Hiking in South Alps on the Routeburn track, South island of New Zealand

10 Great Walks Of New Zealand

The Great Walks of New Zealand are ten formally recognized and managed, multi-day adventures through different aspects of the country's mesmerizing landscape. There are three options on the North Island (one of which is actually a paddle) and seven on the South Island. These safe, fun and reasonably accessible walks feature well-maintained campsites and huts to help support the journey (advanced bookings required). 

The North Island

Lake Waikaremoana 

Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk, New Zealand
Viewpoint on Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk, New Zealand.

This 28.6-mile, point-to-point trek takes a recommended 3 to 4 days to complete. During that time, the trail predominantly follows the shoreline of the titular lake, all while exploring the largest native forest on the North Island and the traditional home of the Ngai Tuhoe people (Maori). Misty valleys, lush rainforests, spiritual waterfalls, and pleasing bird calls elevate this walk further. 

Whanganui Journey

Whanganui river view
Whanganui River view, North Island, New Zealand.

Though grouped in the Great Walks, this journey actually requires a canoe or kayak to complete. There is a full 90-mile, 5-day paddle option or a truncated alternative of 54-miles/3-days. The Whanganui River offers a peaceful atmosphere, punctuated by the excitement of some manageable rapids and the sight of shoreline waterfalls and caves. Alongside the river, there is also a 22-mile mountain biking adventure (or short walking break option for paddlers), appropriately and mysteriously named the "Bridge to Nowhere."  

Tongariro Northern Circuit

Tongariro national park in New Zealand
Woman hiker in Tongariro National Park, New Zealand.

One of the many "Lord of the Rings" movie sites on this list, Tongariro circles the most specific and iconic feature of all, Mount Doom (i.e., Mount Ngauruhoe). This active volcano not only capped off Frodo's arduous journey but it also makes for a great side-trip summit for keen hikers who want to peer into a smoking crater. Tongariro National Park looks desolate and otherworldly and at the same time, exceedingly pretty due to the contrast of the emerald lakes peppered throughout the area. The whole circuit is a 3 to 4 day, 26.8-mile adventure. 

The South Island

Abel Tasman Coast Track

Abel Tasman Coast Track
Explorers walking on the Abel Tasman Coast Track in the Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand.

This sandy, tropical, inspiring trek is a 37.3-mile, point-to-point undertaking of about 3 to 5 days. During that time, the gorgeous Northwest coastline of the South Island will dazzle all who enjoy walking along golden beaches and through lush forests alongside glittering bays. Just note, the rewarding landscape is not without its demands. Hikers must pre-plan based on the tides and the return shuttle and be well-equipped for the voracious sand-flies that can swarm the campsites at day's end. 

Paparoa Track

Paparoa track
Winding road of the Paparoa Track.

The newest addition to the Great Walks list is a 34.2-mile, 2 to 3 day, point-to-point hike along the central West Coast of the South Island. Alpine-hungry trekkers will be greatly rewarded as they traverse the Paparoa Range, taking in giant and sheer limestone cliffs and ample sub-tropical rainforest along the way. This route is also open to mountain bikers - an advanced undertaking (Grade Four) of typically 1 to 2 days. Severe storms are known to rock this region, so warm, waterproof clothing is a must. 

Heaphy Track 

Heaphy Track great walk, Kahurangi National Park, New Zealand
Man walking across a swing bridge on the Heaphy Track Great Walk, Kahurangi National Park, New Zealand.

The Heaphy Track is another marvelous adventure through the West Coast region. At just shy of 49-miles and a 4 to 6 day duration, this route ranks as the longest hike on the list. Southbound hikers will begin inland and take the point-to-point, ancient Maori trail through various diverse ecosystems on their way to the Tasman Sea. The Heaphy Track is also periodically open to mountain bikers who are comfortable on advanced terrain. 

Routeburn Track

Routeburn track
Hiking in South Alps on the Routeburn track, South island of New Zealand.

The Routeburn is the first of two mountainous treks in the Southwest/Queensland region. This 20-mile, 3-day, point-to-point adventure shows off the quintessence of New Zealand's Mountains - linking Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park. New Zealand's mountain treks are unique in that their lack of native mammals mean no need for safety concerns regarding bears or other predators. Also, due to low population densities of both humans and other animals, the alpine water sources are generally clean to drink. 

Kepler Track

Kepler Track, New Zealand
Woman hiker on a mountain cliff on the Kepler Track, New Zealand.

The Kepler Track is an excellent complement to the Routeburn. It is another mountainous trek through Fiordland National Park, within shouting distance of the base town of Queensland. This 37.3-mile circuit is typically completed in 3 to 4 days. It showcases long, wind-swept, grassy ridges, snowy peaks on the horizon, glacier-carved valleys, and a range of other snapshots of the South Island's scenery, which was the goal when the Kepler was established in 1988. The mountain huts in this region give hikers a cozy place to cook their meals, enjoy the panoramic views, and rest their heads (thus eliminating the need to carry a tent). 

Milford Track

Hiker along the Milford Track in Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand.
Hiker along the Milford Track in Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand.

This 4-day, 33.2-mile, point-to-point, 150-year-old trail is the most popular of all of New Zealand's Great Walks. The breathtaking journey traverses Fiordland National Park, typically beginning at the head of Lake Te Anau and ending at the majestic Milford Sound. Throughout the bucket-list adventure, hikers pass over suspension bridges, mountain passes, and alongside Sutherland Falls (the tallest waterfall in New Zealand) - all the while contending with capricious rains that are considered part of the charm. The trek can be capped off with a boat cruise into Milford Sound - a great way to gain another perspective of the Norwegian-esque scenery. 

Rakiura Track 

A hiker walking on a forest, Rakiura track, Stewart Island, New Zealand.

Located on Stewart Island, just off the Southern Coast of the South Island, the Rakiura Track is a peaceful, 3-day trek. This 20-mile meader comprises many boardwalks, open-air and sheltered coastlines, suspension bridges, and forested ridges. Stewart Island has a population of only 400 people, which explains the untouched feel of the Rakiura Track. Though low on humans, the island acts as a sanctuary for an impressive population of birds. Their mix of tunes adds to the levity of the experience. 

Exploring a country on foot (or bike or boat) is a perfect way to absorb the experience thoroughly. This is especially true for a place as isolated and whimsical as New Zealand. The 10 Great Walks merge the beauty of minimally impacted natural settings with the practical enhancements of well-maintained trails and overnight infrastructure. Each one offers a different glimpse into the densely packed and amazingly varied landscapes throughout the North and South Islands. 


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