New Zealand has some of the most pristine nature and beautiful scenery anywhere in the world. From volcanic mountains, picturesque beaches, lush rainforest, glaciated valleys, and snow-covered peaks, New Zealand has a lot to explore. With hundreds of kilometers spanning different regions of New Zealand, the Great Walks are a great way to see the diversity in outdoors throughout the country. The Nine Great Walks are popular walks catered to any hiker, including those with very little experience. While the walks are not advanced trails, they cover beautiful terrain and are a great way to immerse into nature.
About the Great Walks of New Zealand
The Great Walks were established in the late 1980’s by the Department of Conservation. The Great Walks are intended to protect local habitat. Marketed by the DOC and government of New Zealand, these are the most popular walks. As a result of the investments made by the DOC on the Great Walks, the hut infrastructure and trails are world-class. Each walk ranges from 32 km and 78 km in length, with several huts or campsites to choose from.
Great Walk Hiking Season
The Great Walk season varies by trail. The season is typically from late October until the beginning of May. Some great walks are open all year round to their temperate weather. The Great Walks have an in-season price and out of season price. During the in-season, huts and campsites need prior bookings. Some of the walks, especially those in the Fiordland National Park, book out far in advance. Huts typically have flush toilets, gas stoves, water taps and hut wardens during the in-season. Out of season, hut amenities include drop toilets and rainwater tanks. Some of the walks in the winter need experience in alpine and snow/ice conditions.
How Many Great Walks Are There?
There are now 10 Great Walks. There historically were nine, with a new walk added for the 2018 season. Three walks are on the North Island, six are on the South Island, and one is on Stewart Island.
What to Expect
Coming in different shapes and sizes, each walk is very different. Many of the walks include coverage through rainforest or dense bush. Some have alpine crossings while others are coastal. The commonality of these walks is the infrastructure. While some have challenging sections, all can easily be done by a first-time hiker. Groomed trails and some of the best-maintained huts in New Zealand make these comfortable hikes. For those who are very experienced hikers, a few of these tracks are still worth doing, especially the Fiordland hikes, however, there are better walks suited for advanced hikers.
How to Book Great Walk Huts
Booking huts/campsites ahead are recommended for all of the Great Walks. Bookings are made online at the Department of Conservation’s website.
Costs for the Great Walks
Each walk has a different price. The cost for tent camping is typically $15 per night. The cost for huts ranges between $32 and $70 per night. The hikes in the Fiordland National Park are the most expensive. Out of season, huts are first come first serve with discounted rates of $15 per night for huts and $5 for camping. A hut pass is allowed during this time. The walks which are annual do not have off-season rates. For more details including the costs for each hike, check out the DOC’s Great Walks page.
The Great Walks of New Zealand
Ranked from our favorite to least favorite walk
The most famous of the Great Walks, the Milford Track is stunning. Throughout the hike waterfalls are plentiful and the scenic mountain pass does not disappoint. Arriving into the Milford Sound to finish the walk is the cherry on top. This area of New Zealand is one of the wettest places on earth and the waterfalls here are like nowhere else. The most expensive of the Great Walks, the Milford Track requires boat transportation to start and finish the hike.
Read more about the Milford Track.
The Kepler track is the only Great Walk which has a large section on a mountain ridge. For 10 kilometers, the section between the Luxmore Hut and Hanging Saddle rivals any hike in New Zealand for the best views. Unfortunately, this section is also known for rough weather and often attracts heavy clouds passing through. Catch this hike on a good day and it will absolutely impress. This hike is a circuit without the need for transportation.
Read more about the Kepler Track.
The Routeburn is one of the best hikes in New Zealand and is the best way to experience alpine scenery on an easy track. There are two stunning alpine lakes, a mountain pass, and views into the heart of the Fiordland. The two or three-day walk typically starts at the Routeburn car park and ends at the Divide, a five-hour drive. As a result, car relocation or transfers are expensive for this hike. It is possible to connect this walk with the Greenstone-Caples to return close to Kinloch, a much cheaper and easier return to the start of the Routeburn.
Read more about the Routeburn Track.
The best hike on the North Island is also the busiest. Only a few hours south of Auckland, the Northern Circuit also includes the famous one-day Tongariro alpine crossing. This section of the three or four-day walk is the busiest day walk in New Zealand, attracting 100,000 per season. The walk includes the option to summit Mount Ngauruhoe, more commonly known as Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings. The active volcanoes and stunning emerald lakes are unique compared to the other great walks. This hike is a circuit without the need for transportation.
Read more about the Tongariro Northern Circuit.
The longest track of the Great Walks, the Heaphy has spectacular views of the Tasman Sea as the trail covers multiple days on the rugged West Coast. While the Abel Tasman is more popular for a coastal walk, the Heaphy has fewer crowds and more time spent on the coastline. Transportation is required and is costly. The trailheads are a 7-hour drive between both ends.
Read more about the Heaphy Track.
The only great walk that does not include any walking, this canoe or kayak trip is in one of the most remote locations in New Zealand. The three-day route is best, paddling through dense forest and massive cliff faced gorges. This is a fun river experience with very nice huts and camping. The river is typically calm but has several fun spots with small rapids. This walk is great for groups or family trips. Included in canoe or kayak rentals are transfers to and from the river.
Read more about the Whanganui Journey.
Abel Tasman, although considered a coastal track, however, most of the walk is through the bush. The walk during the spring and summer is extremely crowded. Multiple companies shuttle people to nearly every beach in the park for day trips. Kayaking is a perfect way to explore the park with the best views. There are several kayak rental options including single day, multi-day, as well as kayak & hike options. Boat transfers are available to start or finish the hike.
Read more about the Abel Tasman Coastal Track.
The Rakiura Track is on the remote and rugged Stewart Island. The track is mostly along the coast passing by many beaches and hidden coves, as well as old mills. This is the shortest of the great walks and can easily be completed in two days. It is a short flight or ferry ride from Bluff to Oban on Stewart Island.
Read more about the Rakiura Track.
The least visited of the great walks is in one of New Zealand’s largest rainforest. The track is around half of the lake and includes one small climb to nice views on a clear day. It is best to go during the summer dry season. The track conditions can rapidly deteriorate during heavy rains. The hike requires a boat transfer to begin or finish the hike depending on the direction of the walk.
Read more about Lake Waikaremoana.
NEW 10th Great Walk, Paparoa National Park
Starting in October 2018, there is a new Great Walk, the Paparoa Track. This is a new Great Walk being constructed and first added since the creation of the Great Walks. Paparoa is a memorial to the 29 miners from the Pike River mine explosion in 2010. This easy three-day walk will be 65 kilometers, beginning in Blackball and ending in Punakaiki.
Read more about the Paparoa Track.
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Read more about all our posts on New Zealand:
- Backpackers Guide to Buying a Campervan in New Zealand
- Nine Great Walks of New Zealand
- Ultimate Guide to Backpacking New Zealand