New Zealand is opening again to international visitors at the beginning of May, 2022, and for outdoor travel lovers, it couldn't come at a better time. 2022 marks the 30th year of the country’s ‘Great Walks.’
‘Great Walks’ are ‘great’ three times over:
·They aren’t afternoon strolls. These are walks of epic proportions - a network of ten, multi-day walks across the north and south islands of New Zealand.
·They are about conservation as much as being active outdoors. The network of ‘Great Walks’ was developed by the country’s Department of Conservation to preserve and protect precious their ecosystems from being over-loved by a growing number of walkers.
·Plus, the ‘Great Walks’ provide unparalleled access to some of the country’s most incredible natural landscapes, wildlife, and cultural heritage sites.
In just the last decade, a million visitors have experienced the Great Walks, by walking, running, biking, or even paddling.
Visitors on their multi-day soft adventure can stay in one of the 950 huts, do the whole 14,000 kilometers of tracks, or just a small section, camp in one of the 300 campsites, or visit one of the thousands of cultural heritage sites along the Great Walks.
The anniversary celebrates three decades of helping people get into nature and the great outdoors while still ‘treading lightly’ on the earth. And it commemorates 30 years of protecting and restoring the Great Walks landscapes, increasing the biodiversity of the ecosystems, and the conservation work of the Department, local Maori tribes, and communities across New Zealand.
The protections put in place on Great Walks include limiting numbers through a booking system for a set amount of hut and campsite spaces and rules for camping practices in these precious outdoor spaces.
One of the Great Walks has earned the nickname ‘the finest walk in the world.’ Not surprisingly, the Milford Track is the most popular Great Walk. Bookings for this walk sold out in 15 minutes in 2021.
Make one of these ‘Great Walks’ part of your next exploration of New Zealand. Depending on your interests and fitness, there’s a Great Walk in New Zealand for everyone.
1. Abel Tasman Coast Track, Nelson
The 60 km/ 37 mile Abel Tasman Coastal Track takes 3-5 days to walk. Hikers can explore golden beaches and remarkable coastal forest canopy within the mild climate of the Abel Tasman National Park.
2. Kepler Track, Fiordland
This awe-inspiring, 60 km / 37 miletrack was designed to show all the best aspects of Fiordland – towering mountains, native forests, waterfalls and glacier carved valleys, with “cheeky wildlife sure to say hello.”It’s a 3-4 day trek, two hours from New Zealand’s adventure capital of Queenstown.
3. Heaphy Track, West Coast (pictured top)
This ancient, nearly 80 km/ 50 mile Māori trail crosses over tussock downs to lush forests, through palms and onward to the roaring seas of New Zealand’s wild West Coast. It’ll take you 4-6 days to walk the trail, which is about an hour from both Westport and Takaka.
4. Tongariro Northern Circuit, Tongariro National Park
This incredible and diverse walk is 45 km/ 28 miles long, and it takes 3-4 days to circumnavigate Mt Ngauruhoe, an active volcano in the Tongariro National Park. You’ll witness dramatic craters, explosion pits, lava flows and volcanic landscapes.
5. Routeburn Track, Fiordland
With soaring mountain peaks, huge valleys, towering waterfalls and jewel-like lakes, this 33km/ 20 mile-long track links Mount Aspiring National Park with Fiordland National Park for the best of both worlds in a 2-4 day walk. It’s only 45 minutes from Queenstown.
6. Milford Track, Fiordland
Known as ‘the finest walk in the world’, 53.5 km/ 33 mile Milford Track is New Zealand’s most famous walk. The 4-day trek is so magical that famed British writer, Rudyard Kipling famously called it the ‘8th wonder of the world’. The Milford track has been thrilling hikers for more than 150 years, and the alpine and fiord scenery a couple of hours from Queenstown remains as mesmerizing as ever.
7. Rakiura Track, Stewart Island
Stewart Island is a world where nature is in charge, a 30-minute flight from Invercargill, 1 hour ferry from Bluff. On this 32 km/ 20 mile walk over 3 days, you’ll discover peace, birdsong, and scenery that has barely changed in thousands of years.
8. Paparoa Track and Pike29 Memorial Track, Paparoa
The latest Great Walk in New Zealand, and the only one to be added in the last 25 years, this natural and historic trail is 4 hours from Christchurch. The 55 km/ 34 mile, 3-day walk winds through alpine tops, limestone landscapes and lush rainforests for breath-taking views. It links to the Pike29 Memorial Track, which commemorates the 29 miners who lost their lives in the Pike Mine Disaster.
9. Whanganui Journey, Whanganui
A ‘walk’ between 87-145 km / 54-90 miles down the Whanganui River. A memorable, spiritual adventure in a kayak or canoe that sees you paddling 3-5 days through towering canyons and luscious forests.
10 . Lake Wiakaremoana Track, Te Urewera
The Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk is 46 km/ 29 miles long, and sits within Te Urewera, an inland area of the North Island. Te Urewera is the first natural feature to be recognized in New Zealand law as a legal entity in its own right, and the Te Urewera Board acts as its ‘voice’. While DOC owns the Great Walks designation, in contrast to the other Great Walks which are managed by DOC this 3-4 day walk is managed by Tūhoe Te Uru Taumatua on behalf of the Te Urewera Board.
11 .Coming in 2023: Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track, Fiordland
Due to become a Great Walk in 2023, the Tuatapere Hump Ridge track is a 3-day, 61 km/ 40 mile loop along the south coast of New Zealand two hours from Queenstown. Offering stunning views from sub-alpine heights across Fiordland’s rugged coastline, the Southern Ocean and Stewart Island.
Great Walk Tips
Add a Great Walk to your extended trip to New Zealand; your trusted travel advisor can help you plan a journey that includes other highlights of New Zealand, along with a Great Walks immersion into its great outdoors.
- Do your homework and find out which Great Walk is most suitable for you and your group beforehand. It’s also important to know what fitness, skills and equipment are required, expected track and weather conditions, and how to limit your impact outdoors.
- To book a trip on one of the Great Walks, head to the Department of Conservation’s website.
- How much does a Great Walk cost? For the latest information on prices, see the Department of Conservation’s website.
- Using the free Plan My Walk app can help you plan and prepare for your next New Zealand walk. Learn about the track and check for any alerts, read other’s track reviews, check the weather, and get help from the suggesting gear list. Download it, or head to the website planmywalk.nz.
Not up for a Full ‘Great Walk?’
As part of celebrating the Great Walks’ 30th Anniversary, New Zealand is also celebrating the many other ways to get out into nature.
Take a stroll through history, camp by the ocean, explore an island, or find your own way into nature. To learn more, visit www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation.