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Outdoor Destinations

Hiking New Zealand’s Great Walks: The Insider’s Way to See the Country

July 6, 2016
trekking_hut_to_hut_new_zealand

New Zealand’s nine Great Walks (one of which is a river trip) are the country’s premiere trekking tracks.

Hiking a Great Walk, and overnighting in huts along the way, is one of the best ways to explore New Zealand, as you get to spend time in the remote, spectacular, and diverse landscape the country is famous for. Here’s an overview of the nine Great Walks, plus insider tips for what to see and do nearby.

North Island:
1) Tongariro Northern Circuit – This loop-track through an active volcanic landscape is one of the most popular Great Walks, and it is a place of extremes, from beech forest to stark, desert-like plateaus. This is trekking hut-to-hut at its best!

Distance: 27 miles, three to four days
Season: End of October through end of April (closed during winter)
What to Bring: Layers – temperatures on the track can vary from sun to snow, even in summer.
Insider Tip: After the trek, treat yourself to a night at the Chateau Tongariro Hotel, the granddaddy of New Zealand hotels that bears an uncanny resemblance to the hotel in The Shining.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing - Emerald Lakes in New Zealand

Tongariro Alpine Crossing – Emerald Lakes in New Zealand

2) Lake Waikaremoana – Although it isn’t a circuit, this track hugs the shoreline of Lake Waikaremoana, winding through remote beaches and giant native trees in the rugged forest of the North Island’s east coast.

Distance: 29 miles, three to four days
Season: Year round
What to Bring: There are no gas cooking facilities in the huts, so bring a portable stove, fuel and a light source. Pack quick-drying trekking hiking attire, like the MerinoLux™ Go Everywhere® Tee and Convoy Short.
Insider Tip: Post-walk, treat yourself to a soak at Rotorua’s geothermal hot pools or enjoy wine-tasting in Gisborne.

Lake Waikaremoana

Lake Waikaremoana

3) Whanganui Journey – Canoe or kayak down the Whanganui River in the Whanganui National Park, which is rich with lush forest and cultural history.

Distance: 54 to 90 miles, three to five days
Season: Early October through end of April (closed during winter)
What to Bring: Wet / dry trekking clothes and layers, like the Essential Zip-Up. Also, bring toilet paper, as these huts don’t have any.
Insider Tip: Watch River Queen before you go. This Vincent Ward historical film was shot in the Whanganui National Park.

Canoeing Whanganui

Canoeing Whanganui

South Island:
4) Heaphy Track – Located in the northwest corner of the South Island, this track winds through tussocks and palm forests to the wild West Coast.

Distance: 49 miles, four to six days
Season: Year round
What to Bring: Layers and trekking attire with UPF protection, like the Diablo Plaid Short Sleeve shirt. Also, don’t forget to pack a sightseeing outfit, like the Panorama Printed Dress for before / after your trek.
Insider Tip: The World of WearableArt and Classic Car Museum in Nelson is a must-visit, and don’t miss out on the city’s premium seafood.

Heaphy Track

Rocks in a Stream & Beach on the Heaphy Track

5) Abel Tasman Coast Track – The Abel Tasman is New Zealand’s most popular walk, due to its warm(er) climate and stunning scenery. Located at the top of the South Island, the Abel Tasman track hugs a dramatic coastline, with its green-tinged ocean, golden beaches, and strange boulder formations. Abel Tasman has one of the biggest tidal ranges in New Zealand (15 feet), so make sure to check the tide charts before you go, as there is at least one tidal crossing to navigate.

Distance: 37 miles, three to five days
Season: Year round
What to Bring: Layers and trekking clothes with UPF protection. There are no drying racks in the huts so quick-dry clothing is essential.
Insider Tip: Before or after your trek, spend a half-day on the water on a guided kayak tour, a not-to-be-missed experience in Abel Tasman.

Abel Tasman

Abel Tasman

6) Routeburn Track – The Routeburn is alpine scenery at its best: snow-capped mountains, secret tarns, crystal rivers, and meadows. Located 42 miles northwest of vibrant Queenstown, the self-proclaimed “Adventure Capital” in New Zealand’s South Island, the Routeburn is one of the more breath-taking tracks.

Distance: 20 miles, two to four days
Season: Late October through early May (closed during winter)
What to Bring: Warm layers, like the Snow Wonder Vest and Blue Ridge 1/2 Zip Fleece Jacket.
Insider Tip: Are you a keen runner? See if you can wrangle an invite to the exclusive Routeburn Classic, an invite-only adventure run (open to 350 athletes) along the Routeburn Track, usually held in April.

Routeburn Track

Routeburn Track

7) Kepler Track – The Kepler is a circular track that begins / ends three miles from Te Anau, in the southwest corner of the South Island. This is another alpine track that leads through diverse landscapes, from beech forest to ridgelines.

Distance: 37 miles, three to four days
Season: Late October through early May (closed during winter)
What to Bring: Warm layers.
Insider Tip: Visit the Te Anau Glowworm Caves and the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary to check out some unique New Zealand wildlife.

Kepler Track

View from the hut on the Kepler Track

8) Milford Track – The Milford Track has some of the most dramatic scenery in New Zealand, with forested, glacier-carved valleys and steep walls, making it a popular track. It is one of the wettest places on the planet, with an average annual rainfall of 22 feet over 182 days of the year. The rainfall makes for stunning waterfalls, however, including the 1,903-foot Sutherland Falls.

Distance: 33 miles, four days
Season: Late October through early May (closed during winter)
What to Bring: Warm, waterproof layers and pack protectors.
Insider Tip: After your trek, spend the night on an overnight cruise in Milford or Doubtful Sound.

Milford Sound, NZ

Milford Sound, South Island of New Zealand

9) Rakiura Track – The Rakiura Track is on Stewart Island, off the southern tip of the South Island. It’s known for its rugged native forest, beautiful beaches, and kiwis; the flightless birds are easily spotted here, often on the beaches.

Distance: 20 miles, three days
Season: Year round
What to Bring: Warm layers. The huts on the Rakiura Track are more rustic, with no gas cooking facilities, lighting, or toilet paper.
Insider Tip: Don’t miss a visit to Ulva Island, a sanctuary for birds and some of the rarest plants in the world.

Stewart Island, NZ

Stewart Island in Fog

For detailed information about each track, including packing lists, booking information, guided options, travel alerts, and dates, visit the Department of Conservation Great Walks website. The Great Walks are popular, so plan your trip in advance. New Zealand’s weather is very changeable year-round; check with a local Department of Conservation office if you have any questions.
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RELATED LINKS:
1. Find Your Adventure at the Nation’s Largest Trails Celebration
2. 5 Tips for Hiking the Inca Trail
3. Discovering Mauna Kea, the Tallest Mountain in the World

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