An introduction to our Great Walks: NZ’s national treasures

New Zealand is a truly unique place that is home to some of the most pristine landscapes and natural beauty. With volcanic volcanoes, stunning beaches, rich rainforest, glaciated valleys, and snow-covered peaks, it is a country that will meet everyone’s needs.

With such incredible natural beauty, many choose to hike (or as we say in New Zealand, tramp) their way through the landscape. Though we have countless wonderful walks, the most famous multi-day trails are undoubtedly the Great Walks.

These tracks are one of the best ways to observe the variety of landscapes that New Zealand has to offer. With ten famous tracks, the Great Walks cater to every hiker, even those with little experience. They are a wonderful way to immerse yourself in nature whilst being relatively close to towns and on well-maintained tracks.

The history of the Great Walks

The Department of Conservation created the first of the Great Walks in 1992. Launching with seven tracks, they were designed to preserve the local environment whilst still allowing visitors to enjoy it. The number of trails grew and, as a result of the investments made by the Department of Conservation (DoC), the hut infrastructure and trails improved, resulting in a world-class experience. Now, there are numerous lodges or campsites to choose from along each route, which vary in length from 32 to 77 kilometres (20 to 48 miles).

Great Walks today

Currently, there are 10 Great Walks. Three are located in the North Island, six hikes are on the South Island and one is on Stewart Island. Plus, another is due to open in the South Island – the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track.

Each track has a particular Great Walk season. These normally run from the end of October until the start of May. Due to the mild climate, some of the walks are accessible year-round.

One of the best things about these walks is that they are not just for walking. On some tracks, you can run, bike or paddle. Plus you’ll have the option to camp or stay in a hut; to do the whole walk or just part of it. We absolutely love the flexibility that many of these tracks offer.

Whatever approach you choose, make sure to research which Great Walk is best for you and/or your group beforehand. That way, you’ll be prepared for an incredible experience in Aotearoa.

Great Walks are New Zealand’s most popular multi-day hikes, providing unparalleled access to some of the country’s most incredible natural landscapes, wildlife and cultural heritage.

Kiri Allan, Minister of Conservation
Two backpacker dads happily trail in the wooden Kepler Track.
Explore the Kepler Track. Photo: Miles Holden.

Booking & Choosing a Great Walk

The Great Walks in New Zealand are a very popular challenge for travelers and locals alike. This is important to keep in mind as you have to book your spot, and they often sell out very fast!

You must ensure you reserve your Great Walk lodging (the mountain huts) well enough in advance to guarantee your spot. There are camping options available on a few Great Walks, but they sell out very quickly as well.

Did you know? Availability for the Great Walk huts and campsites is staggered over a week-long period. Bookings normally open at the start of May. They always sell out, but it’s worth checking in on the booking engine even outside of this period. Sometimes people will book more spots than they need, or they’ll cancel their trip. When this happens, their accommodation is put back into the system and issued again on a first-come, first-served basis.

Below, we list all of the different New Zealand walks and their length, the best season to embark and the level of difficulty.

So, if you are planning to visit one or some of the Great Walks in New Zealand, then check out the guide below for helpful information and tips.

And if you want to know more about Aotearoa, our extensive 101 New Zealand travel FAQs for first-time visitors will surely fill you in.

All bookings are made through the Department of Conservation website.

Pro Tip: Most of the tracks can be walked in either direction. If your preferred dates are booked out in one direction, you might like to check to see if the reverse route has availability.

1. Lake Waikaremoana Track

In the heartland of Ngai Tūhoe, the Lake Waikaremoana Track offers breathtaking wilderness beauty. The region, which holds enormous cultural and spiritual significance for the Ngai Tūhoe people, is the first natural feature to be acknowledged in New Zealand law as a distinct entity.

Though it’s one of the least frequented walks on this list, you’ll still explore several waterfalls, beaches, and rainforests while tramping along Lake Waikaremoana’s shoreline. If you’re walking from Onepoto Bay, you’ll find the first two days of this walk to be more challenging (due to elevation gain and loss), before the second half of the track largely flattens out.

Be sure to pack your togs as there are plenty of opportunities for dips in the lake too.

Location:Te Urewera, near Gisborne in the North Island.
Suitable for:Walking.
Difficulty:Beginner to intermediate.
Length:46 kilometres (28.6 miles).
Duration:Usually completed in three nights/four days.
Huts:Panekire Hut (36 bunks), Waiopaoa Hut (30 bunks), Marauiti Hut (26 bunks) and Waiharuru Hut (40 bunks).
Campsites:Waiopaoa Campsite, Korokoro Campsite, Maraunui Campsite, Waiharuru Campsite and Tapuaenui Campsite.
Start/end:Onepoto/Hopuruahine – walk in either direction.
Track type:This is not a loop track – you will need a transport solution.
Best time of year to walk:Early autumn and summer (November to March), but it can be hiked all year.
Elevation Profile and Track Guide of Lake Waikaremoana.
Photo credit: Department of Conservation.
Three backpackers standing in front of Lake Waikaremoana.
Photo credit: Department of Conservation.

2. Tongariro Northern Circuit

The Tongariro National Park is located within a world heritage site. Part of this trail contains one of the most popular day walks in New Zealand – The Tongariro Alpine Crossing. During this walk, you’ll see Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings), and magnificent views of the Emerald Lakes that fill the volcanic craters.

This walk is much more than just the Tongariro Alpine Crossing though. This trail is unlike anything else in Aotearoa, covering vast alpine areas. For many, this unique walk is a favourite.

Location:National Park, near Taupō in the North Island.
Suitable for:Walking.
Length:43 kilometres  (26.7 miles).
Duration:Usually completed in three days/two nights.
Huts:Mangatepopo Hut (20 bunks), Oturere Hut (26 bunks) and Waihohonu Hut (28 bunks).
Campsites:Mangatepopo Campsite, Oturere Campsite and Waihohonu Campsite.
Start/end:Whakapapa Visitor Centre/Whakapapa Village – walk in either direction.
Track type:Loop track – return close to where you started.
Best time of year to walk:During the Great Walks season between 19th October and 30 April. The weather is quite unpredictable outside of this time period and should only be attempted by experienced winter hikers or those on a guided trip.
Elevation Profile and Track Guide of Tongariro.
Photo credit: Department of Conservation.
Backpacker looking at a small green lake on an uninhabited mountain.
Photo credit: Camilla Rutherford.

3. Whanganui Journey

The Whanganui Journey is totally different to every other Great Walk in New Zealand. It doesn’t actually require any walking!

Instead, this journey is completed via canoe or kayak. During your paddle, you will travel between steep valley walls and view the incredible forests that are on both sides of the Whanganui River. Perfect for the warmer weather, there are two distinct starting points on this trip, making it easy to reduce or extend the total amount of time you spend on the river.

Location:Whanganui National Park, Whanganui in the North Island.
Suitable for:Kayaking or canoeing – this is the only Great Walk that isn’t a walk – instead, you’ll be on the river.
Difficulty:Intermediate. If you are venturing without a guide, we recommend you are a good swimmer, have experience with kayaking and be fit enough to paddle.
Length:87 kilometres (54 miles) or 145 kilometres (90 miles) depending on where you start.
Duration:It usually takes three or five days to complete this journey, depending on which you choose.
Huts:Whakahoro Bunkroom (10 bunks), John Coull Hut (24 bunks) and Tīeke Marae/Kāinga (an operational marae and hut, 20 bunks).
Campsites:Ohinepane Campsite, Poukaria Campsite, Maharanui Campsite, Whakahoro Campsite, Mangapapa Campsite, Ohauora Campsite, Mangawaiiti Campsite, Mangapurua Campsite, Tīeke Marae/Kāinga and Ngaporo Campsite.
Start/end:87km (three days): Whakahoro to Pipiriki. 145km (five days): Taumarunui (Cherry Grove) to Pipiriki.
Journey:This is not a loop paddle – you will need a transport solution.
Best time of year to paddle:The best months to visit Whanganui National Park are January through April.
Paddling guide of Whanganui.
Photo credit: Department of Conservation.
Kayaking journey through Whanganui River.
Photo credit: Department of Conservation.

4. Abel Tasman Coast Track

One of the most accessible New Zealand Great Walks, the Abel Tasman Coast Track dips in around beautiful sandy beaches and native bush, hugging the shoreline all the way. The views really are incredible!

What’s more, you don’t even have to walk the entire way – you can also enjoy the coastline by water taxi or a kayak, cutting down on your time on the trail. This flexibility makes it a great option for those who haven’t trained or for travellers short on time.

Though there is a number of small climbs along the way, the Abel Tasman Coast Track lacks the big climbs that most of the Great Walks have.

The weather in this region is the most reliable of any Great Walk too. This allows trampers to walk outside of the official season without any safety concerns, and means you can swim plenty whilst walking.

Location:Abel Tasman National Park, near Nelson in the South Island.
Suitable for:Walking.
Difficulty:Beginner to intermediate.
Length:60 kilometres (37.3 miles). Water taxis mean you can easily complete just part of this walk.
Duration:We recommend spending three nights/four days, allowing plenty of beachtime along the way, but it can be done in less time.
Huts:Anchorage Hut (34 bunks), Bark Bay Hut (34 bunks), Awaroa Hut (26 bunks) and Whariwharangi Bay Hut (20 bunks).
Campsites:There are 18 campsites along the Abel Tasman Track – more than any other Great Walk.
Start/end:Marahau/Tōtaranui – walk in either direction.
Track type:This is not a loop track – you will need a transport solution (though this is very easily organised).
Best time of year to walk:The ‘summer season’ (which starts at the beginning of October and goes until the end of April).
Elevation Profile and Track Guide of Abel Tasman.
Photo credit: Department of Conservation.
Rock formation along the white coast of Abel Tasman.

5. Heaphy Track

The Heaphy Track is located in Kahurangi National Park. It is the longest Great Walk and is home to the most diverse landscape. There’s lush forest, limestone karst, nīkau palms, and beautiful beaches. Plus, you can sometimes see kiwi/roroa at twilight!

Skimming the wild West Coast, this walk is the longest of all Great Walks. Though its length makes it quite the undertaking, its topography is far from being the most challenging.

Location:Kahurangi National Park, near Karamea in the South Island.
Suitable for:Walking or biking.
Difficulty:Intermediate to advanced (due to its length).
Length:78.4 kilometres (48.7 miles).
Duration:Four to five days on foot and three to four nights, although four is recommended for most.
Huts:Brown River Hut (18 bunks), Perry Saddle Hut (28 bunks), Gouland Downs Hut (8 bunks), Saxon Hut (16 bunks), James Mackay Hut (26 bunks), Lewis Hut (20 bunks) and Heaphy Hut (32 bunks).
Campsites:Aorere Shelter and Campsite, Perry Saddle Campsite, Gouland Downs Campsite, Saxon Campsite, James Mackay Campsite, Heaphy Campsite, Katipo Creek Shelter and Campsite, Scotts Beach Campsite, and Kohaihai Shelter and Campsite.
Start/end:Brown Hut (Golden Bay)/Kohaihai
Track type:This is not a loop track – you will need a transport solution (though this is very easily organised).
Best time of year to walk:The summer period is when the track is most popular for fellow walkers, with it being busiest from Christmas through to Easter. The track is also used by mountain bikers but this is only permitted from 1st May to 30th November each year.
Elevation Profile and Track Guide of Heaphy.
Photo credit: Department of Conservation.

6. Paparoa Track

The Paparoa Track is the most recent addition to the New Zealand Great Walks, offering access to the West Coast to walkers and mountain bikers alike. It was created as a memorial for the 29 miners who lost their lives in the Pike River Mine disaster in December of 2010.

From the track, you’ll enjoy excellent views of the West Coast, Paparoa Range and Southern Alps. Check out the beautiful Pororari River Gorge, gold-mining remains from the historic Croesus Track and keep your eyes peeled for the Lone Hand rock formation near the Pororari Hut.

Though this track is the newest addition to this list, it is fast becoming a favourite thanks to its beautiful views, great huts and fun swing and suspension bridges.

Location:Paparoa National Park, near Greymouth in the South Island.
Suitable for:Walking or biking.
Difficulty:Intermediate to advanced.
Length:55 kilometres (34 miles).
Duration:Usually completed in two nights/three days. It can also be done over three nights/four days.
Huts:Ces Clark Hut (16 bunks), Moonlight Tops Hut (20 bunks) and Pororari Hut (20 bunks).
Campsites:Camping is not permitted on this Great Walk.
Start/end:Blackball / Punakaiki – walk in either direction.
Track type:This is not a loop track – you will need a transport solution.
Best time of year to walk:Paparoa National Park is known for its high rainfall and severe storms that can occur at any time of year.
Elevation Profile and Track Guide of Paparoa.
Photo credit: Department of Conservation.
Two kids walking along the Paparoa Track which are filled with trees on the sides.

7. Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track takes you through the Southern Alps, offering stunning views of glacier valleys and magnificent lakes and rivers. This track is the shortest of New Zealand’s Great Walks but don’t be fooled – it’s got plenty of bang for your buck!

You will make your way around Mount Aspiring and through Fiordland National Parks. Plus there are incredible views of the Darran Mountains when you travel across the Main Divide.

Tucked into a beautiful forest amongst the mountains, this is a stunning hike.

Did you know? Locals run this trail in one day, offering their services for car relocation.

Location:Near Te Anau and Glenorchy in the South Island.
Suitable for:Walking.
Difficulty:Beginnger to intermediate.
Length:33 kilometres (20 miles).
Duration:Usually completed in three days/two nights. It can be done in less, though.
Huts:Routeburn Flats Hut (20 bunks), Routeburn Falls Hut (48 bunks) and Lake Mackenzie Hut (50 bunks).
Campsites:Routeburn Flats Campsite and Lake Mackenzie Campsite.
Start/end:Routeburn Shelter (near Glenorchy)/The Divide Shelter (near Te Anau) – walk in either direction. Book discounted track transport.
Track type:This is not a loop track – you will need a transport solution.
Best time of year to walk:The best hiking begins in spring (September to November) when vast fields of the famous Mount Cook buttercup are in full bloom.
Elevation Profile and Track Guide of Roueburn.
Photo credit: Department of Conservation.

8. Milford Track

On this iconic New Zealand Great Walk, you will see the best Milford Sound Tours with an abundance of waterfalls (including the gargantuan Sutherland Falls), walk along glacial valleys, view crystal-clear rivers, and encounter magnificent rainforests. Most impressively, the Milford Track emerges into the famous and stunning fiord of Milford Sound – one of the top tourist attractions in Aotearoa.

This trail is the most famous of all the Great Walks in New Zealand, and as such it is normally the first to sell out. If you’re planning to book the Milford Track, it pays to be flexible with your dates, allowing you to snap up a spot whenever you can find one.

Location:Fiordland National Park, near Te Anau in the South Island.
Suitable for:Walking.
Difficulty:Intermediate to advanced.
Length:53.5 kilometres (33.2 miles).
Duration:Usually completed in four days/three nights.
Huts:Clinton Hut (40 bunks), Mintaro Hut (40 bunks) and Dumpling Hut (40 bunks).
Campsites:Camping is not permitted on the Milford Track.
Start/end:Te Anau Downs (where you’ll board a water taxi) to Milford Sound. Book your discounted track transport.
Track type:This is not a loop track – you will need a transport solution.
Best time of year to walk:March and April. During autumn the temperatures are often still warm, the summer crowds have disappeared and there’s not quite as much rain as there is during Spring.
Elevation Profile of Milford Track.
Photo credit: Department of Conservation.
Backpackers crossing a narrow footbridge while looking at the rocky grounds below them.

9. Kepler Track

The Kepler Track is the last of the three Great Walks that are easily accessible from Te Anau. It passes through the massive Fiordland National Park and is particularly convenient as the walk forms a circuit starting and ending near town.

On the walk, the terrain ranges from lakeshores and wetlands, to tussock lands and mountaintops. You’ll pass through beech-forests and cross a swing bridge, all whilst enjoying unbeatable alpine views.

Speaking of views, the vista from Luxmore Hut is absolutely spectacular!

Being one of the longest Great Walks, and with significant elevation gain, it’s worth putting some training hours into preparing for this tramp.

Location:Fiordland National Park, near Te Anau in the South Island.
Suitable for:Walking.
Difficulty:Intermediate to difficult.
Length:60 kilometres (37.3 miles).
Duration:Generally completed in 4 days/3 nights, but can be done faster.
Huts:Luxmore Hut (54 bunks), Iris Burn Hut (50 bunks) and Moturau Hut (40 bunks).
Campsites:Brod Bay Campsite and Iris Burn Campsite.
Start/end:Lake Te Anau/Lake Te Anau. Book discounted track transport.
Track type:Loop track – return to where you started.
Best time of year to walk:Autumn (March and April). During this time there are fewer people walking, and there is less rainfall than in spring.
Elevation profile of Kepler Track.
Photo credit: Department of Conservation.
Crossing across a river in Kepler Track.
Photo credit: Miles Holden.

10. Rakiura Track

The southernmost Great Walk, the Rakiura Track is found on Stewart Island. Rakiura National Park actually makes up 80% of the island, so doing the Rakiura Track is a wonderful way to see the sights.

This walk takes you along amazing beaches and forests, where you might even see or hear the island’s native kiwi. It also has a significant history relating to early Māori settlements, along with sawmilling relics.

Rakiura Track is known for its muddy conditions in certain places so prepare yourself to get dirty and have the time of your life on this track – the most remote of all the Great Walks.

Location:Stewart Island.
Suitable for:Walking.
Length:32 kilometres (19.9 miles).
Duration:Usually completed in three days/two nights.
Huts:Port Willam Hut (24 bunks) and North Arm Hut (24 bunks).
Campsites:Māori Beach Campsite, Port William Campsite and North Arm Campsite.
Start/end:Rakiura National Park at Lee Bay/Fern Gully car park
Track type:This is not a loop track – you will need a transport solution.
Best time of year to walk:The Rakiura Track can be hiked at any time of year. The best time of year to hike is during the summer season.
Elevation profile of Rakiura.
Photo credit: Department of Conservation.
A person crossing a wooden bridge of Rakiura Track built on top of a beach and clear waters of Stewart island.
Rakiura Track on Stewart Island. Photo credit: Great South.

What to Pack for Your Great Walk

Packing for any trip is difficult. It is even harder when you are only bringing a backpack with you that has to hold everything!

Since we know how hard it can be, we decided to create this helpful list for you so that you know the right things to pack for your Great Walks adventure.

We suggest choosing from the following items:

  • High-quality 50L hiking backpack
  • Good quality hiking boots
  • Hiking poles
  • A warm light-weight sleeping bag (mattresses are provided in the huts, but nothing else)
  • An empty pillowcase (to stuff with your clothes)
  • A waterproof puffer jacket and rain pants
  • Socks and underwear
  • Quick-dry, breathable sports-wear clothing
  • Thermals or merino base layers.
  • Light gloves and a beanie
  • Sun hat
  • A light-weight towel
  • Camping stove, lighter and pots
  • Sunscreen
  • A first aid kit (always important for any trip)
  • Essential toiletries (in small bottles so you don’t have to carry more than necessary)
  • Sandfly repellent (you will be grateful to have this with you)
  • A pocketknife
  • A camera/your phone
  • Meals and snacks (lightweight, fast cooking and high in energy)
  • Eating utensils including a knife, fork, spoon, plate, cup, bowl and plate
  • Cooking utensils including a pot, pan and pot scrubber
  • Water (you need to carry some water, as you may not be able to find any until you get to your first hut. DoC recommend you treat the water in the huts by boiling for 5 minutes, using a filter, or chemically treating it.)

This list contains general recommendations that are worth considering. Keep in mind that your personal packing list may be different depending on which track you’re aiming to walk, and the time of year that you are visiting.

Getting to the Great Walks

Depending on where you are coming from, will almost certainly need to find transportation to and from the start and end of the Great Walk that you chose.

Only the Tongariro Northern Circuit and the Kepler Track are loop walks, so you will need a transport solution for all of the others, but even on these two you’ll still need to get yourself to the start of the tramp.

Self-Drive to the Tracks/Car Relocation

If you are driving or renting a car from somewhere inside New Zealand, this can also be a very effective way to get to the general location of these tramps. Keep in mind, though, that will you probably have to arrange for an alternate way to get back to your car, as most of these walks finish in a different location.

Fortunately, there are a number of car relocation services available. If you choose to use these services, you’ll pay for someone to move your car to the end of the walk so that it is ready for you to hop in once you complete the hike.

Track Transport

Track transport is a great alternative to using a car relocation service. You’ll use a professional transfer service to get to the start of the track, and then find them waiting for you again at the end of the walk. With comfortable minivans and professional drivers, they certainly make life easy.

Great Walk Tips

Travel Insurance

We recommend you arrange travel insurance to guard against costs associated with the cancellation or delay of your trip.

The Department of Conservation will not be liable for injury, damage or any costs incurred by walkers, however ACC will have your back should you need support for an injury incurred on your walk.

Trail Tips

  • All of the plants, birds, and animals on these walks are protected.
  • Please carry your rubbish with you and throw it out once you leave the park.
  • No dogs or domestic pets are allowed on the walks.
  • You must have a permit to hunt. Permits can be obtained from the Department of Conservation in advance.
  • There is no charge to walk on this trails, but advanced booking is required for accommodation. There is a cost for this.
  • Fire is a major threat on the Great Walks. Fires should only be lit in designated fireplaces and must be extinguished properly before you leave.
  • Smoking is not permitted in the huts or shelters.
  • Do not encourage animals by leaving food outside overnight or by feeding them.

Now that you’re prepared for your Great Walk trip, which will you choose?

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