In profile: New Zealand’s Great Walks
NEW Zealand is renowned for its tramping with numerous multi day walks criss-crossing its national parks and mountainous regions. Trekkable much of the year, these tracks take you right into the wild with endless views of snow peaks, alpine valleys, crystal clear lakes, flowing waterfalls and amazing vistas.
The paths are well maintained by the Department of Conservation (DOC) with established huts at set points along the way where you can stay the night in dorm style rooms. These have toilets (flush / drop pit) and basic kitchens but you need to take your own food and cooking gear. Sometimes you also need your own stove.
There are a number of multi day walks around the country but nine are regarded as the Great Walks. To book in to any of these contact DOC, pay your permits and hut passes, read trip notes carefully and made adequate preparations as weather can be changeable and conditions varied.
Routeburn Track, 2-4 days
This 32km walk is a 2-4 day track through beech forest linking one end of Lake Wakatipu through to Fiordland National Park. It remains a favourite for me as it was the first multi day walk I completed in New Zealand. The huts are well maintained (NZ $54/night) and the track gives plenty of views of beech forest, rivers, lakes and mountain passes. In wet weather however the paths can become running streams so be prepared -Fiordland gets more rainfall than anywhere else in New Zealand. There are some pretty amazing rope swing bridges over the rivers that make this a fun walk. It also has some excellent short walk access if you don’t have time to complete all of it. For example the trek from the Milford side up to Key Summit is just a few hours and well worth it for the views. Huts cost $54 / night.
Lake Waikaremoana, 3-4 days
A 3-4 day tramp along 46 kilometres of Te Urewera National Park on the North Island. A moderate option and with opportunities to fish, birdwatch and swim along the way. This is a popular track that traipses beech forest, rainforest and about two thirds of the shores of Lake Waikaremoana. Huts are NZ $32 / night.
This is actually a five day canoe trip, that can be shortened to three, however it is included amongst the great walks list, and makes for a nice change if you’re still seeking adventure but don’t want to pound out the kilometres on foot. The 145 kilometres starts from mountains in Whanganui National Park and ends at the Tasman Sea. The distance between huts is anything from 10 to 20 kilometres. Huts are $32 / night.
Abel Tasman Coastal Track
This is one of New Zealand’s most established routes and one of the most beautiful coastal walks you’ll encounter anywhere. The great walk is 54.4km and can be done in 3-5 days. It can be completed in either direction, the only thing to watch out for are the midges and the tides which can limit the walking times on certain sections. A friend of mine ran the whole track in one day. Huts cost $32/night
This coastal walk of 37km is a good rival to the Abel Tasman and doesn’t attract the same crowds. The three day walk on Stewart Island could also be reduced to two if you have less time. It follows the coastline over inlets, bays and mudflats but also passes through forest and bush. One of the big drawcards on this track is the possibility of seeing kiwis in their natural environment. Huts cost $22 / night.
The 78.4km of this track is the longest of the great walks and takes 4-6 days. Until September 2013 it’s also possible to mountain bike (2-3 days). The Heaphy Track takes in the dramatic Nelson/Tasman and West Coast with rivers, streams, tussock grasslands, forests, sea vistas and more to enjoy. Spectacular. Huts are $32 / night.
Milford Track, 4 days
The “finest walk in the world” needs little introduction. The 53.5km through Fiordland National Park is stunning. Marvel at rivers, forests, waterfalls and the sculpture landscape carved out by ice. The popularity of the Milford Track does mean you need to book in well in advance (six months is usually advised), or turn up in Te Anau and wait for a cancellation. Huts cost NZ $54 / night.
Tongariro Northern Circuit
This 43.1km, 3-4 day trek around the active volcanoes of Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe on New Zealand’s north island is simply spectacular and high up on my to do list. Views include volcanic craters, geothermal areas and glacial valleys. This should not be confused with the Tongariro Crossing which is a superb day walk of 19.4km taking 6-8 hours. Huts cost NZ $32 / night on the Northern Circuit.
If the Milford Track is the finest walk in the world the Kepler is possibly the best ridge walk in the world and one of my all time favourite Kiwi walks. The views are what make this track so incredible as you hike up above the shores of lakes Te Anau and Manapouri. From the ridge are wonderful views of the mountains, rivers and valleys around. While the track is longer than the Milford one at 60km, it is an easy 3-4 day loop. Huts cost $54 / night and are well serviced. Rangers provide excellent talks in season. Watch out for the over friendly kea birds along the way – you could lose your lunch. If you thought the walk was hard you’ll be interested to know that the annual race here, the Kepler Challenge, is completed in less than five hours.
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