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5 Great Walks in New Zealand to Enjoy - Milford Track

5 Great Walks in New Zealand to Enjoy

by Jacqui Gibson
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It’s summertime in New Zealand – the time of year when Kiwis and tourists alike grab their rucksacks and head for the hills.

Last summer, friends and I spent four days hiking in the South Island’s lush Nikau rainforests of Kahurangi National Park. This year, our group is reconvening for a lakeside adventure in the North Island’s Te Urewera National Park.

What do I love most about hiking in New Zealand? The pure mountain air, the breathtaking scenery and the chance to go completely off-grid with great company for a couple of days. (Actually, that last one can be a curse if you love to Instagram every minute of every day like I do).


Right now is the best time to go hiking in New Zealand. Hiking season officially starts in late October and extends through to April when the weather’s usually warm and dry.

The trails can be busy at this time of year. But they are well kept. There are affordable huts you can book along the way. And there are no nasty critters to worry about in New Zealand. Blisters and rain are about as bad as it gets in this part of the world.


New Zealand’s most popular multi-day hikes are known as the Great Walks. They’re open to the public and extend from Lake Waikaremoana Track in the Hawke’s Bay region to the southern-most trail, Rakiura Track. You’ll find Rakiura Track on a small, remote island called Stewart Island off the southern tip of the South Island. The Great Walks typically take between three to four days to hike and range in grade from easy to intermediate.

If you’re Down Under this summer, here are 5 great walks in New Zealand you might want to try.

5 Great Walks in New Zealand to Enjoy - Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park

This one’s for beach lovers, so definitely take your togs (swimsuit), as well as your hiking boots. I walked this 51-kilometre track one summer in my late teens with my bestie and grandad. It was a sun-baked treat. The grade is easy to intermediate. It’s set in the stunning Abel Tasman National Park in one of the country’s sunniest regions about 40 minutes drive from Nelson airport. The Abel Tasman takes three to five days and is accessible by boat, which means you can do as little or as much of the trail on foot as you want. Other sections you can do by boat or kayak, or you can bypass them entirely by organising a shuttle or water taxi to pick you up and drop you off wherever suits.

5 Great Walks in New Zealand to Enjoy - Abel Tasman National Park Beach

Stay: Camp, stay in reasonably-priced government huts (called ‘DOC huts’) or kip down in private, lodge accommodation.

Top tip: Spend a night camping at Onetahuti Beach. It’s one of the best beaches on the track – and there are glow worm caves and a freshwater pool nearby. The location of the campground means you’ll wake up to a gorgeous sunrise and beachfront views.

5 Great Walks in New Zealand to Enjoy - Heaphy Track

Heaphy Track, Kahurangi National Park

At nearly 80 kilometres, this one’s the most extended hike I’ve ever done. But it’s worth every weary step. Set in a remote northwestern pocket of the South Island once used by Māori to transport greenstone, the Heaphy is a diverse track. You walk through Nikau rainforest, tussock grassland, rugged mountains, lowland forest and wild surf beaches. We saw cheeky bushland weka – one of New Zealand’s many flightless birds – indigenous lizards, flowering Nikau, tiny alpine orchids and even the palm-sized shells of New Zealand’s only carnivorous snail, Powelliphanta. The nocturnal snail is said to suck up earthworms through its mouth like strings of spaghetti!

Stay: Camp in tents or stay in DOC huts along the track. If you’re keen on a hut, you’ll need to book your bunk bed ahead of time. Bookings are easily done online, by phone or by dropping into a DOC office.

Top tip: Most people do the Heaphy Track in four days, which doesn’t sound too bad. And it isn’t. But do think about the state of your boots before heading off. Make sure they’re in good nick. Boots fell apart, were discarded for jandals and underwent serious repair during our four days on the trail.

Extra tip: Be sure to stop in at Karamea Hotel at hike’s end for a well-earned beer and a yarn with some fantastic, world-weary locals.

5 Great Walks in New Zealand to Enjoy - Milford Track

Milford Track, Fiordland National Park

The Milford Track is New Zealand’s most famous walk – and it’s easy to see why. Firstly, you can start and finish the trail from the picturesque alpine resort town of Queenstown – the perfect base to gear-up before you leave and the ideal place to recover if fine dining and spa pampering is what you need. Aside from that, the trail itself offers plenty of jaw-dropping scenery. You’ll ferry across Lake Te Anau and hike over suspension bridges, boardwalks and a mountain pass. You’ll see lakes and mountains and you’ll enjoy – as we did in late December one year – endless blue skies, as well as torrential rain. The Milford is 53 kilometres of wow.

5 Great Walks in New Zealand to Enjoy - New Zealand Department of Conservation Huts

Stay: There’s no camping permitted on the Milford. But you can stay in DOC huts or private lodges.

Top tip: Take gear for all seasons. Even if your raincoat never comes out at any other time, you’ll be pleased to have it on day three as you approach the foot of Sutherland Falls, the tallest waterfall in New Zealand. Taking photos (without our coats), we got soaked from its thunderous freshwater spray.

5 Great Walks in New Zealand to Enjoy - Hollyford Track

Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

There are two ways to hike the Hollyford Track. For the adventurous, it’s a week-long advanced trail of around 56 kilometres. For those of us who like a warm lodge, delicious feast and some of the country’s best wines at the end of each adventurous day, it’s a three day guided walk with Ngāi Tahu Tourism. A few years ago, I walked the Hollyford hosted by Ngāi Tahu. My fellow walkers and I hiked the valley on foot, crossed rivers by jet boat and departed the track by helicopter. We saw rare Fiordland crested penguins, fur seals and remnants of the last Māori tribe to live in the area. This hike is enough to convert you to luxury guided walks for life.

Stay: Depending on which option you take, you can stay in DOC cabins or private lodges run by Ngāi Tahu Tourism.

Top tip: Keep your camera charged and handy on the very last day if you’re taking the guided walk. The helicopter ride into Milford Sound through jagged mountain peaks is incredible and well worth documenting.

5 Great Walks in New Zealand to Enjoy - Stewart Island

Stewart Island, Rakiura National Park

Stewart Island’s three-day Rakiura Track is the southernmost walk of New Zealand’s main trails. The primaeval podocarp forest and the absence of other people are enough to make you feel you’ve gone a hundred years back in time. An easy 36-kilometre hike, Rakiura is home to an abundant range of native bird life. The summer my husband and I did just one day of the track, we saw little robins, bolshy kaka and cheeky weka. But it took a night hike later that same Stewart Island trip to finally see wild brown kiwi foraging on the beach. A stunning walk in a stunningly remote and pristine part of the world.

Stay: Camping and DOC huts are your main options on the Rakiura Track.

Top tip: Learn the call of the nocturnal brown kiwi, so you know where to look if you hear it. Seeing a rare kiwi in the wild is a genuine and exciting possibility on Stewart Island.

Free maps, checklists and online hut bookings

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) offers trail walkers a wide range of free information from trail maps to a checklist of what to take on a hike. You can also visit the Department’s website to book DOC huts.

5 Great Walks in New Zealand to Enjoy | Calculated Traveller | #NewZealand #hiking #outdoor #tips #HowTo

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Have you completed any of these great walks in New Zealand?

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Paige January 23, 2018 - 5:28 pm

I was supposed to be in NZ right now but I had emergency surgery and had to come home instead. Oh well… so it goes. These have me really wishing I was there. The Hollyford and Milfred tracks are the most intocong ones to me! I love those mountain and water views!!! Maybe next year I’ll finally make it.

Jacqui Gibson January 25, 2018 - 1:47 pm

I hope you’re okay! And that you’re enjoying a speedy recovery (so you can get hiking fit, for one thing). The Hollyford is an ideal track if you’re still in recovery mode. It’s a guided walk (with Ngai Tahu tourism) so it’s pricier than the others. But it’s very doable. And you get to sleep in private lodges, enjoy catered food and generally be in a beautiful part of Fiordland without too much effort. I’d highly recommend it. You can do the Milford as either a guided walk or independently. Also spectacular. Both are great choices. Anyway, all the best with coming down this way next year!

Sandy N Vyjay January 23, 2018 - 7:33 am

I am really fascinated by the great outdoors of New Zealand. Its natural beauty and stunning landscapes are something which enthrall. The best way to really experience the natural beauty is by hiking through the countryside, These 5 hikes, all seem awesome and a great opportunity to have an immersive experience of the natural beauty. Hope to get there someday to do these hikes.

Jacqui Gibson January 23, 2018 - 12:56 pm

You’re right. Nothing beats walking through nature. You’ll love hiking in New Zealand when you come.

Turtle January 22, 2018 - 4:20 pm

This makes me want to jump on a plane and head right over! I’ve done a little bit of hiking in NZ and have always vowed to go back and do some of the longer multi-day hikes. The scenery is so beautiful. I reckon the one in Kahurangi National Park looks amazing!

Jacqui Gibson January 23, 2018 - 12:54 pm

Awesome. I’ve just finished the four-day Lake Waikaremoana trail. That’s well worth putting on your list. It’s on the East Coast of the North Island. The views from Panekire bluff are incredible (though the vertical hike to get there requires a Herculean effort!).

Vibeke Johannessen January 22, 2018 - 2:55 pm

I have always wanted to travel to New Zealand, seems like the perfect place to trek and adventure. Kahurangi National Park looks breathtaking. New Zealand is one of those countries I could spend a long time in, at least a month. Thank you for sharing these 5 great walks, pinning for later :)

Jacqui Gibson January 23, 2018 - 12:50 pm

The US/Canadian winter is the ideal to come down and a great time of year to do the Heaphy Track in Kahurangi National Park. From there, you can walk and adventure the rest of the South Island with ease! See you soon.

Danila Caputo January 22, 2018 - 7:46 am

New Zealand is so high on our bucket list! We’ve always imagined it like a green place where people can spend their time trying to enjoy the great outdoors and it seems we weren’t mistaken. Hopefully this Fall or the next we’re making it there, fingers crossed!

Jacqui gibson January 22, 2018 - 4:26 pm

Come. You’ll love it. If you plan to hike any of the Great Walks, be sure to make an advance booking online to secure your place. The Milford Track sells out fast. The Department of Conservation (www.doc.govt.nz) has all the info. If you like cycling, you might want to find out more about the Otago Rail Trail.


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