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Great Walks

Next WalkTop of page Introduction

The "Great Walks" are New Zealand’s most famous tramping tracks, popular with both New Zealanders and overseas visitors. These tracks take you to some of the really special places in the back country, yet are suitable for less experienced trampers (a reasonable level of fitness may be required). Most of the tracks are clearly marked and take between two and four days to walk. The exception is the Whanganui Journey, a river journey by raft, canoe or kayak taking up to 6 days.

For the Abel Tasman, Milford, Routeburn and Lake Waikaremoana Tracks, the huts must be booked in advance for specific days. On the other tracks, accommodation passes should be brought in advance. These allow you to spend a given number of nights in the huts from the date of issue - if you need more nights, the hut wardens sell tickets (at an extra cost) and if you don't use a night then you can get a refund. Similar rules exist for campsites (except for the Milford Track where camping is not allowed).

For further information about the Great Walks look at the Department of Conservation site and I also recommend the New Zealand Tramper.

Next WalkPrevious Walk Abel Tasman Coast Track

Grade: easy Time: 3-5 days
Distance: 45 km* Highest point: 150m at several places
Maps: Parkmap: Abel Tasman (1:50,000)
Topomaps: Adele S9, Tarakohe N25, Takaka N26 (1:50,000)
* From Marahau to Whariwharangi Bay
This may the easiest and prettiest of New Zealand's tramping tracks. The beautiful coastline of the Abel Tasman National Park is followed for 3-5 days and up to 51 kilometres depending on the various options taken. A combination of golden beaches and native bush give the walk a unique character. There are ample chances for swimming, sunbathing, kayaking and general playing about in water, especially on the low-tide routes across the bays. Access is very easy with a water-taxi service running along the coast and road access at Marahau, Wainui Bay, Awaroa Inlet, and Totaranui.

The crossing of the Awaroa Inlet has to be done 2 hours either side of low tide - there is no track around the inlet. A page of the Nelson tides can be found at WayPoint 1 and tide tables are displayed at each hut.

For a more challenging trip, try a circuit returning via the more rugged Inland Track.

Note that this is the busiest track in New Zealand and so you should think seriously about camping during summer. Try to walk the track during the middle of the week and avoid public holidays.

A booking system is due to be introduced after the 1999 season.

Tramping trip reports:
The Abel Tasman Coastal Track by me (2-4 Feb. 1999).
The Abel Tasman Coastal Track by Scott A. Yost (1996).

Next WalkPrevious Walk Heaphy Track

Grade: easy-medium Time: 5-7 days
Distance: 75 km Highest point: 915m at Flanagan's Corner
Maps: Parkmap: Kahurangi (1:150.000)
Topomaps: Heaphy L26, Karamea S12, Cobb M26 (1:50,000)
A four to five day track across the north-western corner of the South Island from 20 kilometres inland from Golden Bay to the West Coast near Karamea. This track is popular and relatively easy - the highest point is Flanagan's Corner at 915m followed by a crossing of tussock country and a descent to the coast alongside the Heaphy River. Vegetation zones traversed vary from the beech forests of the first days, to the sub-alpine red tussock of the Gouland Downs and the coastal podocarp rainforest with elegant nikau palms. The track cuts through the western side of the new Kahurangi National Park, in a south-west to north-east direction. There are 7 Great Walk huts on the track and many good campsites.

Next WalkPrevious Walk Kepler Track

Grade: medium Time: 3-5 days
Distance: 65 km Highest point: 1200m at Luxmore Saddle
Maps: Parkmap: Fiordland (1:250,000)
Topomaps: Manapouri C43, Te Anau D43 (1:50,000)
Trackmap: Kepler (1:50,000)
A popular loop track from Te Anau (lake and town) taking 3 or 4 days and covering 67 kilometres. Originally established in 1988 to ease the load on the nearby Milford and Routeburn Tracks, it has rapidly become a classic walk in its own right. The track is well graded but climbs high into the sub-alpine mountain tops (the highest point is Luxmore Saddle at 1200m) - a reasonable amount of tramping experience is needed. The usual route is:

Day 1: Along the lakeshore through mature red beech forest and then a long steady ascent climbing up to limestone bluffs and Luxmore Hut sited just above the bushline.
Day 2: More gentle climbing in tussock to Luxmore Saddle followed by a sharp descent to an undulating ridge. A spur then zigzags steeply down to Iris Burn Hut.
Day 3: A short climb over a bush saddle to follow Iris Burn downstream to Lake Manapouri and Moturau Hut (5-6 hours).
Day 4: The last day starts along an easy track that follows the shore of the lake to Shallow Bay (accessed by a side track) before heading inland to Lake Te Anau. The lake can be followed all the way back to Te Anau (about 4 hours) or transport can be arranged to/from the Rainbow Reach carpark.

Next WalkPrevious Walk Lake Waikaremoana Track

Grade: easy-medium Time: 4-6 days
Distance: 43 km Highest point: 1186m at Pukenui
Maps: Parkmap: Urewera (1:100,000)
Topomaps: Urewera W17, Waikaremoana W18 (1:50,000)
This track is squeezed between the sparkling waters of Lake Waikaremoana and the thick green Urewera bush. It is popular and crowded at the height of the season from Christmas to February but becomes quieter during the rest of the year. There are plenty of lovely bays to swim from and fish for the abundant brown and rainbow trout. The highest points are the top of the Panekiri Bluff at 1177m and the nearby Pukenui Hut (1186m), but the climb up these is only 550m and is spread over 3.5 kilometres. The walk can take from 4 to 6 days, staying on some of the 5 Great Walk huts available.

Tramping trip reports:
Tramping is a lot of fun! by Tony Ward..

Next WalkPrevious Walk Milford Track

Grade: easy-medium Time: 4 days
Distance: 50 km Highest point: 1150m at Mackinnon Pass
Maps: Parkmap: Fiordland (1:250,000)
Topomaps: Hollyford S122, Milford D40, Eglinton D41 (1:50,000)
Trackmap: Milford (1:75,000)
This very popular track takes you from Te Anau Lake over a high alpine pass to the usually placid waters of Milford Sound. It is part of DOC's "Great Walk" system, so you have to book well in advance (months or even a year for the most popular times). Each day up to 40 independent trampers and an equivalent number of guided walkers start the walk. The track is not as crowded as it might appear since the independent and guided tramper huts are staggered, people soon spread out along the track at their own pace and the traffic is all one-way. Most of the walking is done in a rainforest that receives 5-8 metres of rain per year. This gives luxuriant vegetation, wonderful waterfalls and unique surroundings at a cost of a usually wet walk (waterproof boots and good coats are needed). Luckily all the huts have drying rooms (along with gas stoves, running water and a resident warden).

Note that camping is not allowed on the Milford Track.

For independent walkers the trip schedule is:
Day 1: The first day starts with a boat ride from Te Anau Downs (a half hour bus ride from Te Anau town) down to the start of the track. Clinton Hut is reached after 3.5 kilometres of easy walking beside the Clinton River (about 1 hour).
Day 2: Slightly steeper walking takes you up the Clinton Canyon with the high Mackinnon Pass visible at its head. The distance travelled is 18 kilometres taking 5.5 hours. The Mintaro Hut is situated next to the crystal-clear Mintaro Lake at an altitude of 700m (480 metres higher than Clinton Hut). If you arrive mid-afternoon and the weather is clear then rush up to the pass (about an hour climb without a pack) for glorious views.
Day 3: An early start will allow plenty of time at the top of the pass (1073m). The numerous zigzags on the climb ease the effort needed and there is a shelter at the pass handy for a brew. The steep descent on the other side is the hardest part of the trip. On reaching the private Quinlan Hut, drop your packs for the side-trip to Sutherland Falls - a massive 850 metre drop forming the highlight of the track. The day ends a gentle hour away at Dumpling Hut (14 kilometres travelled in 6 hours).
Day 4: Walking to a timetable covering 18 kilometres (usually in 5.5 hours) to catch either the 2 pm or 3 pm boat from Sandfly Point (yes, there are lots of sandflies!) to the Milford Sound village. The boat ride takes less than 20 minutes. An alternative is to hire a kayak and paddle across the fiord.

Tramping trip reports:
"the finest walk in the world" by Scott A. Yost (12 December 1996).
Ducky's NZ Trip - Milford by Kaitlin Duck Sherwood (1993).

Next WalkPrevious Walk Rakiura Track (Stewart Island)

Grade: easy Time: 2-3 days
Distance: 29 km Highest point: 300m on an inland branch
Maps: Stewart Island Infomap
Stewart Island (also known traditionally as te Punga o te Waka a Maui - the anchor of Maui's canoe), lies at the bottom of New Zealand - last but certainly not least. It has one tiny town (Oban) with less than 400 residents and at most 20 kilometres of road exist on the island. The populated area is less than 1% of the island's 1,683 square kilometres. Access is across Foveaux Strait by either Southern Airplane (20 minutes from Invercargill Airport) or the Foveaux Express ferry (60 minutes from Bluff). Remember that storms at any time of the year can cut the island off from the rest of New Zealand. Stewart Island is covered in truly primeval forest only lightly impacted by man's recent arrival.

The Rakiura Track is a pleasant circuit to the north of Oban, taking 2-3 days. The reputation for mud of the Stewart Island tracks has been well tamed on this track. There are 4 campsites at Little River, Maori Beach, Port William, and Sawdust Bay and the two Great Walk huts of Port William Hut and North Arm Hut (both with 30 bunks). The many beautiful beaches include the chance to forage for your own food.

Next WalkPrevious Walk Routeburn Track

Grade: medium Time: 3-5 days
Distance: 40 km Highest point: 1280m at Harris Saddle
Maps: Parkmaps: Mt. Aspiring (1:150,000), Fiordland (1:250,000)
Topomaps: Hollyford S122, Milford D40, Eglinton D41, Earnslaw E40 (1:50,000)
Trackmap: Routeburn/Greenstone (1:75,000)
Glorious alpine scenery awaits you on this track along with lush beech forest, flowing rivers, high mountain lakes, fields of tussock and herbs, wonderful rock formations and lots and lots of waterfalls. Like the Milford Track, the huts along this track have to be booked in advance. However you can travel in any direction and stay up to 2 nights at each hut. An added bonus is the availability of campsites (these also need booking).

Day 1: Easy walking from the road end along the Route Burn up to Routeburn Flats through the impressive Routeburn Gorge. The flats contain a Great Walks hut and campsite. The time from the road end is under 2 hours. People usually walk onto the next hut (Routeburn Falls Hut) by walking 5 minutes back along the flats to a junction and climbing steadily through beech forest and then rockier terrain for an hour. This is an ascent of 300 metres from the flats.
Day 2: The toughest day of the walk starts with winding up beside the tumbling falls into an alpine basin. At the far end of the basin, a further climb takes you above the cascades from the outlet of Lake Harris and onto Harris Saddle (1277m, a comfortable 277 metres above the hut) and a shelter. A 9 am start from the hut means an arrival time of about 10:30 with plenty of time for the 1.5 hour side-trip to Conical Hill with its glorious views. The track traverses steep slopes beyond the saddle with clear views down into the Hollyford Valley with a couple of signs of civilisation (the road paralleling the Hollyford River and the few roofs of Gunn's Camp). This marks the crossing into Fiordland National Park from the Mt Aspiring National Park. Rocky bluffs are passed under 1.5 hours from the saddle and the path drops down to Lake Mackenzie and its hut and campsite (2.5 hours from the saddle). A total time of 4 hours from the Routeburn Falls Hut.
Day 3: Four easy hours takes the track from Lake Mackenzie to Lake Howden and Howden Hut. The highlight of this section is the spectacular Earland Falls under which the track passes. An short climb through moss-clad beech forest then brings a junction with the Key Summit side-track in 15 minutes. This zigzags for 10 minutes up to Key Summit (918m) where a 30 minute nature walk loops past tarns and over many boardwalks (guides to the walk are in a stand at the start). Back at the junction, the Divide with its shelter, the Milford Road and transport back to Te Anau and Queenstown are 40 minutes away.

Tramping trip reports:
Routeburn Track by me (11-13 March, 2001).
"a completely different character from the Milford Track" by Scott A. Yost (1996).

Next WalkPrevious Walk Tongariro Northern Circuit

Grade: medium Time: 3-4 days
Distance: 34 km Highest point: 1800m beside Red Crater
Maps: Parkmap: Tongariro (1:80,000)
Topomaps: Raurimu S19, Ohakune S20, Tongariro T19, Ruapehu T20 (1:50,000)
Across the middle of the North Island of New Zealand, there is a line of volcanoes ranging from Mt Taranaki (Egmont) in the west out to the steamy White Island off the East Coast. This line reaches its summit in more ways than one in the centre of the North Island. Here a high plateau forms the base for the mountains of Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro. Ruapehu is the highest mountain in the North Island at 2797 metres. Each mountain has its own personality. Tongariro is the old man of the bunch - resting on his laurels with only the Red Crater steaming away (its last eruption was in 1926). Ngauruhoe is the young upstart building up on the shoulders of Tongariro. Ruapehu is in his prime and produces assorted, sometimes deadly, fireworks. Ruapehu was noted for the Crater Lake - the result of glacier water melting into the summit crater - but this vanished in the latest series of eruptions (1995-6) and is only slowly refilling.

The Tongariro Northern Circuit circles around Ngauruhoe's cone with chances to climb either Ngauruhoe or Tongariro. The entire circuit takes 3-4 days, however the first day follows the famous Tongariro Crossing - the "best one day walk in New Zealand". There are 4 Great Walk huts along the route each with an adjacent campsite for 5-8 tents.

Tramping trip reports:
Tongariro Northern Circuit by me (5 April 1998).
Tongariro Northern Circuit by Scott A. Yost (1997).

Top of pagePrevious Walk Whanganui Journey

Grade: medium Time: 3-5 days
Distance: 145 km
Maps: Parkmap: Whanganui (1:80,000)
This is not really a Great Walk instead it is a Great Paddle - a 3 to 5 day kayak trip down the Whanganui River. The journey goes from the middle of the North Island (close to the Tongariro National Park) 145 kilometres to the lowlands close to Wanganui city at the mouth of the river. The river flows over a bed of soft sandstone and papa (mudstone) and so has cut impressive gorges. Many of the streams enter the river via waterfalls, others are accessible by kayak. A lush forest surrounds the river for much of its length and birdlife is abundant in this green wilderness. Expect to hear the calls of the tui, kereru (native pigeon), tiwaiwaka (fantail), toutouwai (robin), riroriro (grey warbler) and miromiro (tomtit). If you are lucky then the calls of the brown kiwi may be heard at night.

Information for the Whanganui Journey should be obtained from the New Zealand Canoe Association's "Guide to the Whanganui River" which is available from local DOC offices. DOC put out their own brochure but this is an overview, oriented towards DOC's facilities on the river.

The river valley was settled by the Te Atihauni tribe (iwi) around 1100 AD and the area still is a focus of Maori culture. Every bend of the river has its own guardian or kaitiaka controlling the life force of that place.

Visiting Tieke Marae

The highlight of this journey is the chance to experience Maoritanga (Maori culture) by staying at Tieke Marae. A marae is a formal area in a Maori settlement containing a meeting house where the community's important events happen (visits, weddings, baptisms, funerals, etc.). The Tieke people welcome visitors but they must observe protocol on entering the marae. Visitors are met at the riverbank by a guide who explains the Powhiri (welcome) ceremony. This comprises of:

  1. The calling of the visitors onto the marae where they are shown where to sit.
  2. A speech is made to the guests, welcoming them to the marae and praising the ancestors of the Tieke and the guests.
  3. A male member of the visiting party gives a speech in return after placing a koha (gift) on the ground (food, money or anything else is welcome). The speech can be in any language.
  4. The guests are formally greeted by the hongi (pressing of noses) along a short receiving line. Refreshments are then offered in the meeting house.
Tramping trip reports:
Whanganui River by Eric and Joan (19 November 1997).
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