accommodation, and picnic lunches provided.
At the very bottom of New Zealand lies its third largest island, Stewart Island. The Rakiura Track is located on Stewart Island, which is 20 minute flight from Invercargill or an hour by ferry from Bluff. Raikura National Park is New Zealand’s most southerly national park, a truly idyllic experience away from the hustle and bustle.
The track is a circuit and is 32 km (20 mi), or 39 km (24 mi) with some road included. It’s an easy walking track for anyone of reasonable fitness. To walk the entire track would take 3 days. It’s recommended to book well in advance as transfers and accommodation are limited on the island, especially in the busier summer months. There are camp sites and huts which are shared bunk accommodation. The Rakiura Track follows the coastline and crosses through forests, and passes sites of historical interest.
Hump Ridge Track
On Sunday the 14th of July 2019, the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track was named as New Zealand’s 11th and newest Great Walk. DOC will spend 5 million dollars upgrading the track and accommodation to meet Great Walk Status by late 2022. The Hump Ridge Track is a 3 day loop walk and 62 km (38.5 mi) in length. You’ll need a medium to high level of fitness for this one.
Safety information for walking and hiking in New Zealand
Whichever of New Zealand’s great walks you decide to do, you must plan and prepare. We recommend reading the outdoor safety code.
Plan your trip
The DOC Web site is a great source of up to date information including maps, equipment, etc. You can also book the Doc huts on line.
Always tell someone
Always let someone know your intentions. Where you’re walking and how long you expect to be away for. Also set a date on when to raise the alarm should you not return.
Be aware of the weather
The weather in New Zealand can be changeable so make sure you keep up to date with the forecast.
Take sufficient supplies
Take suitable and sufficient supplies including water, clothing, food, means of communication etc. Further information can be found on the DOC website for each particular walk.
Most of all enjoy New Zealand’s great walks!
Luxury Adventures – Tailoring luxury travel in New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific Islands since 1999.