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New Zealand’s 9 Great Walks

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“Tramping” (hiking) in the backcountry is a sacred kiwi pastime, and you can experience it in short walks, one-day tramps, or multiday hikes. The Great Walks are the nine most renowned hiking—though one is technically a canoeing route—tracks that traverse the country’s volcanic plateau beaches, temperate rainforest, fjords, and mountain ranges. The most famous, Milford Track, is commonly called “the finest walk in the world.” Although difficult along the way, hikers are rewarded with gorgeous views and an abundance of wildlife along the way. 

Courtesy Tourism New Zealand
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Heaphy Track

WHERE: Kahurangi National Park, near Nelson

Distance: 78 km (48 mi), four to six days

The track begins in dense beech and podocarp forest in the north, continues up to snow tussock plateaus, and descends into palm-studded forests and rugged West Coast beaches. Birdwatch, kiwis and pipits are particularly popular, along one of the country’s finest routes. This is primarily a summer route; snow can block the track in winter.

Difficulty: The most difficult section is between Brown and Perry Saddle huts. While normally a drier area, it does rain on the western slopes.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Upper South Island and the West Coast Travel Guide

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Abel Tasman Coast Track

WHERE: Abel Tasman National Park, near Nelson

Distance: 52 km (32 mi), three to five days

Follow the coast across beautiful golden sand beaches, rocks, and regenerating rain forests (with nikau palms, ferns, and forest gians). The two estuaries are only passable around low tide. Along the way, be on the lookout for seals and penguins.

Difficulty: In autumn and winter, weather conditions are good and the track is less crowded.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Upper South Island and the West Coast Travel Guide

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Routeburn Track

Location: Mount Aspiring and Fiordland national parks

Distance: 32 km (20 mi), two to three days

Travel in either direction through beech forest and onto exposed mountaintops for spectacular scenery. In summer flowers, many unique to New Zealand, cover the alpine slopes, adding even more beauty along the journey. Make sure you have good equipment for the journay across New Zealand's Southern Alps and Mount Aspriing and Fiordland national parks.

Difficulty: Heavy rain, clouds, snow, and ice can be factors. And winter avalanches are possible on mountaintops.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's The Southern Alps and Fiordland Travel Guide

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Kepler Track

WHERE: Fiordland National Park, near Te Anau

Distance: 60 km (37 mi), three to four days

The hike goes through beech forests to sometimes snow-covered tussock tops with wonderful views in clear weather. Geology buffs will appreciate this trek, especially Mt. Luxmore, which marks the highest point on the journey. Detour to Iris Burn waterfall, about a 20-minute walk from Iris Burn hut.

Difficulty: Day one includes a steep climb from lake to tops.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's The Southern Alps and Fiordland Travel Guide

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Lake Waikaremoana Track

WHERE: Te Urewera National Park

Distance: 46 km (28.5mi), three to four days

Much of the track runs through podocarp forest, and the track condition is genearlly good. Despite a difficult climb, you're rewarded with gorgous views of Lake Waikaremoana at Panekiri Bluff. Along the way, you'll see a variety of birds, including kaka, parakeets, paradise ducks, whiteheads, fantails, silvereyes, morepork (native owl), and kiwi. As you journey, don't miss out on the short uphill side trip to the 72-foot tall Korokoro waterfall. Advance booking advised.

Difficulty: The toughest part is the climb from lake edge to Panekiri Bluff. Heavy rain, mosquitoes, and sandflies are also common.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's East Coast and the Volcanic Zone Travel Guide

Courtesy Tourism New Zealand
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Milford Trek

Location: Fiordland National Park, near Te Anau

Distance: 54 km (33.5 mi), four to five days.

You can only hike in one direction (south to north) along New Zealand’s most popular track, often called the “finest walk in the world.” Clinton River (often muddy) crosses Mackinnon Pass, goes through alpine meadows and passes waterfalls, including NZ’s highest, Sutherland Falls, at about 1,900-feet. Thick forests bookend the track, and lots of kea (mountain parrots) greet trampers. Book at least four months ahead, and don't forget your sandfly repellent.

Difficulty: There are two strenuous climbs during the trek, one with a very steep descent. Prepare yourself for frequent rain and, if you go in the winter, avalanche conditions at Mackinnon Pass.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's The Southern Alps and Fiordland Travel Guide

Courtesy Tourism New Zealand
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Tongariro Northern Circuit

Location: Tongariro National Park

Distance: 49 km (30 mi), three to four days

This is one of New Zealand’s best walks, with wonderful alpine and volcanic vistas, warm blue-green lakes, and steam vents, but mountains are often in heavy clouds. You might recognize Mt. Ngauruhoe during your journey—a.k.a Mt. Doom in The Lord of the Rings.

Difficulty: Take good gear, especially for the toughest section, the “Staircase,” and do not attempt the track in rain or snow. Volcano eruptions are possbible, so stay back from steam vents.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's East Coast and Volcanic Zone Travel Guide

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Rakiura Track

Location: Rakiura National Park, Steward Island

Distance: 36 km (22 mi, including road walk), three days.

Follows the coastline through beech forest, subalpine scrub, and remote beaches on the Rakiura Track. Mt. Anglem, a three- to four-hour side trip (one-way), provides wonderful views. And there's plenty of wildlife along the way, including kiwi, bellbirds, tui, fantails, parakeets, seals, and penguins. To prepare, pack extra food and plenty of insect repellent (for the mosquitoes and sandflies) and be prepared to pay for tickets to stay in huts along the way.

Difficulty: There's plenty of mud along the route, given the wet, changeable weather. There are also two short uphill climbs on the track.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Otago, Invercargill, and Stewart Island Travel Guide

Courtesy Tourism New Zealand
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Whanganui Journey

Location: Whanganui National Park, near Taumarunui

Distance: Full Trip: 145 km (90 mi,) five days; Short Trip: 88 km (54.5 mi,) three days

Although a river journey, Whanganui is a Great Walk, and there is a three-day version from Whakahoro to Pipiriki. The Whanganui River takes a twisting path to sea; en route, expect narrow gorges, high cliffs, waterfalls, and glowworm grottos. Tieke Marae has good huts and facilities, but you’ll follow Maori protocol; koha (a gift of money) will be expected. Book trip and hire kayaks in advance from operators in Turangi, Taumaruni, or Ohakune.

Difficulty: Those with experience can swim, canoe, and kayak. Be prepared for rain and floods.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's North Island's West Coast Travel Guide