New Zealand offers many fantastic walks, on both the North and South Islands, with diverse and stunning scenery, awe inspiring landscapes from mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes to ocean views and native forests. 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 to show you the way and impart their knowledge, 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 well-earned great New Zealand food and wine! Below are what are considered to be the 10 Great Walks of New Zealand designated by DOC. The Paparoa & Pike29 memorial track is scheduled to open in April 2019.
– 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
The Lake Waikaremoana track is located in the Te Urewera National Park in the east of the North Island. The nearest towns are Wairoa (1 hour drive), Gisborne (2 hour drive) and Rotorua (3 hour drive). The track is 46km in total and can be walked over 3 – 4 days, it is well formed and marked, suitable for hikers of a moderate fitness and experience. The tack follows the shores of Lake Waikaremoana and has large areas of native forest. Walk through rainforest, shrub land, wetlands, discover waterfalls and rivers. The area 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’. It is also 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 dusk the Kiwi bird. There are five Department of Conservation (DOC) huts and several camp sites along the walk, advanced bookings are recommended during the summer seasons. The walk is not a circular walk so shuttle buses or private transfers at either end of the track are required. Luxury Adventures can organise transfer’s and guides from Rotorua accommodation. There are several accommodation options in Rotorua depending on your requirements and budget, we can recommend Koura Lodge, Treetops Lodge & Estate and Wildwood Lodge.
Tongariro Northern Circuit
Located in the Tongariro National Park, in New Zealands north Island – the Tongariro Northern Circuit is 43.1 km and takes 3 – 4 days to walk in its entirety. This walk winds past Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe, see glacier lakes, volcanic landscapes, craters, native forest, alpine meadows, emerald green and crystal 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 Departments of Conservation huts and camp sites along the way, advanced booking is required as the walk is popular. This walk 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 do not have 3 – 4 days to complete the entire Northern Circuit, you could choose to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, this 19.4km track can be completed in a day and is considered as 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 the National Park. 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 also Huka Lodge in Taupo is one of New Zealand’s top 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 Whangnaui 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 145km of the Whangnaui River one of New Zealands longest river in 290 km at total. The 5 day journey goes from Taumarunui to Pipiriki, with a shorter 3 day option being available from Whakahoro to Pipiriki. This journey has to be one of the more peaceful journey’s really getting away from civilisation, with just the sounds of birdlife and ebbing streams. You can leave your kayak or canoe to view “the bridge in the middle of 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 opportunity. Again the Department of Conservation provides huts along the river banks and also some camp sites. It is easy to paddle the Whangnaui journey independently and single kayaks or double Canadian style canoes can be hired, just ask the Luxury Adventures team.
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 10 great walks, and a great option for families. The track offers views of golden sands and crystal clear ocean, and native forests. The entire track is just over 54km long, there are areas which are tidal and can only be crossed a few hours either side of low tide, the track in its entirety would take between 3 – 5 days to walk, depending on how many stops you choose to make. You can chose to walk portions of the track and take water taxis to different locations. There are plenty of camp site options along the track, lots of beaches to stop and take a swim or snorkel, and at Tonga Island Marine reserve you can view seals in their natural habitat. 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 10 great walks, it is also the longest at 78.4km. The track is well maintained, sign posted and suitable for hikers of moderate fitness, it is also possible to mountain bike the track between May and September. To walk the entire track would take an average of 4 – 6 days and bike 2 – 3 days. The Heaphy Track is located in the Kahurangi National Park at the north-west corner of the South Island, 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, lush rain forests, alpine tussocks with views over forests and mountains. The track is a bird watchers mecca with, cuckoos, parrots, weka, robins, kingfishers, pukeko, godwits, terns, oyster catchers, herons and shags, 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 is likely that you will 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 in 2019, with a tentative date of April. This 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, south-west South Island, with the closest towns being Te Anau or Queenstown. This track is a loop track, which is 60km long and can be covered in 3 – 4 days, and can be reached with 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 to some, but those offer rewarding views of Lake Te Anau, the Kepler Mountains and the Murchison Mountains. Highlights of the Kepler track are the Luxmore Caves – take a 10 minute detour from the track with a torch and explore these caves; where you will find stalactites and stalagmites, cross swing bridges over the rivers and if you’re brave enough take a swim in the icy waterfalls. For those on a schedule or perhaps 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, with many options available to suit all budgets and needs.
The Milford Track is also located in the Fiordland National Park, and stretches 54km from Lake Te Anau to Sand-fly Point in the Milford Sound. The Milford track takes 5 days to hike and accommodation along the way is in Department of Conservation huts, which should be pre-booked. The tracks offers amazing scenery, sheer canyon walls which can look like waterfalls after heavy rain, native forests, rivers and mountains. You’ll traverse the Mackinnon Pass and finish at the Milford Sound. The track has department of conservation huts and also some purpose built cabins along the way, the cabins must be booked ahead 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, beginning at Lake Te Anau and includes a short boat ride to the start of the track. The Milford day encounter is easy to arrange from your Queenstown accommodation and 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, possibly due to its easy proximity to Queenstown, or perhaps the stunning alpine mountain and lake scenery. The entire track is 32km 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. Most of our clients choose to stay in Queenstown and walk a portion of the track as a day walk, this option is a 13km hike through the Mount Aspiring National Park and following the Routeburn River through a 130 year old forest. You should allow 9 hours for the day option and it is possible to walk independently and self-drive from Queenstown, or choose to have an informative local guide, either as part of a group or privately guided. Transport can be arranged form your Queenstown accommodation, and picnic lunches provided.
The Rakiura Track is located on Stewart Island, which is 20 minute flight from Invercargill or an hour by ferry from Bluff, at the very bottom of New Zealands South Island. Raikura National Park is New Zealands most southerly national park, a truly idyllic experience away from the hustle and bustle. The track is a circuit and is 32km, or 39km with some road. Its an easy walking track for anyone of reasonable fitness. To walk the entire track would take 3 days and it is 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 track follows the coastline and crosses through forests and passes sites of historical interest.
Which ever of New Zealands great walks you decide to do you must plan, prepare and outdoor safety code.
– Plan your trip – the DOC Web site is a great source of information, maps etc. You can also book the Doc huts on line.
– Always tell someone – let someone know where you’re walking, and 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
– Know your limits
– Take sufficient supplies – water, clothing, food, means of communication etc.
Most of all enjoy the great New Zealand outdoors!
Tony Townley is a luxury lifestyle specialist and owner of Luxury Adventures. Talk to us about planning your next visit to New Zealand, Australia or the South Pacific Islands.