Walking in New Zealand
New Zealand is a country known for its varied and stunning scenery, from rolling farmland, lush forests, deserted beaches and boiling mud pools to rugged mountains, dramatic glaciers and crystal clear lakes. A favourite pastime for locals and visitors alike, tramping (or hiking/walking as we would call it) is a wonderful way to get out and explore some of the most pristine wilderness the country has to offer.
Whether you’re interested in a short walk, a long distance walking track or something in between, the tracks are well marked, well maintained and the operators very professional.
Walks can be self-guided (making sure to follow sensible safety protocol such as ensuring the authorities know your intended route and timeframe), or you could opt to join a small guided group, with a knowledgeable expert on the region. In some cases, luggage can be transferred to the next accommodation each day, enabling you to simply travel with a day pack whereas on other routes, all luggage required for the walk will be carried by you. The long distance walking tracks should be planned and booked well in advance, and can be easily combined within a wider holiday to New Zealand.
There are nine designated ‘Great Walks’ in New Zealand, which are all long distance tracks:
Tongariro Northern Circuit
Winding its way past Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe, the Tongariro Northern Circuit offers dramatic volcanic landscapes and a rich geological and ancestral past. From Alpine herb fields to forests, and tranquil lakes to desert-like plateau, you’ll journey through a landscape of stark contrasts with amazing views at every turn. To the north is Lake Taupo, to the east the rugged Kaimanawa ranges and on a clear day you may even catch a glimpse of Mount Taranaki on the west coast.
This is a four day walk over a total distance of 43.1 kilometres. It can be walked in either direction, and is a looped route from Whakapapa Village. It is also possible to take just a one day section of this trip, which is called the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
A refuge amongst prehistoric rainforest with access to some of New Zealand’s most iconic birds, this Great Walk around the shoreline of Lake Waikaremoana is truly outstanding. Marvel at giant native trees, stumble upon beautiful remote beaches and be enchanted by the area’s fascinating cultural history. A visit to the heart of Te Urewera on the eastern side of the North Island will offer a glimpse of how New Zealand used to be.
This is a four day walk covering a total distance of 46km. It can be walked in either direction, and goes from Onepoto to Hopuruahine Landing.
This is technically a canoe or kayaking trip rather than a walk. Paddle your way from mountains to sea through a landscape of remote hills and valleys on the magical Whanganui Journey. Experience the scenic beauty, history and cultural significance of the winding Whanganui River in the southwest of the North Island.
Choose a five day journey from Taumarunui to Pipiriki (145km), or a shorter three day journey starting at Whakahoro (87km), featuring the most scenic stretches of the river.
Abel Tasman Coast Track
Blessed with a mild climate, golden beaches and lush, coastal native bush, the Abel Tasman Track has it all. Located in Abel Tasman National Park on the South Island’s northern shores, this gentle Great Walk showcases the best that the park has to offer. Marvel at naturally sculptured granite cliffs and crystal clear waters. Choose to hike the whole track, or water taxi and kayak between different locations at any time of the year.
The whole track will usually take five days and covers a total distance of 55.2km. It can be walked in either direction.
If it’s varied and rugged landscape with mountain views you’re looking for, you’ll be spoilt for choice on the Heaphy Track. This is located in Kahurangi National Park in the northwest of the South Island and has a range of options to suit different fitness levels. Tackle the track in four or five days, or take your time and soak in the views over six days.
The track covers a total distance of 78.4 kilometres, and can be walked in either direction. It goes from Brown Hut to Kohaihai river mouth. There is also a popular two-day overnight return trip on the western side from Kohaihai to Heaphy Hut.
This is the ultimate alpine adventure, taking you through ice-carved valleys and below the majestic peaks of the Southern Alps. A short trip from bustling Queenstown, this Great Walk links Mt Aspiring and Fjordland National Parks in the Te Wahipounamu – South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. Weaving through meadows, reflective tarns and alpine gardens, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular vistas over vast mountain ranges and valleys.
This is a three day walk, covering a total of 32.1 kilometres. It can be walked in both direction, and runs between Routeburn Shelter and The Divide.
Follow this historic route through Fjordland National Park, part of Te Wahipounamu – South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. Take a pilgrimage along valleys carved by glaciers and through ancient rainforest, before reaching your final destination: the spectacular Milford Sound.
This is a four day walk that can only be taken in one direction, from Glade Wharf to Sandfly Point. It covers a total distance of 53.5 kilometres.
This is an incredible wilderness experience right on Te Anau’s doorstep. It’s a fantastic opportunity to experience the most accessible of Fjordland’s Great Walks. It traverses Fjordland National Park in the southwest of the South Island and is part of Te Wahipounamu – South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. The remarkable scenery includes everything from remote lakes and peaceful beech forest backdrops to rocky peaks and exposed alpine tussock lands.
It is a four day walk that can be walked in either direction, and is a looped route from the Kepler Track car park. The total distance covered is 60.1 kilometres.
Escape on an island adventure, and exchange the hustle and bustle of the mainland for the tranquillity of the Rakiura Track. Located in Rakiura National Park on Stewart Island, the Rakiura Track is a leisurely three day hike suitable for anyone with a moderate level of fitness. Relax and unwind in the peaceful surroundings with the bush, birds and beach at your side. Stewart Island is one of the few places that kiwi birds can be found in the wild.
The track is circular and can be walked in either direction. The total distance covered is 32.1 kilometres.