Walking New Zealand



New Zealand offers some of the most accessible and spectacular walking or hiking (called “tramping here) country in the world. Clearly marked tracks and trails extend through unique ecosystems from high alpine country to towering lowland rain forests and are supported by huts and shelters at strategic points. The Department of Conservation has a very useful interactive website that lists all of the major walks throughout the country (http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/).
Often the huts will have sleeping space available, but on busy tracks (like the “Great Walks” you will have to book either at a DoC office or online to be sure of a bed. (http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/plan-and-prepare/online-booking/).
There is a small charge for hut use, and this varies with location. Remote back-country huts are less expensive and more likely to have space available. However, DoC advises that in these remote locations you should really be prepared to be self-sufficient in case you arrive and the hut is full. The system works on an honesty basis, though passes and hut bookings are monitored by DoC staff in the field.
Trails vary in their degree of difficulty. A good place to begin is by taking a look at The New Zealand Tramper website (http://tramper.co.nz) which includes an interactive menu for finding precisely the right track for you, what equipment you will need, degree of severity etc. The DoC website cited above also offers a degree of difficulty rating.
The Great Walks
One of the most popular and memorable experiences to be had in Aotearoa-New Zealand is to take one of the nine available “Great Walks”. This is actually a misnomer, because one of these “walks” is actually a river trip down the mighty Whanganui River. The Great Walks are the Department of Conservation’s premier walking tracks, through areas of some of the best scenery in the country in the National Parks. The huts and tracks on the Great Walks are of a higher standard than other tramping tracks, and many of the Great Walks have booking systems to manage visitor pressure. Six of the eight actual walks are in the South Island and two (plus the Whanganui River) are in the North. New Zealand is renowned for its National Park system and the Long Walks take in the very best that this system has to offer.
North Island:
  • The Lake Waikaremoana Track. This is 46km long and takes three to four days of easy to moderate hiking. The topography is mostly lake-edge with dense bush offering prolific bird life.
  • The Tongariro Northern Circuit. This involves 41km of moderate to hard hiking for four days. The hike goes through the active volcanic landscape of the Tongarito/Ruapehu mountain range.
  • The Whanganui River Journey involves a five day canoe or kayak trip down the Whanganui National Park, often staying overnight at Marae on the way.
South Island:
  • Abel Tasman Coastal Track. A 51km (three to five day) easy walk around the Abel Tasman National Park bays and shoreline. This track in New Zealand’s most popular.
  • The Heaphy Track. This involves 82km of moderate to hard hiking through forest, beaches and mountainous landscapes through the Kahurangi National Park.
  • Kepler Track. In Fiordland National Park, this track takes three to four days of moderate to hard hiking through beech forests, glacial valleys, lake and river gorges.
  • The Milford Track. A very popular 54km easy hike through rainforests in Fiordland National Park.
  • Rakiura Track. A three day, 29km medium hike in Stewart Island at the foot of the South Island through bush and beaches with abundant native bird life to be seen.
  • Routeburn Track. A 32km, three day medium hike through wonderful alpine landscapes in Mt. Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks.
All of these tracks are busy in Summer and booking (through the Department of Conservation - DoC) is essential. Passes can be bought at DoC visitor centres, but pre-booking is advised. Best times are early December or February/March, after the holiday season. DoC provide maps and information. Day hikes are free. Fees are charged for accommodation in the huts available along the tracks or at designated camping spots. Costs vary ($10-$40 per person per night) depending on the track or the time of year. Camping costs between $2.50 and $15 per person per night. Children under 18 are free.
In addition to these particular Walks there are a great many other beautiful and spectacular walks throughout the country.  Some of these are through public lands and are free, others are operated by private businesses who provide accommodation, meals and baggage transportation. Click here to see the businesses listed on Organic Explorer website

A selection of tracks includes:

  • The Hollyford Track: A three day hiking tour through the heart of the South Island’s Fiordland offering snow capped mountains, glaciers, rainforests, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, reefs, sand dunes and surf. (www.hollyfordtrack.co.nz)
  • The Queen Charlotte Track: A five day hike through the Marlborough Sounds with unsurpassed coastal views. (www.qctrack.co.nz)
  • Hump Ridge Track: Beach, bush and sub-alpine scenery in the South West of the South Island for four days. (www.humpridgetrack.co.nz)
  • Tora Coastal Walks offer a three day hike through a privately owned South Wairarapa coastal area (pack transportation and meals provided). (www.toracoastalwalk.co.nz)
  • Banks Peninsula Track, a 35km moderate four day circular walk around the remote and beautiful South Eastern bays of Banks Peninsula. A track owned and operated by the eight families who live there. (pack transportation available) (www.bankstrack.co.nz)
  • Hurunui High Country Walking Track: An easy 30km three day hike through sub-alpine country with both bush and native forest. (pack transportation available  (www.walkingtrack.co.nz)
  • Rotorua Redwood Forest Walk: a day walk through 288 hectares of the Whakarewarewa Forest amidst towering (60m) Sequoia. Imagine you are in Muir Woods, California.
  • Waitomo Walk, a two day (27k) walk through Waitomo hill and cave country with accommodation provided. http://www.waitomowalk.com/                       
  • Kaikoura Coastal Track, a 3 day private walk with accommodation and transported luggage available.
  • http://www.kaikouratrack.co.nz/
  • Walk Gisborne, a three-day, unguided walk through hill country farmland, river valleys and coastal areas including accommodation and meals
  • http://www.walkgisborne.co.nz/
  • Catered Coast Walk, a two or three-day coastal walk (guided or unguided), through the Bream Bay and Mangawhai areas of Northland
  • http://www.cateredcoastwalks.co.nz
For those not wishing to take on a self-guided walk, there are a number of companies offering guided hikes for one or more days. These include:
  • Hiking New Zealand who offer guided walks in many of the Great Walks (as well as trips to Antarctica). (www.hikingnewzealand.com
  • Walking Legends guided hiking tours, in the North Island. (www.walkinglegends.co.nz)
  • Taranaki Tours One day tour around Mt. Taranaki. Customised one to two day tours available. (www.taranakitours.com)
  • Kaikoura Wilderness Walk, 2/3 day all-inclusive guided walking tours on a private walking track through the Puhi Peaks Nature Reserve near Kaikoura with luxury accommodation and meals provided. http://www.kaikourawilderness.co.nz/          
  • Catlins Wildlife Trackers, in-depth, two-day (three-night) guided ecotours as well as a fully guided and catered walk across The Catlins. www.catlins-ecotours.co.nz
  • Bush and Beyond, guided walks, hiking, tramping on the Heaphy Track and Kahurangi National Park, New Zealand with a focus on nature and conservation www.bushandbeyond.co.nz
  • Bream Head Coast Walks, two or three-day unguided coastal walk around Bream Head, Northland, with accommodation and catered food. http://coastwalks.co.nz
  • Quite a few other companies also offer guided walks on the Great Walks. A comprehensive list of these are available on the Google search page for: “Guided Walks NZ”.

Te Araroa Trail

For those really experienced trampers, there is always Te Araroa. Te Araroa (The Long Path) is an independent walking track stretching the 3000km length of the country, and taking in most of the spectacular environments on the way Opening at the end of 2011, Te Araroa is one of the world's longest walking trails. Hundreds of volunteers have helped create the continuous 3000 kilometre-long route. Down the coastline, through the forest, across farmland, over volcanoes and mountain passes, along river valleys, and on green pathways through seven cities.
It links many existing tracks with legal thoroughfares and negotiated access through private land. Te Araroa has been in development since 1995 and is due for completion at the end of 2011. To know more, or to make a contribution to the completion of Te Araroa visit the Te Araroa Trust site at: (www.teararoa.org.nz). It is essential to consult with the Trust before embarking upon any section of the Walk to make sure that access is already legally in place. Detailed maps of sections of the track are available.
The most popular tracks such as the Milford, Heaphy, Routeburn, Abel Tasman etc. have available transport at both ends, but they are also the most crowded. Others, less popular, do not. Taking a vehicle only helps partially, since you have to recover the vehicle after the hike and it may be far away and inaccessible. Hitchhiking can be problematic in remote track areas. If possible arrange privately for a pick-up at the far end. If you leave your vehicle at any trail-head, leave it locked and leave any valuables completely out of sight.
National Parks
Approximately 30 percent of the country – more than five million hectares – is protected in environmentally important parks and reserves which embrace almost every conceivable landscape: from the golden beaches of Abel Tasman to the alpine environment of Arthur’s Pass to the immense Whanganui River in the central North Island. There are 14 National Parks, (those shown on the map adjacent) numerous Forest Parks offering huge scope for wilderness experiences, and over 30 Marine Reserves.
New Zealand also has two World Heritage sites. One is Tongariro National Park, the other comprises parts of Westland, Fiordland, Mount Cook and Mount Aspiring National Parks. This region covers 2.6 million hectares and is recognised internationally for it’s cultural significance as well as the unique vegetation and wildlife. The Department of Conservation, which administers these areas, provides and maintains facilities, such as huts, tracks, camping grounds and picnic spots, and offers assistance and advice on how best to enjoy them. Some parks also have special facilities for the disabled. . Parks are open all year round and no permits are required to visit. Most parks have a visitor center, with displays, maps and guide books.
See www.doc.govt.nz for a wealth of outdoor parks and recreation information