If you love the great outdoors, I’m sure a trip to New Zealand will be at the top of your bucket list. Located in the South Pacific Ocean, this is an island country made up of two main islands, the North and South Island, as well as hundreds of smaller islands.
New Zealand is full of raw natural beauty which is one of the main reasons millions of tourists come to visit each year. There are many ways to see this country in all its glory, the best way however is by hiking it.
There are hundreds of backcountry trails and tracks to explore throughout the country, each offering an in-depth look at some amazing places. Some of the most popular tracks are the 10 New Zealand Great Walks. These are extremely well maintained hiking tracks that pass through some of the most beautiful areas in the country.
In this complete guide we will be covering everything you need to know about the Great Walks, including the best hiking seasons, how to book, how much they cost, as well as a look at each individual walk.
What are the New Zealand Great Walks?
The New Zealand Great Walks are 10 of the best multi-day hikes in the country. These hikes range from 32 km to 145 km in length and can take anywhere from 2-6 days to complete. They are aptly named the Great Walks because of their premier walking tracks which travel through a variety of New Zealand’s best scenery.
There are 3 Great Walks on the North Island, 6 on the South Island and 1 located on Stewart Island. Throughout each walk there are a series of backcountry huts and campsites which will provide shelter each night of your walk. Most huts have a hut warden who is based there who will provide information to make sure you have the best time possible.
The Best Time to Hike a New Zealand Great Walk
The best time to hike these trails is when the weather is at its finest which is usually during summer. New Zealand is located in the Southern Hemisphere so summer starts in December and ends at the start of March. You will find these months have the best conditions for your Great Walk.
Although the summer definitely has the best conditions, the Great Walks season actually starts on 26th October and goes on until 30th April the following year. You can hike the Great Walks anytime between these two dates.
Autumn is a great time to do your Great Walk if you want to avoid the crowds. During autumn, in March and April, the weather conditions remain quite good.
Outside of the Great Walks season it is not advisable to hike some of the tracks. Facilities on some hikes are greatly reduced and tracks can be dangerous, especially on the alpine routes. You should only attempt a winter hike if you are a fit and experienced hiker with specialist winter hiking gear. If you do want to hike the tracks during the winter, hiring a guide to take you is a good idea.
How to Book a Great Walk
When it comes to booking your Great Walk you don’t actually have to book the actual hike itself. You do however have to book the huts or campsites you would like to stay in throughout the hike.
It’s important that you plan out your hike properly. With planning you can figure out which direction you are going to walk and more importantly, which huts or campsites you need to book.
Bookings usually open for the Great Walks during the month of June. When bookings open you can reserve your walk for July until June the following year. The Great Walks are extremely popular and every year the huts and campsites get fully booked months in advance. If you want to grab your space, it’s important to book as soon as possible.
You can book your place by visiting the Department of Conservation Great Walk bookings page. Simply select which Great Walk you would like to hike and the date you would like to start. The system will then show which huts and campsites are available for you to reserve.
How Much Does it Cost?
Each of the 10 Great Walks vary greatly in price. You pay for each hut or campsite you stay in so the more you have to stay in, the more expensive your trip will be. Also the prices of huts and campsites vary from walk to walk. The most popular routes such as the Milford Track cost the most, whereas huts on lesser known hikes such as the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk cost much less.
To stay in each hut you will pay anywhere between NZ$30 and NZ$110 per person, for each campsite it will be between NZ$14 and NZ$32 per person. It’s worth knowing that international visitors pay a higher fee than New Zealand citizens and those living in New Zealand permanently. Children 17 and under who are New Zealand citizens or living here permanently, can stay in huts and campsites free of charge.
As well as the accommodation costs you will have to consider food, equipment and travel costs for each hike. All these costs vary dramatically from hike to hike so it’s hard to estimate how much you will spend. It’s clear however that whichever Great Walk you choose, it will be relatively costly, especially if you hike the most popular tracks.
The 10 New Zealand Great Walks
Now we have covered all the admin associated with walking your own Great Walk, it’s time to have a look at each of the 10 walks in turn.
Tongariro Northern Circuit
Distance: 43.1 km loop track
Duration: 3-4 days
Location: Tongariro National Park, North Island
Start and end: Whakapapa Village in Tongariro National Park
This Great Walk will take you on a journey through the North Island’s incredible active volcanic landscapes. Tongariro National Park where the hike is located, is a Dual UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its exceptional volcanic features, as well as for cultural reasons.
Like all Great Walks the tracks are well marked and signposted throughout. You will however encounter some places on trail which become steep with rough terrain. The Tongariro Northern Circuit promises an experience you won’t forget, with its jaw dropping natural beauty.
Distance: 88 km or 145 km one way
Duration: 3 or 5 days
Location: Whanganui National Park, North Island
Start and end: Taumarunui, Whakahoro, and Pipiriki in Whanganui National Park
The Whanganui Journey is a really interesting Great Walk, mostly due to the fact that it’s actually not a walk at all. This Great Walk is actually a canoe or kayak adventure which takes you through the heart of Whanganui National Park along the Whanganui River. Highlights along the river include beautiful hills, valleys and towering cliffs, as well as the iconic Bridge to Nowhere.
This journey can be completed in a 3 or 5 day option. Start at Taumarunui for a 5 day itinerary lasting 145 km or start further down the river at Whakahoro for a 3 day trip of 88 km. There are 2 huts and 11 campsites to stay at along the river so you will definitely need a tent for this one.
Lake Waikaremoana Track
Distance: 46 km one way track
Duration: 3-4 days
Location: Lake Waikaremoana and Te Urewera, North Island
Start and end: Onepoto, and Hopuruahine Landing at Lake Waikaremoana
If you want to escape the crowds found on New Zealand’s more popular Great Walks, then Lake Waikaremoana will be the walk for you. This Great Walk is located in Te Urewera, a protected area on the east coast of the North Island. This is very much a backcountry track which runs along the outside of the lake.
The track can be walked in either direction and when you reach the end you can catch a water taxi back to where you began and pick up your car. The views of the lake are amazing throughout, however the best views are from the top of Panekire Bluff. Korokoro falls is another highlight which is well worth an hour detour to visit.
Distance: 55 km one way track
Duration: 3 days
Location: Paparoa National Park, South Island
Start and end: Smoke-ho car park, and Pororari River car park in Paparoa National Park
The newest edition to the Great Walks is the Paparoa Track which opened in 2020. This is a purpose built track for both hikers and mountain bikers to share. Hiking the track takes 3 days but if you’re biking the trail you can complete it in 2 days. The track gives you the unique opportunity to trek across the rugged Paparoa mountain range.
The Paparoa Track is a memorial that commemorates the 29 men that lost their lives in the Pike River Mine explosion in 2010. As well as a memorial for those that lost their lives, the track acts as a thank you to New Zealanders for their support after the disaster.
Abel Tasman Coast Track
Distance: 60 km one way track
Duration: 3-5 days
Location: Abel Tasman National Park, South Island
Start and end: Mārahau Shelter and car park, and Wainui car park in Abel Tasman National Park
The Abel Tasman Coast Track is a great walk for a change of scenery. This 60 km track travels along the beautiful coastline in Abel Tasman National Park. Throughout the walk you are spoilt with golden sandy beaches and beautiful coastal views. One highlight of the track is a side trip that takes you to Cleopatra’s Pool which is a natural rock pool.
This track is quite unique when compared to the other Great Walks as there are very few coastal routes. There are 4 huts to stay at and 18 campsites, many of which are located near the golden sandy beaches.
Distance: 78.4 km one way track
Duration: 4-6 days
Location: Kahurangi National Park, South Island
Start and end: Brown Hut, and Kōhaihai River Mouth in Kahurangi National Park
For an exhilarating adventure through the diverse landscapes of Kahurangi National Park you’ll want to try the Heaphy Track. This Great Walk starts in luscious lowland forest before opening up into large tussock clearings. As you head towards the West Coast you’ll be hiking through coastal forest areas full of nīkau palms as well as along coastal beaches.
This track is open to both hikers and mountain bikers, mountain bikes are however only permitted on the track from 1st May to 30th November each year.
As well as the beautiful flora on offer, there is the chance to see some of New Zealand’s native fauna. Both the Great Spotted Kiwi and the endangered Takahē live along the track, although you will have to be lucky to see both.
Like the sound of The Heaphy Track? Click the link to learn more about this great multi-day hike.
Distance: 33.1 km one way track
Duration: 2-4 days
Start and end: Routeburn Shelter and car park, and The Divide Shelter and car park
The Routeburn Track is one of three amazing journeys in the Fiordland area and is one of the most popular Great Walks. This track connects Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park where some of New Zealand’s most amazing scenery can be found.
This is an alpine route so it’s important to hike during the Great Walks season. Outside of this time the track can become dangerous. Hiking among the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps and through the vast valleys is a truly magical experience.
Distance: 53.5 km one way track
Duration: 4 days
Location: Fiordland National Park, South Island
Start and end: Glade Wharf, and Sandfly Point Shelter in Fiordland National Park
The Milford Track is commonly referred to as ‘the finest walk in the world’ which tells you everything you need to know about it. This is the second Great Walk located in the beautiful Fiordland National Park.
The entire route is astonishing, however particular highlights include Mackinnon Pass, Sutherland Falls, and the crystal clear Clinton River. The final destination for this hike is Milford Sound which has been dubbed by many as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’.
Distance: 60.1 km loop track
Duration: 3-4 days
Location: Fiordland National Park, South Island
Start and end: Kepler Track Shelter and car park in Fiordland National Park
The last Great Walk located in Fiordland National Park is the Kepler Track, this is another spectacular hike. The track starts and ends amongst abundant green beech forests near Lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri.
The middle section of the track is the most amazing part of the entire hike. Here you will travel along exposed tussock covered ridgelines through an unbelievable alpine environment. Your journey will take you high into the mountains above Lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri below. Keep a lookout for the Kea, the world’s only alpine parrot.
Distance: 32.1 km loop track
Duration: 3 days
Location: Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island/Rakiura
Start and end: Lee Bay Road, and Main Road/Fern Gully Road, Rakiura National Park
The final Great Walk which concludes this list of ten, is the Rakiura Track set on New Zealand’s third largest land mass, Stewart Island/Rakiura. This is a very peaceful and quiet place with just over 400 permanent residents living on the island.
Along the track, expect to find rich and diverse forests as well as gorgeous beaches and coastlines. The island is actually an International Dark Sky Sanctuary which means the star gazing is next level. If you’re lucky you may get a chance to see the red and green glow of the Aurora Australis otherwise known as the Southern Lights.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to New Zealand’s Great Walks. If you ever have the chance to walk any of the 10 tracks I can whole heartedly recommend it. It will be an experience you’ll never forget!