A Guide to New Zealand's Great Walks

Kepler Track - the Ridgeline | © Evan Forester/Flickr
Kepler Track - the Ridgeline | © Evan Forester/Flickr
Photo of Thalita Alves
4 April 2017

New Zealand is renowned for its scenic hiking routes and complex trails. The very best among them, locally known as the Great Walks, are a popular attraction for keen trekkers and adventurous travellers alike. Traverse through the deep gorges, native forests, and rugged terrains as we take you on a journey across the nine premier walking tracks that await all passing visitors.

Tongariro Northern Circuit

Dramatic volcanic landscapes, alpine meadows, glacial valleys, emerald lakes, native beech forest…just about every single force of nature features in the Tongariro Northern Circuit. This incredibly popular hiking track covers 43 kilometres (26.7 miles) in distance, and takes approximately 3-4 days to complete. It starts and ends at Whakapapa Village, winding past Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe along the way. The high altitude paths offer plenty of sweeping views of the central North Island — on a clear day, you might even see the majestic Mount Taranaki from a faraway distance.

Tongariro | © peterhallwright/Flickr

Milford Track

Located in the wondrous Fiordland National Park, the Milford Track is a one-way route from Te Anau to Milford Sound. The four-day, 53.5-kilometre (33.2-mile), journey will expose you to majestic mountain peaks, astonishing canyons, and exquisite waterfalls as you walk beside the waterways and lush rainforest. You’ll also cross the incredible Mackinnon Pass before reaching your destination.

Mackinnon Pass, Milford Track | © Ian Cochrane/Flickr

Heaphy Track

Traverse the Heaphy Track to discover the natural wonders surrounding the South Island’s West Coast region. This epic trail is a whopping 78.4 kilometres (48.7 miles) in distance, meaning it could take up to six days to complete. You’ll start at Kahurangi National Park, crossing a number of rivers and streams as you enter a lush forested area. There are two starting points to choose from, as the track isn’t part of a circuit: you can either depart from Golden Bay (near Nelson) or from Kohaihai on the West Coast.

Heaphy Track | © Steve Bittinger/Flickr

Routeburn Track

This majestic alpine route is another Fiordland National Park favourite. It’s a two to four day, 32-kilometre (20-mile) journey, which will introduce you to the awe-inspiring Southern Alps and its surrounding valleys and peaks. Mount Aspiring is en route as you pass from the Routeburn Shelter into the lush beech forest, and over to the Divide Shelter near Te Anau. Waterfalls, gorges and streams also feature strongly in this trail, which is named after the pristine Route Burn river.

Routeburn Track | © lwtt93/Flickr

Kepler Track

The longest of Fiordland’s Great Walks, the 60-kilometre (37.3-mile) Kepler Track will bring you ample alpine wonders, and tussock-covered ridgelines, to admire as you complete the full circuit. In three or four days you can explore the forested shores of Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri, while also encountering Mt Luxmore and its wonderful panoramic vistas.

Kepler Track - the Ridgeline | © Evan Forester/Flickr

Abel Tasman Coast Track

Fall in love with the South Island’s coastlines at Abel Tasman National Park. The coast track is 60 kilometres (37.3 miles) in distance, and is lined with crystal clear waters, golden sands, and lush greenery. If you want to diversify your three to five day trek, add a bit of kayaking into the mix. The one-way walk passes through Marahau and Wainui, and will expose you to some of New Zealand’s incredible wildlife too — fur seals like to congregate in this area.

Abel Tasman Coast Track | © macronix/Flickr

Rakiura Track

Now here’s something slightly off-the-grid. Rakiura Track is located on Stewart Island, which lies just south of New Zealand’s South Island. This secluded location means you’ll be able to truly relish nature in its finest form. Tranquil coastlines, native bush and wildlife, and an all-round idyllic scenery will colour your three day expedition across the 32-kilometre (20-mile) Rakiura terrain. You’ll also get to learn a bit of history along the way, as the trail crosses through some Maori land.

Rakiura Track, Stewart Island | © Christoph Strässler/Flickr

Whanganui National Park

This Great Walk will get you paddling as well as trekking. Whanganui National Park’s full five day route covers 145 kilometres (90 miles) and traverses the area’s various waterways. You can either start the journey in Taumaranui or Whakahoro, passing through key sites like the Bridge to Nowhere and concluding in Pipiriki. The area is also known for its rich Maori heritage and history, so you might learn a thing or two about local customs along the way.

Canoeist - Wanganui Journey | © Department of Conservation/Flickr

Lake Waikaremoana

Lake Waikaremoana is known as the ‘sea of rippling waters’, and its adjoining track will let you revel in the North Island’s wonderful east coast. As you spend three to four days tracing the 46-kilometre (28.5-mile) shorelines, you’ll pass through a trove of remote beaches. The scenic hike starts in Onepoto, near Te Urewera, and finishes in Hopuruahine. On the way, you’ll get to marvel at the breathtaking Korokoro Falls and the fantastic Panekire Bluff.

Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk | © Department of Conservation/Flickr

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