Each walk is unique and covers a variety of landscapes throughout New Zealand’s stunning National Parks. Whether it’s across mountain ridgelines, through deep canyons by canoe, along a beautiful beach or through a volcanic valley - each one is special and has its own must-see features.
Crossing the South Island’s snow-capped Southern Alps, the Routeburn Track is a 32km, 2-3 day walk passing through native bush and glacial lakes with incredible views around every corner.
1. Routeburn Falls – Grab a glass of wine and head down to the beautiful cascading waterfalls just behind the Routeburn Falls Hut. A great place to enjoy the sunset, watch the curious Keas as they get up to no good.
2. Conical Hill - Drop your packs at the Harris Saddle shelter and make your way up Conical Hill. The 1hr detour is well worth the climb to the summit to gain 360 degree views of the Southern Alps and out to the Tasman Sea. On a clear day you can’t find a more magical photo opportunity of the Hollyford Valley and Lake Harris below.
3. Lake MacKenzie – Take a dip in the glacial green lake with a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains. Don’t let the cool water deter you – after a hot day on the track it will feel great! If weather permits, make the 1.5hr climb to Key Summit for magnificent views of the Darran Mountains and the Hollyford Valley. It was overcast that day for us so we skipped it but we’ve heard it’s well worth the time.
If you need some inspiration to read further, watch our video from the incredible Routeburn Track.
Abel Tasman Coastal Track
Known for its mild climate, stunning beaches and beautiful beech forests, the Abel Tasman offers hikers a variety of options to explore by land and water. Discover secluded beaches by kayak or walk along the groomed track on a day hike or 3-5 day tramp.
1. Tidal Crossings - The large tidal crossings make this track unique. Taking advantage of a detour along the sandflats not only saves you time but is soothing on the feet after a long day on the track. Be sure to check the tide times for the Awaroa Tidal Crossing as there’s no alternative path. You must cross within an hour and a half of low tide or be stranded waiting up to 6 hrs for the tides to change!
2. Cleopatra’s Pools - We didn’t know it at the time, but you can take a side trip between Torrent Bay and Anchorage to a beautiful smooth rock waterslide called Cleopatra’s pool. An hour walk from either side, this side trip looks like a ton of fun and definitely worth the detour.
3. Headlands Track - Be sure to make your way up to Totaranui Bay to experience the incredible orange sand beach. Take the 1hr Headlands Track loop through the dense beech tree forest and marvel in the breathtaking view of Totaranui Bay at the top.
The Kepler Track is a stunning 60km, 3-4 day hike through diverse beech forest, secluded lakes and incredible mountain ridgelines.
1. Luxmore Cave – Bring a torch (and a friend) and squeeze your way through the labyrinth of paths that open up into incredible cathedrals in Luxmore Cave. It can get tight at times but it sections of it open up to huge cathedral caves.
2. Luxmore Summit – Drop your packs just off the track and make you way up to Luxmore Summit. Bring a warm jacket as it is quite exposed but at the top you can see the incredible ridgeline you just spent the day walking along in the Southern Alps.
3. Iris Burn Falls – Just 20mins down a side track behind Iris Burn Hut you’ll find a beautiful secluded waterfall perfect for taking a dip and filling up your water bottle.
Known as one of the most beautiful walks in the world, a trip to New Zealand wouldn’t be complete without experiencing Milford Track. The most popular Great Walk, Milford Track is a 4 day, 53.5km walk that begins in Te Anau and takes you over MacKinnon Pass through the beautiful rainforests of Fiordland National Park to Milford Sound.
1. Sutherland Falls – At 580m, Sutherland Falls is one of the tallest in New Zealand. Leave your pack at the shelter but take your raincoat as the spray from the waterfall will definitely soak you if you get too close. You can even get in behind the falls if you’re up for it!
2. MacKinnon’s Pass – As you make the summit over MacKinnon’s Pass take your time and enjoy your lunch or a snack at the shelter while you take in the view of the valley below and the magnificent mountains around you. This is the best part of the track so don’t rush through it.
3. Waterfalls – Milford Track is best experienced in the rain as thousands of waterfalls flow from the mountain tops. Be ready with your rain gear and don’t let the rain get you down as you CAN dry off in the huts by the warm fire.
If you want to get a taste for the rain we faced while walking the Milford Track, check out our video below.
Tongariro Northern Circuit
The Tongariro North Circuit is a 3-4 day, 43km journey through Mordor from Lord of the Rings. A loop track, it circles around Mt Nguarahoe before connecting with the popular Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
1. Summiting Mt Doom – Ensure you plan ahead and make time to summit Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom from LOTR). Hide your pack at the bottom of the mountain (bring lots of water and maybe a small snack with you) and make your way up the steep path. This 3hr round trip is not for the faint hearted as you will be clinging to the jagged rockface most of the way, but the view at the top of the Tongariro National Park and the incredible red crater inside the mountain is well worth the trip. For a laugh, we took a few photo opps of us sacrificing ‘The One Ring’ into the depths of Mt Doom. If you’re a skier at all, the way down will be soooo much fun (especially if you have hiking poles) as you ‘scree ski’ your way down through the loose rock. If you’re not, be prepared to make most of the way down on your butt as the loose gravel tends to fall beneath your feet.
2. Emerald Lakes – It’s pretty hard to miss the stunning Emerald Lakes, but I suggest heading up the backside around the lowest lake (go towards the steam pouring from the mountain). The view from the other side is one not seen by most and it’s a great vantage point for photos.
3. Experience Mordor – For anyone who is a Lord of the Rings fan, the backside of the Northern Circuit between Oturere Hut and Emerald Lakes feels like you’ve stepped inside real-life Mordor. The barren volcanic Rangipo Desert is filled with jagged lava forms created by past eruptions from Red Crater.
Tracing the shoreline of Lake Waikeremoana, this 46km 3-4 day hike takes you through beautiful podocarp forests and remote lake beaches.
1. Panekiri Bluff Lookout – Just passed the lookout point at Panekiri Bluff, turn right up the hill just after the ‘large blue barrels’ along the track. A short path will lead to a secret vantage point that is a great spot for some lunch and photo opportunities. This is easy to miss so WATCH FOR THE BARRELS!
2. Korokoro Fall – A 30min detour off the track, the 22m Korokoro falls are a perfect spot for a quick dip. It’s also a great waterfall to climb behind!
3. Lake Swim – Enjoy the crisp clean waters of Lake Waikaremoana by taking a swim at one of the many beaches at the campsites and huts along the track.
The only Great Walk that you experience completely by water, the Whanganui Journey is a 3-5day canoe trip through deep canyons and rushing rapids.
1. Bridge to Nowhere – Take a break from the canoe at the Mangapurua Landing and make the 20min hike through the Whanganui National Park for a picnic at the Bridge to Nowhere. A remnant of the Managaoura Valley farm settlement that was abandoned between the two World Wars, the concrete bridge literally has no roads leading to it (hence the name).
2. Marae – While staying at the campsite or hut at Tieke Kainga, strike up a conversation with the local hut warden to hear his incredible stories of life along the river and the Maori marae.
3. 50/50 rapids – Try your luck on the infamous 50/50 rapids on your last day of the journey. Take a deep breath, strap your belongings in, and paddle your way through the intense rapids doing your best to stay afloat! Once through, pull off to the side and watch your fellow paddles gamble their way through the rapids – it makes for great entertainment! If you’re a bit nervous, there is an option to beach your canoe on the right hand side and carry it across if you really don’t want to risk getting wet - but I recommend you do! We nearly made it through, but flipped on the last section and had to bail out the canoe - but it was by far the highlight of the trip!
Watch us try to tackle the rapids at 50/50 while canoeing the Whanganui River.
Located on Stewart Island, an hour ferry ride off the coast of Bluff, the Rakiura Track is a 39km, 3 day track situated in a native bird sanctuary that traces the coastline through the regenerating podocarp forest.
1. Kiwi Birds – One of the best places to see a Kiwi bird in the wild, bring your torch (with a red filter) and go for a walk at dust in search of the illusive flightless bird. Although we didn’t have much luck on our trip, we’ve heard several reports of sightings around the huts and along the beaches at night. Keep your eyes open for the variety of other bird life while on the track. I love the musical melody of the Tui as his white feather under his neck flutters.
2. Tidal Crossings – The track provides several opportunities to get off the main track and venture across the beach for a change in scenery. The coast toward Port Williams Hut is filled with white sand beaches, while the other side has huge brown sand flats.
3. Logging community – See the remnants of a once bustling logging community as the relics litter the track throughout the forest. A number of short side tracks take you through the history of the logging community that once was.
The longest of the nine Great Walks, the 78.4km 4-6 day Heaphy Track is the last one we have yet to tackle. Known for its varied and rugged landscapes, the track leads you through the mountains to the sea. Although we haven’t done this one yet, these are the highlights we’ve heard about from the Heaphy Track!
1. Mountain Biking – The Department of Conservation started a 3 year trial in 2011, opening up the Heaphy Track to mountain bikers from May 1st September 30th. The only multi-day ride through a National Park, riders can experience this challenging and diverse track.
2. Gouland Downs Hut – The area around this hut is supposed to have some great little side trips to limestone arches and a beautiful waterfall flowing from a cave passage. Apparently around the Heaphy Hut you can also see one of 40 species of large carnivorous land snails!
3. Flanagans Corner – Take the 30min side track before Perry Saddle Hut to the highest point on the track for an incredible viewpoint at Flanagans Corner.
What are your highlights from the Great Walks? Have any tips for us before we tackle the Heaphy Track? To read more about our Great Walks experiences you can check out our blog Living a Kiwi Life and watch more videos from the Great Walks on our YouTube Channel.