Ultimate Hikes: New Zealand’s Great Walks

Calling all hikers: New Zealand is now open to the UK. 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of its ‘Great Walks’ and  Aotearoa’s trails never looked so good. New Zealand's premier tracks take you through areas of some of the best scenery in the country, ranging from coastlines with beaches to dense rain forests and alpine terrain. Here are the Great Walks...

Abel Tasman Coast Track

Where? Abel Tasman National Park, South Island
Length: 60km one way / 3-5 days
Difficulty: Easy-moderate

Routeburn Track

Where? Fiordland & Mount Aspiring National Parks, South Island
Length: 33km one way / 2-4 days
Difficulty: Moderate

Milford Track

Where? Fiordland National Park, South Island
Length: 53.5km one way / 4 days
Difficulty: Moderate-difficult

Rakiura Track

Where? Stewart Island, South Island
Length: 32km loop / 3 days
Difficulty: Easy-moderate

Paparoa Track

Where? Paparoa National Park, South Island
Length:  55km one way / 3 days/2 nights
Difficulty: Moderate

Heaphy Track

Where? Kahurangi National Park, South Island
Length: 78.4km one way / 4-6 days
Difficulty: Moderate

Kepler Track

Where? Fiordland National Park, South Island
Length: 60km loop / 3-4 days
Difficulty: Moderate-difficult

Tongariro Northern Circuit

Where? Tongariro National Park, North Island
Length: 44.9km loop / 3-4 days
Difficulty: Intermediate

Whanganui Journey

Where? Whanganui National Park, North Island
Length: 87 or 145km one way / 3 or 5 days
Difficulty: Moderate-difficult

Abel Tasman Coast Track

Where? Abel Tasman National Park, South Island
Length: 60km one way / 3-5 days
Difficulty: Easy-moderate

Let’s begin with New Zealand’s most popular walk. And, as you emerge from a sandy, jungle-fringed trail and into a coastal clearing, it’s easy to see why this one is so well-trodden. The Abel Tasman Coast Track is renowned for its enviable views: think seemingly endless beaches, jade-coloured bays, and craggy, bush-clad headlands, jutting into the water like a ship’s bow. It hugs the South Island’s northern coastline, navigating rock pools, waterfalls, steep inclines, and the changing tides.

Highlights include a detour to Cleopatra’s Pool – a collection of natural rockpools on the Torrent River and a tranquil swimming spot – and an overnight stay at Awaroa Lodge. Accessible on foot, by water taxi, or via helicopter, this secluded getaway is nestled in the heart of the bush, but just minutes from the beach, making it a welcome rest spot for any weary walker.

 Walk highlight: The white sand beaches

You’d be forgiven for thinking you had walked all the way to paradise on the Abel Tasman Coast Track. With crystal clear waters lapping sugary sands, you’ll certainly have a picturesque view when you stop for a rest. Some of the best include Onetahuti Bay and Whariwharangi Bay. 
Mutton Cove Campsite
Abel Tasman Coast Track

Routeburn Track

Where? Fiordland & Mount Aspiring National Parks, South Island
Length: 33km one way / 2-4 days
Difficulty: Moderate

An alpine trail, the safest time to take on the Routeburn Track is in New Zealand’s summer months, between November and April. This is when you’re most likely to appreciate its glacier-carved landscapes and lofty vantage points – taking in soaring peaks, vast, beech-pocked valleys and a collection of mirror lakes and thundering waterfalls. From this alpine route, you can also spot some of the country’s most beloved wildlife, such as warbling bellbirds and vibrant kea, lauded for its crimson underwings.

Those seeking a challenge will find themselves rewarded with panoramic views of the national parks when they make the ascent to Routeburn Falls. Down low, the track section that navigates Routeburn Gorge is an undeniable favourite: here you can feel the might of the river as it continues its relentless mission, forging a trail through the valley.

Walk highlight: Beautiful Lake Harris

Get to the top of Harris Saddle and you won’t believe your eyes as the Great Lake Harris looks back up at you, still and sparkling under the sun. It’s deep blue surface looks almost too pure to be real. 
Routeburn Track
Routeburn Track

Milford Track

Where? Fiordland National Park, South Island
Length: 53.5km one way / 4 days
Difficulty: Moderate-difficult

Step into wilderness. Ancient forests, tranquil sounds, and a plethora of suspension bridges flanked by lush greenery, await along the Milford Track. You’ll need to hop aboard a boat transfer to start (and finish) this route, but that just adds to the magic and mystery. Much like Routeburn, it’s recommended that walkers tackle the trail in the summer – unless you’re an experienced hiker. Otherwise, the biggest challenge here is the sandflies along the water’s edge, so be sure to pack plenty of repellent and layers.

Trampers here are rewarded with the iconic Mackinnon Pass – the highest point on the track – not to mention the thundering Sutherland Falls. Standing proud at 580m, it’s among New Zealand’s tallest waterfalls, not to mention one of the steepest as it crashes from Lake Quill into the valley below.

Walk highlight: New Zealand's tallest waterfall

You may have to crane your neck, but seeing the top of Sutherland Falls is more than worth it. The 580m high fall splashes out of the lake above it, as if a god in the mountains has left the tap on. 

Rakiura Track

Where? Stewart Island, South Island
Length: 32km loop / 3 days
Difficulty: Easy-moderate

Seeking a trail with fewer crowds? Look no further than the Rakiura Track. Nestled on New Zealand’s third biggest isle – Stewart Island – it is the ultimate fusion of nature and culture. Indeed, its remote locale means it’s a trail made for twitchers: among much other fauna, the main attraction here is the brown kiwi. This is one of the only places you can see them during the day and kiwis outnumber people here. Much of the track is made up of boardwalk, and as one of the shortest Great Walks, it’s one of our favourites for laid-back hikers.

 A natural sanctuary, the Rakiura Track is also beloved for its sheltered scenery, much of which has remained unchanged for centuries. That’s one of many reasons the Māori settled here. In fact, ‘Rakiura’ is the Māori name for Stewart Island, and translates to ‘glowing skies’. Gaze upwards after dark, and you might just be lucky enough to see the swirling Southern Lights…

Walk highlight: Stars at Stewart Island

Stewart Island was awarded Dark Sky Sanctuary accreditation by the International Dark Sky Association in 2019. And it is easy to see why, with the night sky lit up by countless twinkling stars. While the starry skies are spectacular here year-round, winter is the best time and you may even be lucky enough to catch the Aurora Australis. 

Paparoa Track

Where? Paparoa National Park, South Island
Length: 55km one way / 3 days/2 nights
Difficulty: Moderate

Paparoa is a versatile track that can be experienced on foot, or two wheels. Whichever method you prefer, you’ll soon be wowed by the limestone karsts and flourishing rainforests that dominate this region. Hikes or bikes here have a deeper meaning, though, as the trail pays homage to the ‘Pike 29’ – 29 miners who were killed in a gas explosion at Pike River Mine in 2010. And with its alpine scenery and west coast vistas, it truly is a fitting memorial.

Speaking of the coast, don’t miss sunsets over the Tasman Sea from the Moonlight Tops Hut (cameras at the ready!). We also love to pause at Pororari River Gorge, a positively verdant paradise, hemmed by jungle and limestone, that’s just as beautiful as it is remote.

Walk highlight: Limestone gorge of the Pororari River

This really is a sight for sore eyes. With emerald forests clinging to the cliffs and the banks on either side of the Pororari River, the sun filtering through the leaves making the water surface take on a green glow, you’ll want to have your camera at the ready. 
Anchorage Bay on the Abel Tasman Coast Track

Anchorage Bay on the Abel Tasman Coast Track

Anchorage Bay on the Abel Tasman Coast Track

An ancient forest at sunset on the Routeburn Track

An ancient forest at sunset on the Routeburn Track

An ancient forest at sunset on the Routeburn Track

Pristine beach on the Abel Tasman Track

Pristine beach on the Abel Tasman Track

Scenery of the Routeburn Track

Scenery of the Routeburn Track

Scenery of the Routeburn Track

Heaphy Track

Heaphy Track

Heaphy Track

Milford Track

Milford Track

Milford Track

Paparoa Track

Paparoa Track

Paparoa Track

Tongariro Northern Circuit

Tongariro Northern Circuit

Hikers on the Abel Tasman Coast Track

Hikers on the Abel Tasman Coast Track

Whanganui Journey

Whanganui Journey

Kepler Track

Kepler Track

Kepler Track

Tongariro Alpine Crossing Emerald Lakes

Tongariro Alpine Crossing Emerald Lakes

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Anchorage Bay on the Abel Tasman Coast Track

Anchorage Bay on the Abel Tasman Coast Track

Anchorage Bay on the Abel Tasman Coast Track

An ancient forest at sunset on the Routeburn Track

An ancient forest at sunset on the Routeburn Track

An ancient forest at sunset on the Routeburn Track

Pristine beach on the Abel Tasman Track

Pristine beach on the Abel Tasman Track

Scenery of the Routeburn Track

Scenery of the Routeburn Track

Scenery of the Routeburn Track

Heaphy Track

Heaphy Track

Heaphy Track

Milford Track

Milford Track

Milford Track

Paparoa Track

Paparoa Track

Paparoa Track

Tongariro Northern Circuit

Tongariro Northern Circuit

Hikers on the Abel Tasman Coast Track

Hikers on the Abel Tasman Coast Track

Whanganui Journey

Whanganui Journey

Kepler Track

Kepler Track

Kepler Track

Tongariro Alpine Crossing Emerald Lakes

Tongariro Alpine Crossing Emerald Lakes

Heaphy Track

Where? Kahurangi National Park, South Island
Length: 78.4km one way / 4-6 days
Difficulty: Moderate

Officially the longest of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Heaphy Track is not one for the faint footed. It’s undeniably worth the effort however – after all, there aren’t many trails where you can be hiking mountainsides one minute, then surrounded by swaying palms the next. In fact, it’s here you can find the largest cave system in New Zealand, not to mention a vast populous of greater spotted kiwis.

And, as if that’s not enough, it’s also home to the Heaphy River and its suspension bridge, which stretches across the water for 487ft (148m), making it one of the longest of its kind in New Zealand. As well as its scenic beauty, the path is also a historic one, first used by Māori pounamu hunters travelling from Golden Bay to the pounamu (jade) rivers of Westland. All in all, this is one of the most diverse Great Walks, with the ever-changing sights, scenery and wildlife making for an unforgettable wilderness adventure.

Walk highlight: It's diversity

From thick rainforests and tussock grasslands to rugged mountains and breathtakingly beautiful sandy beaches, the Heaphy Track’s beauty is in its diversity. You can experience the best of all worlds on this hike and one thing is for sure, you won’t be getting tired of the view. 

Kepler Track

Where? Fiordland National Park, South Island
Length: 60km loop / 3-4 days
Difficulty: Moderate-difficult

If you hadn’t already noticed, the Fiordland’s collection of walks is impressively vast. Spectacular, too. The Kepler Track is no exception, thanks to its steep ascents and exhilarating ridge climbs, giving way to towering peaks and immense lakes that stretch far beyond your sightline. In fact, it showcases the very best of the national park – from glacial scenery and surrounding forestry to the fairy tale-esque Iris Burn Falls, the only waterfall on the track. And it’s not all about sky-high vistas. Around 30 cave systems can be found here too; take a jaunt to Luxmore Cave and you’ll quickly be surrounded by shimmering stalactites and stalagmites.

Like the rest of the Fiordland trails, this one is best attempted in New Zealand’s summer. Weather conditions in the winter are less than favourable, and these routes should be attempted by experienced back-country hikers off-season.

Walk highlight: The Iris Burn Waterfall 

Gushing out of a gap in the forest, this frothing waterfall makes for a mist-filled sight and is found on the fabulously named Rainbow Road. There is even a natural pool nearby where you can cool off. 

Tongariro Northern Circuit

Where? Tongariro National Park, North Island
Length: 44.9km loop / 3-4 days
Difficulty: Intermediate