A Guide to the Nine Great Walks of New Zealand
New Zealand is home to so many fantastic hiking trails that it’s hard to know where to start. If you can’t choose, the nine famous Great Walks are a fantastic introduction to what Kiwis call “tramping.” These trails have been specially selected to showcase some of the country’s most diverse, spectacular scenery, and the trails have been upgraded to make hiking easy and safe. Huts are spacious, and guided options on certain Great Walks add an extra level of comfort and convenience for less-experienced hikers.
Which Great Walk is right for you? Read on for a brief introduction to each of New Zealand’s eight famous multi-day hikes.
1. The Routeburn Track
The perfect introduction to multi-day hiking, the Routeburn Track is packed with some of the best scenery in the Queenstown/Fiordland region. Towering peaks, alpine lakes, turquoise river gorges, waterfalls, and magnificent beech forests abound on this excellent trail.
With rewarding day hikes available from both trailheads and enough huts to allow flexibility in scheduling your hike, the Routeburn Track is easy to fit into any itinerary.
2. The Rakiura Track
With only one settlement, Stewart Island is a wilderness paradise home to some of New Zealand’s only untouched native forest. Bird life abounds—at day, the forest is alive with birdsong, and at night, you might be lucky enough to spot a kiwi in the wild.
Stewart Island remains rugged and difficult to access, and most of its trails are famous for their deep mud and overgrown brush. The Rakiura Track offers a friendlier introduction to this untamed island, with views of lovely bays and much less mud.
3. The Milford Track
One of New Zealand’s most heavily advertised trails, billed as “the finest walk in the world,” the Milford Track certainly lives up to its reputation.
A bit more adventurous than the Routeburn Track, the Milford Track is a 4-day endeavor with boat transport required at both ends. Trekkers can expect to encounter long days of walking, heavy downpours that might flood the trail, and plenty of sandflies.
But the extremes are what give Fiordland National Park its raw, untouched splendor, and the Milford Track is stunning when rain sends hundreds of waterfalls cascading down the nearby ridges.
4. The Waikaremoana Track
Following the shores of Lake Waikaremoana, this Great Walk transports hikers to an ancient world of dense forest, towering bluffs, and glistening waterfalls. Less advertised than the other Great Walks, the Lake Waikaremoana Track is the perfect place to escape the crowds.
5. The Abel Tasman Coast Track
Winding through lush forests and along the golden-sand beaches of Abel Tasman National Park, the Abel Tasman Coast Track is an excuse to slow down and soak in the serenity of this idyllic coastline.
Any visitor to Nelson can sample portions of this beautiful Great Walk, with ferries providing access to many of the loveliest beaches and bays along the way. The Abel Tasman Coast Track is a perfect embodiment of laid-back Kiwi life, with many hikers walking in sandals or kayaking portions of the trail.
6. The Whanganui River Journey
Not a walk at all, the Whanganui River Journey is a multi-day float down the stunning Whanganui River. If you enjoy paddling as much as hiking, this is an unmissable experience. Highlights include emerald-green ferns draping the mossy canyon walls, several fun rapids, and a stay at a Marae.
7. The Tongariro Northern Circuit
Though the Tongariro Alpine Crossing day walk gets all the attention, the Northern Circuit is even more rewarding. This Great Walk combines the highlights of the Tongariro Crossing with three more days of breathtaking volcanic scenery—this time without the crowds.
8. The Heaphy Track
Cutting through the remote and little-visited Kahurangi National Park, the Heaphy Track combines rugged mountain scenery with a day of beach-walking along the windswept West Coast.
9. The Kepler Track
Not far from the Routeburn Track and the Milford Track, the Kepler Track climbs high above Lake Te Anau for sweeping views over Fiordland National Park.
This is the only Great Walk that spends considerable time atop a ridge, so the views are exceptional. From tussock-covered peaks to deep glacier-carved valleys, the Kepler Track takes hikers through some of the most accessible and dramatic Fiordland mountains.
If you’re keen to learn more about all of New Zealand’s hiking trails, then check out The Comprehensive List of New Zealand’s Greatest Hikes.