Guide to the Great Walks of New Zealand

Guide to The Great Walks of New Zealand

The Great Walks of New Zealand are some of the most accessible and beautiful walks in the country. New Zealand has some of the most pristine nature and beautiful scenery anywhere in the world. With volcanic mountains, picturesque beaches, lush rainforest, glaciated valleys, and snow-covered peaks, New Zealand has a lot to explore.

And with hundreds of miles spanning different regions of New Zealand, the Great Walks are a great way to see the diversity in the 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 terrains and are a great way to immerse in nature.

Content and photographs provided by Yana Kogan and Timon.

Guide to the Great Walks of New Zealand

About the Great Walks of New Zealand

The Great Walks was established in the late 1980s by the Department of Conservation. The Great Walks are intended to protect the local habitat. Marketed by the DOC and the 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 20 to 48 miles in length, with several huts or campsites to choose from along each route.

Great Walk Hiking Season

Great Walks in New Zealand: Conical Hill
Conical Hill. Routeburn Track

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 due to their temperate weather.

The Great Walks have an “in-season” price and an “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 require experience in alpine and snow/ice conditions.

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How Many Great Walks Are There?

Great Walks NZ: Milford Track
The scenery on the Milford Track

There are now 10 Great Walks. There were nine historically, with a new walk added in 2018. Three walks are on the North Island, six are on the South Island, and one is on Stewart Island.

What to Expect on the Walks

Coming in different shapes and sizes, each walk is very different. Many of the walks include coverage through a 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 all to enjoy. 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 is 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 and there are both “summer” and “non-summer” rates. The hikes in the Fiordland National Park are the most expensive. For more details including the costs associated with each hike, check out the DOC’s Great Walks page.

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The Great Walks of New Zealand

1. Milford Track, Fiordland National Park

Tramps NZ: Milford Track
McKay Falls on the Milford Track

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. It is also the most expensive of the Great Walks and requires boat transportation to start and finish the hike.

Read more about the Milford Track.

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2. Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park

Best Hikes in New Zealand: Kepler Track
The Kepler track

The Kepler track is the only Great Walk that has a large section on a mountain ridge. For six miles, 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 and does not require transportation.

Read more about the Kepler Track.

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3. Routeburn Track, Fiordland National Park

Best Walks in NZ: Routeburn Track
The Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track 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 away. 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.

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4. Northern Circuit, Tongariro National Park

Great Walks in New Zealand: Tongariro National Park
Mount Ngarahoe, Tongariro National Park

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 and does not require transportation.

Read more about the Tongariro Northern Circuit.

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5. Heaphy Track, Kahurangi National Park

Great Walks NZ: Heaphy Track
The Heaphy Track. Photo by Joe Brunkash ©

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.

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6. The Whanganui Journey, Whanganui National Park

Tramps NZ: Whanganui Journey
The Whanganui Journey

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 an amazing 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.

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7. Abel Tasman Coastal Track and National Park

Best Hikes in New Zealand: Abel Tasman Coastal Walk
Abel Tasman Coastal Walk

The Abel Tasman is considered a coastal track, but 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.

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8. Rakiura Track, Stewart Island

Best Walks in NZ: Rakiura
Walking along the Rakiura. Photo by Sander Ezendam © at

The Rakiura Track is on the remote and rugged Stewart Island. The track is mostly along the coast, passing by many beaches, hidden coves, and 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.

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9. Lake Waikaremoana Track, Te Urewera National Park

Great Walks in New Zealand: Waikaremoana Track
Lake Waikaremoana 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.

This hike requires a boat transfer to begin or finish the hike depending on the direction of the walk.

Read more about Lake Waikaremoana.

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10. Paparoa Track, Paparoa National Park

The Paparoa Track is a memorial to the 29 miners from the Pike River mine explosion in 2010. It crosses the Paparoa Range and will take you through alpine tops and lush rainforests. The views along this walk are outstanding.

This easy three-day walk is 40 miles, beginning in Blackball and ending in Punakaiki.

Read more about the Paparoa Track.

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That’s it – we hope you enjoy hiking around New Zealand!

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About the Author:

  • Yana and Timon

    Yana & Timon met at college in Boston, Massachusetts. After graduating, they started their professional careers. They moved to San Francisco in 2010, a city they loved living in for nearly six years.

    After working and saving up money for several years, they quit their jobs and set off on an adventure of a lifetime. They started living a nomadic lifestyle in December 2015 and have not looked back since.

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