The Great Walks of New Zealand

Murky goblin forests, bright emerald lakes and a bridge that goes nowhere.

Secret rock pools that bring new life to tired legs, limestone cliffs in which grey wise faces seem to peer down as you walk, and old stories of mines that have been carved deep in the mountains.

Towering peaks around which clouds shudder and freeze, cascading waterfalls that stay hidden in a prehistoric fiordland, and curious animals that are like nothing else seen on this planet. 

There is magic to be found on New Zealand’s Great Walks, so what are you waiting for? Nature is calling.

Great Walks on the North Island

(Jump to South Island)

Lake Waikaremoana

Features: giant podocarp rainforest, waterfall paradise, ancient mountain range, magical ‘goblin forest’, and the ancestral and spiritual home of Ngai Tūhoe.

Rating: intermediate great walk – a comfortable, well-formed multiday trail.

Length/Time: 46 km (28.6 miles) – 3 to 4 days.

When to go: any time of year but you’ll get the most out of it in summer.

Child-friendly: yes. Especially in summer to enjoy the lake.

More information: see DOC’s overview of Lake Waikaremoana.

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There’s one thing you need to know about the Lake Waikaremoana trail: it’s located within the largest area of native forest in New Zealand's North Island, making this a New Zealand Great Walk that will have you feeling truly liberated from the humming and buzzing of mobile notifications.

The trail predominantly hugs the lake and is home to almost every native North Island bird species. Listen out for the calls of the tui, kereru (wood pigeon) and even the kiwi.

The lake is the ancestral and spiritual home of Ngai Tūhoe, a Māori tribe also known as the ‘Children of the mist.’ The Tūhoe people have lived in this region for centuries and have deep links with the land.

TIP: soak up the superlative panoramas from Bald Knob – an open, rocky terrace that’s a two minute, non-signposted walk off the main drag.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Features: emerald lakes, active volcanoes, glacial valleys, and steaming vents – the best day hike in NZ.

Rating: easy walking track – a comfortable, formed trail.

Length/Time: 19.4 km (12 miles) – 1 day.

When to go: November to April – outside these months you’ll need mountaineering experience and equipment.

Child-friendly: no. This is a tough alpine crossing with rapidly changing weather.

More information: see DOC’s overview of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

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TongariroTongariro

Image: Nicholas Rean 

The Tongariro Crossing is rated as one of the best day walks in the world, but you also have the option of hiking the circuit and staying one to three nights in huts.

Famously used as the landscape to Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies, make sure to bring a gold ring to play with on this New Zealand Great Walk. The brilliant colours of craters and lakes in this area are otherworldly, with sandy tussock framed by white-capped mountains in the distance proving this area's cinematic allure.

The weather is unpredictable here so come prepared for all conditions (and even for the track to be closed at late notice). Ensure you have the right rainwear to protect you from the elements.

TIP: Being an active volcanic area, it’s a smart idea to check the current volcanic conditions on Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu.

Whanganui Journey

Features: fun rapids, picturesque vantage points, majestic narrow gorge, culture, history, and a bridge to nowhere.

Rating: no rating – this is a journey by kayak or canoe.

Length/Time: 87 km (54 miles) – 3 days or 145 km (90 miles) – 5 days.

When to go: October to April – the river in winter is freezing and some kayak and canoe companies close down then anyway.

Child-friendly: yes, if they don’t mind getting wet – especially in summer to enjoy the warmer river.

More information: see DOC’s overview of the Whanganui Journey.

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Whanganui RiverWhanganui River

Image: Alex Indigo

Remote hillsides and bush clad valleys line the magnificent Whanganui River as you drift along in your kayak or canoe. This is the Whanganui Journey – the only ‘Great Walk’ that’s not actually a walk.

You can include a unique stay at Tieke Kainga – the only DOC hut on the journey that’s also used as a marae (meeting house). And when you get tired, simply sit back, relax and take in your surroundings while having a break from paddling.

Don’t miss a break from your river cruiser to enjoy a short hike up to the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ – an abandoned bridge covered in foliage that was built for a settlement (that never eventuated) for returning WWI soldiers.

The three-day journey is more popular so if you choose five days, you’ll likely have stretches of the river all to yourself.

TIP: Look out for the lavender farm at about 18kms (11 miles) downstream from the start of your five-day adventure – bring cash to try the homemade muffins.


Check our hiking gear list before tackling a New Zealand Great Walk.


Great Walks on the South Island

(Jump to North Island)

Abel Tasman Coast Track

Features: golden sand beaches, explorable estuaries, hidden rock pools and lush beech forest.

Rating: intermediate great walk – a comfortable, well-formed multiday trail.

Length/Time: 60 km (37 miles) – 3 to 5 days.

When to go: any time of year but you’ll get the most out of it in summer.

Child-friendly: yes. Especially in summer to enjoy the beaches, rivers and ocean.

More information: See DOC’s overview of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track.

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Beach at Abel TasmanBeach at Abel Tasman

Image: David T

The Abel Tasman is a summer playground – and you can choose to kayak it, hike it or do both. Featuring a treasure chest of coastal wonderment, it’s one of NZ’s most amazing outdoor experiences.

Named after Abel Tasman, the first European explorer to spot New Zealand in 1692, this water playground has a mild climate, an abundance of bird and sea life, and plenty of swing bridges to keep you interested.

Spectacular golden beaches link to limestone and marble rocks, which are home to a few colonies of New Zealand fur seals.

TIP: Grab a kayak and explore the otherworldly estuaries of Bark and Torrent Bays when the tide is on the low side.

Heaphy Track

Features: lush forests, sub-alpine tussock downs, nikau palms, limestone and marble rock faces and the roaring Tasman Sea.

Rating: intermediate great walk – a comfortable, well-formed multiday trail.

Length/Time: 78.4 km (48.7 miles) – 4 to 6 days.

When to go: December to April – best to go outside of mountain bike season.

Child-friendly: it’s a long way so probably not the whole track. Instead, start on the West Coast side and walk the relatively flat, beachside trail to Heaphy Hut and back.

More information: see DOC’s overview of the Heaphy Track.

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Heaphy Track Great Walk of New ZealandHeaphy Track Great Walk of New Zealand

Image: Amy Workman

When comparing all of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Heaphy offers the most significant contrasts. It has rainforest, sub-alpine tussock, lowland bush and nikau palm trees. And if you’re really lucky you might even hear takahe near Gouland Downs or the great spotted kiwi call out in the evening.

Located in NZ’s second-largest national park – Kahurangi – the trail was first used by Māori searching for greenstone (pounamu) in rivers on the West Coast.

The easiest way to hike the Heaphy is by starting from Golden Bay in the north and ending at Kohaihai on the West Coast.

EXPERT TIP: Keep your eyes on the path after rain in the Gouland Downs area – giant, carnivorous powelliphanta land snails hunt for slugs and suck them up like spaghetti.


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Paparoa Track

Features: alpine peaks, ancient podocarp forest, breathtaking sunsets, mining history, and an impressive river gorge with dramatic limestone karst landscapes.

Rating: intermediate great walk – a comfortable, well-formed multiday trail.

Length/Time: 55 km (34 miles) – 3 days.

When to go: the summer months – for longer days and better weather in general.

Child-friendly: no. This is a tough alpine crossing with rapidly changing weather.

More information: read more about the Paparoa Track, New Zealand's youngest Great Walk and see DOC’s overview of the Paparoa Track.

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Paparoa Track Great Walk of New ZealandPaparoa Track Great Walk of New Zealand

Crossing the stunningly remote Paparoa Range is the Paparoa Track – New Zealand’s first Great Walk in 25 years.

You’ll follow in the footsteps of gold miners, gaze at expansive sunsets from the Moonlight Tops Hut and pass through Pororari River Gorge with its subtropical nikau palms and extraordinary limestone cliffs.

Opportunities to see local kea, curious weka and great spotted kiwi are on the radar, and you’ll find an old miner’s hut and a century-old quartz crushing battery along the trail.

Consider starting at the remote settlement of Blackball (home to the hotel known as ‘Formally The Blackball Hilton’) and hiking to the coastal highlight of Punakaiki.

TIP: Add the Pike29 Memorial Track or the historic Inland Pack Track with its famous Ballroom Overhang to your hike.

Routeburn Track

Features: astonishing vistas, towering mountain peaks, cascading waterfalls, reflective tarns and jewel-like lakes.

Rating: intermediate great walk – a comfortable, well-formed multiday trail.

Length/Time: 33 km (20.5 miles) – 2 to 4 days.

When to go: summer and autumn – to avoid the freezing alpine temperatures and high risk of avalanches.

Child-friendly: no. This is a tough alpine crossing with rapidly changing weather.

More information: see DOC’s overview of the Routeburn Track.

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Man standing on rock on Routeburn Great Walk of New ZealandMan standing on rock on Routeburn Great Walk of New Zealand

Ascending to 1,255 m (4,117 feet) near Harris Saddle, the Routeburn Track is a true alpine crossing. You’ll traverse the magnificent Southern Alps, wander below majestic peaks, explore inspiring beech forest and feast your eyes on vast valleys.

The trail links Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks, so it’s perhaps no wonder the views are incredible. You’ll be walking through valleys that have been shaped by now-long-gone glaciers.

The two trailheads are about five hours driving time apart, so it’s important to plan well. You could walk the route to the end and back, organise transport for returning to your vehicle, or loop in the Greenstone Caples Track and finish back at Lake Wakatipu.

Keep your senses awake to NZ’s cheeky alpine parrot, the kea, who’ll steal anything that’s not tied down.

TIP: Aim to time your arrival at Harris Saddle for around midday to the early afternoon – then take the side trip up Conical Hill for 360-degree views (if you’re lucky).

Milford Track

Features: ancient rainforests, valleys carved by glaciers, cascading waterfalls, and retracing early explorer steps – the best multiday hike in NZ.

Rating: intermediate great walk – a comfortable, well-formed multiday trail.

Length/Time: 53.5 km (33.5 miles) – 4 days.

When to go: early autumn or mid-spring on the fringe of the Great Walk season – avoid winter as avalanches are a real risk.

Child-friendly: no. This is a tough alpine crossing with rapidly changing weather.

More information: see DOC’s overview of the Milford Track.

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Hikers on Milford Sound Great Walk of New ZealandHikers on Milford Sound Great Walk of New Zealand

Now more than 130 years old, the Milford Track probably needs little explanation. It’s New Zealand’s foremost Great Walk – navigating the heart of Fiordland National Park.

Consider it an expedition through NZ’s grandest scenery – featuring translucent lakes, towering waterfalls and lofty mountain passes. You’ll be able to engage with New Zealand’s native biodiversity and wilderness.

The Milford Track showcases everything that’s magic about hiking in New Zealand’s alpine environment.

TIP: Give yourself time to walk the 90-minute return trail to Sutherland Falls – perhaps NZ’s mightiest waterfall.

Kepler Track

Features: incredible alpine peaks, two of NZ’s great lakes, explorable caves, hidden waterfalls, glow worms, a famous bog, and the chance to see and hear native kiwi and whio (blue duck).

Rating: intermediate great walk – a comfortable, well-formed multiday trail.

Length/Time: 60 km (37.3 miles) loop – 3 to 4 days.

When to go: November to April – outside of these months there is an avalanche risk and reduced facilities.

Child-friendly: no. This is a tough alpine crossing with rapidly changing weather.

More information: see DOC’s overview of the Kepler Track.

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Hills in Kepler Track Great WalkHills in Kepler Track Great Walk

Image: Jade Stephens 

Beginning on the shores of Lake Te Anau, the largest body of freshwater in Australasia, you’ll experience a tough yet rewarding climb to Luxmore Hut above the treeline.

Make the effort to explore the amazing Luxmore Caves – only a short walk from Luxmore Hut.

With alpine tussock grasslands, plus vistas of the lake and surrounding mountains of Fiordland National Park, you’ll marvel at the panoramic views as you stroll overexposed tops. There’s also the opportunity to climb a side track to the summit of Mount Luxmore at 1,472 m (4,829 feet).

Other highlights include a never-ending downhill section of zigzags, Iris Burn Waterfall and passing by Lake Manapouri and Amoeboid Mire (a bog used for filming a part of Lord of the Rings).

If you feel like completing this Great Walk in faster time, consider signing up to the Kepler Challenge – an annual trail run that usually has a waitlist.

TIP: Walk the Kepler anti-clockwise so you’ll tackle the toughest elevation first, the endless switchbacks while walking downhill, then spend the last day or two strolling out.

Rakiura Track

Features: early Māori settlements, open coastlines, native forests, and indigenous birdlife including kiwi.

Rating: intermediate great walk – a comfortable, well-formed multiday trail.

Length/Time: 32 km (20 miles) loop – 3 days.

When to go: any time of year but you’ll get the most out of it in summer.

Child-friendly: yes, but consider the likely weather before booking – it can get very wet and muddy.

More information: see DOC’s overview of the Rakiura Track.

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Beach on Rakiura Great WalkBeach on Rakiura Great Walk
Three hikers running down sand dune on Great Walk of New ZealandThree hikers running down sand dune on Great Walk of New Zealand

Why not explore New Zealand’s other island – Rakiura (Stewart Island). South of the South Island, it’s home to a Great Walk with a phenomenal amount of native birdlife.

A three-day circuit, it follows the coast and crosses through the interior bush. You’ll have the privilege of immersing yourself in early Māori history and listening for local kiwi calling out in the evening.

And when your day’s hiking is done, you’ll be able to unwind in Rakiura’s peaceful surroundings.

TIP: Take a red light or red piece of cellophane to cover your torch and help you spot kiwi at night.


There are currently ten Great Walks in NZ including the newly opened Paparoa Track. Another is planned to become a Great Walk in 2022 – the Hump Ridge Track in Southland. 

Explore more multiday and single-day hikes in New Zealand. 


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