There are no shortage of fantastic walking opportunities found throughout New Zealand's North and South Islands. In fact, it's this huge variety of walking trails that can - if you want - result in a trip to New Zealand being quite budget friendly. Much of a visit here is about taking in the splendor of the New Zealand outdoors, and these walking trails present an extremely budget friendly way to do that.
We think there is no better way to take in the scenery of New Zealand other than walking. The variety of the landscapes evolve ever so slowly, step by step as you make your way throughout the wilderness. You hear the sounds of the bush, smell the trees, see the waterfalls up close and realize how utterly beautiful New Zealand really is. That is the joy of walking and hiking.
Not all walks are created equal in New Zealand. The Department of Conservation (DOC, as it's known) has deemed nine walks more fantastic than the rest. These multi-day tramps - known as Great Walks - stretch hundreds of kilometres across a huge variety of landscapes - from coastal tracks, to geothermal lakes, to high mountain passes, they're all unique in their own way.
Ranging from two to six days in length, these well maintained DOC tracks are safe, accessible and begging to be explored. Whilst you can pay hundreds for a professional guide, this most certainly isn't necessary. Carry your own food, use the stoves in the DOC huts to cook, drink the pure water from New Zealand's streams and take in the wonder of these trails on your own. Whilst accommodation is generally in basic huts, you can also carry your own tent and sleep beneath the stars.
To tramp these Great Walks, you'll need to buy a Great Walks Pass before setting off into the backcountry. These are available at DOC visitor centres in towns near where the tramps begin. The Great Walk Pass will cover you for either hut accommodation or camping accommodation (bring your own tent). There is no camping available on Fiordland's Milford Track and you are only permitted to camp at designated campsites. DOC wardens walk the track year-round, so violators will be fined. Bookings are required in the high season - October (late-Spring) to April (early-Autumn) on most and year round on the Milford Track.
Now, without further adieu - New Zealand's Great Walks.
Tongariro Northern Circuit
41 kms - 3-4 days
This incredible North Island walk circles Mount Ngauruhoe, most famously known as Mount Doom in Lord of the Rights, an active volcano in Tongariro National Park. Expect craters, explosion pits, lava flows and more. It's simply fantastic.
Lake Waikaremoana Track
46 kms - 3-4 days
The Lake Waikaremoana Track takes you through the largest area of native forest on the North Island. Spend much of your time along the shores of this great lake while also passing pristine rainforest, wetlands and a magical goblin forest.
145 kms - 5 days
The only Great Walk that isn't actually a walk (we don't get it either), the Whanganui Journey is a canoe or kayak trip down the mystical Whanganui River - one of the longest in New Zealand. It's a hugely relaxing experience as you float down the slow-moving river amongst native trees while spending your nights camped along the shore under the stars.
Abel Tasman Coast Track
51 kms - 3-4 days
The Abel Tasman Coastal Track takes in the very best of Abel Tasman National Park. You can expect a range of beautiful beaches, unique rock formations and miles and miles of crystal-clear waters. Deserted beaches will invite you for a swim over the course of three to five days in this fantastic coastal area of New Zeaand's South Island.
82 kms - 4-6 days
The Heaphy Track is an ancient Maori trail that is sure to keep you interested with hugely different contrasts from day to day. It crosses over tussock downs to lush forests, through nikau palms and onward to the roaring seas of the West Coast. It's 82 kilometres of difficult tramping, yet the daily scenery changes will certainly keep your mind off your sore feet.
60 kms - 3-4 days
While most Great Walks originated as Maori greenstone trails or exploration routes, the Kepler Track in Fiordland was custom-made. It's built to showcase the best of Fiordland - mountains, native forest, waterfalls and glacier-carved valleys. We reckon you'll like it. And if you're especially keen, try running it a day in the annual Kepler Challenge.
53.5 kms - 4 days
Often referred to as one of the finest walks in the world and certainly New Zealand’s most famous walk, the Milford Track has been wowing travellers for over 100 years. The alpine and fiord scenery is still as perfect as ever.
32 kms - 3 days
The Routeburn Track is characterized by soaring mountain peaks, huge valleys, waterfalls and alpine lakes. Found in the Mount Aspiring National Park and the Fiordland National Park, it's the shortest Great Walk, but don't let it's size fool you - this one is one of NZ's greatest.
36 kms - 3 days
Stewart Island is a peaceful place that has hardly changed over the course of thousands of years. A perfect combination of native forest, a huge bird population and seculded beaches make Stewart Island an ideal place to relax and get away from it all. Perhpaps no better way to do this is than is on the three day Rakiura Track.