Come on a journey of discovery through a peaceful land of unparalleled natural beauty. It’s time to start booking for New Zealand’s 2016 / 17 walking season.
New Zealand’s Great Walks and multi-day hikes are acclaimed around the world for their stunning landscapes. They traverse mountain passes, glacial valleys, sparkling rivers, luxuriant forests and serene lakes.
Guided walks, inclusive of transport, meals and comfortable accommodation in mountain lodge bunkrooms call for moderate levels of fitness and agility with four to eight hours of walking each day carrying a light pack. The daily schedule allows ample time for slower walkers. Heavy backpacks are heli-lifted to the next mountain lodge.
Track guides provide a professional service, including advanced route briefings and interpretive commentaries on the natural history, fauna, flora and geology of the area. Guided walks offer the most rewarding way of seeing the New Zealand's exceptional natural beauty. Some of the best are listed below. Welcome to the home of Middle-earth.
Rakiura Track, Stewart Island
For lovers of wilderness adventures Stewart Island is an unspoilt walker’s paradise. New Zealand’s third island, known to the Māori as Rakiura, ‘Land of the Glowing Skies’, is renowned for its lingering sunsets in summer and the Aurora Australis Southern Lights.
The Rakiura Track is a 36km circular route rated easy to moderate and the guided walk is spread over four days starting in Invercargill. The second day takes in a pleasant ramble from Oban in Half Moon Bay around the east coast to Port William Hut, with time to explore the historic sawmill sites at Horseshoe Bay and Maori Beach.
Next day the track turns inland under towering rimu, totara and miro trees thick with epiphytes and ferns in magical forest grottos. Crossing a summit ridge with breathtaking views you descend to North Arm Hut. The final day is an easy stroll around the shoreline of Paterson Inlet to sheltered Kidney Fern Arm, following a logging road to Half Moon Bay.
On this track you get to really appreciate the remoteness of Stewart Island, the lushness of the forest and the dazzling array of bird life. Sooty shearwaters and penguins are prolific on the coast and the forest peals with the bell-like call of the bellbird. Parakeets welcome you with a joyous high-pitched screech, while weka, kiwi and kaka shyly introduce themselves.
Walking the Rakiura Track you automatically become a naturalist avidly exploring a primordial environment, gaining unique insights into a natural world that seems eons removed from modern day life.
Stewart Island is just 20 minutes by air from Invercargill Airport or one hour by catamaran from Bluff. There’s a wide range of accommodation in Half Moon Bay.
Hump Ridge Track, Southland
South Island’s dramatic southern extremity has an ‘edge of the world’ quality that makes our newest multi-day walk a wilderness treasure set in a bizarre sculptured landscape of house-sized rock tors, icy alpine tarns and weird limestone formations.
The three-day, 53km loop walk is rated moderate with some hard sections. It calls for long days but a heli-lift service ensures that backpacks don’t need to be carried on the first day. The October to April guided walk begins in Tuatapere with a helicopter flight to the track start.
Wooden boardwalks ease your passage on the climb to the Hump Ridge, following a sinuous course until you feel ‘on top of the world,’ above worry level at Otaka Hut. The summit has a Lord of the Rings atmosphere where it’s easy to imagine Orcs are secreted behind craggy rocks.
Next morning a steep descent follows to a fascinating coastline where you trek along an old logging tramway that crosses mighty viaducts, including Percy Burn, the largest surviving wooden trestle bridge in the world. Once you reach Port Craig Hut, Hector’s dolphins may entertain you as they cavort around the old wharf piles.
The final day is a pleasant ramble along marine terraces clothed in some of the last remaining virgin beech in Waitutu Forest. Rimu tree lineage here goes back to the dinosaur era and the beaches hold million-year-old sandstone fossil shells.
Tuatapere is 1.5 hour’s drive west of Invercargill and 1 hour south of Te Anau. Hump Ridge Track is a physical challenge with three 7 to 9 hour days but the scenic rewards make it a wilderness experience of treasured memories.
Hollyford Track, Fiordland
Rich birdsong fills the forest canopy, wood pigeons whoosh overhead and paradise ducks screech as you enter the Hollyford Valley, beginning an outdoor education experience that captures the very essence of New Zealand’s wilderness and heritage.
The Hollyford Track fully-inclusive 27km guided walk is relatively easy, being confined to the valley floor. It traverses what is arguably New Zealand’s most scenically beautiful glacial valley from the mountains to the sea by means of foot, jet boat and helicopter.
The adventure starts with coach travel to the valley head and a 20km walk through a beautiful botanic world to Pyke Lodge. It’s a Tolkienesque scene where tangled rata vines and epiphytes cling tenaciously to tree trunks and mosses and lichens turn gnarly branches into goblin limbs.
An early morning wake-up stimulates the senses as you watch dawn break on the glassy expanse of Lake Alabaster. A thrilling jet boat ride takes you down Lake McKerrow, followed by a pleasant stroll to Martin’s Bay Hut. Nature’s delicate artistry is revealed in unfurling gossamer thin fern fronds, glistening water droplets and miniature orchid blooms.
The final day is a fascinating combination of a fur seal colony, beach walk, pioneer’s homestead and a sightseeing flight to Milford Sound. Walkers invariably come away from this monumental valley with unforgettable memories of its heroic, heart-rending pioneer stories, pristine forests and landscapes.
The Hollyford Valley is a 2.5 hour drive from Queenstown and 1.5 hours from Te Anau to the track start at Humboldt Creek Bridge. Guided parties are limited to 16 people.
Milford Track, Fiordland
Even a superabundance of superlatives falls short of describing New Zealand’s first-established and best-known Great Walk. It’s often called the ‘finest walk in the world’, and every Kiwi outdoor lover dreams of doing it.
The Milford Track guided walk covers 54km over four days on a well-graded moderate track. This iconic New Zealand hike offers an experience of Fiordland’s World Heritage Area at its most spectacular; luxuriant rainforest, sheer glacial canyons, deep lakes, silent fiords and cascading waterfalls.
The journey begins with a boat trip to the head of Lake Te Anau and an easy stroll to Glade House. Next morning there’s a quiet walk skirting the crystal-clear Clinton River in virgin bush to reach Hirere Falls for lunch. Then it’s on to Pomplona Lodge, enjoying great views of dramatic ice-carved Clinton Canyon.
Next day you commence a slow climb on a well-graded zigzag path to cross the jaw-dropping heights of Mackinnon Pass before plunging down into Arthur Valley to Quinton Lodge. A 90-minute side trip leads to Sutherland Falls, the fifth highest in the world.
The final day is a long tramp over varied terrain, tracing the Arthur River to the trailhead at Sandfly Point. A cruise across Milford Sound takes you to Mitre Peak Lodge where you will sleep soundly and dream of your conquest of the wildest, most isolated part of New Zealand.
Queenstown and Te Anau are the main bases for the Milford Track and the start point for the ferry boat is Te Anau Downs on Lake Te Anau. The main hiking season is October to April.
Routeburn Track, Queenstown
Experience the ultimate alpine adventure on New Zealand’s second most famous Great Walk, which offers the finest vistas of both the Fiordland and Mt Aspiring national parks.
The Routeburn is utterly sublime, having the capacity to lift you way beyond the normal outdoor world. Like the Milford Track, it’s a gloriously remote and untouched wilderness pathway that leaves you overwhelmed by the immensity of the landscape.
The three-day, 39km guided walk is rated moderate and commences with a briefing in Queenstown or Te Anau. The journey begins with a climb to Key Summit to admire alpine herb gardens and superb views. Then you traverse silver beech forest dripping with wispy tufts of ‘old man’s beard’ and alive with cheeky robins, timid tomtits and flitting fantails en route to Lake Mackenzie Lodge.
Next morning you sidle along the Hollyford Face amidst a profusion of alpine daisies, buttercups, gentians and edelweiss to the Harris Saddle. A side trip to Conical Peak opens up a 360-degree panorama of snowy grandeur across the Southern Alps. A short descent above serene Lake Harris leads to Routeburn Falls Lodge.
The final day continues the descent to lush pastures on Routeburn Flats, skirting a magnificent gorge. After this experience you may want to reflect on the ineffable joy of alpine tramping and how mountains seem to put life back into perspective.
The Routeburn Track guided walk starts from The Divide on the Milford Road and finishes in Queenstown. Ample accommodation is available in Queenstown and Te Anau for those who wish to explore other local walks.
Heaphy Track, Nelson
Hiking (or tramping to New Zealanders) is not just a hobby in New Zealand; it’s a way of life and nowhere satisfies the craving for fresh air, sunshine and wide open spaces better than the Heaphy Track. This renowned 82km, six-day guided walk is graded moderate and crosses the Kahurangi National Park from Golden Bay to the West Coast, in the northwest South Island.
The walk begins with a two-hour coach trip from Motueka over ‘Marble Mountain’ to the Aorere Valley, where you climb through lowland beech forest to Perry Saddle Hut. It continues with an easy ramble across rolling red tussock land on the Gouland Downs before entering an ‘enchanted forest’ of beech dotted with weird limestone outcrops to reach Saxon Hut.
The next challenge is a solid trek in lush forest to MacKay Hut, (an optional overnight site) and on towards Lewis Hut, with track margins resplendent in a carpet of bright green mosses, lichens and fungi. The track then enters a magical realm of nikau palms in a jungle-like setting.
The next morning rewards you with a gentle stroll to Heaphy Hut, walking through nikau, podocarp and rata forest with options to comb the beach, swim in the lagoon and watch a brilliant sunset. The final day is a coastal walk through nikau palm groves with pounding surf as background music to arrive at Kohaihai track end before returning to Nelson and Motueka.
At Motueka there is provision for car storage and also onward connections after the Great Walk. The track is open for mountain bikes from 1 May to 30 September each year.
Abel Tasman Coastal Track, Nelson
Abel Tasman, New Zealand’s smallest and most popular national park, is named after Abel Janszoon Tasman, the first European to discover New Zealand.
This 58km, five-day easy going Great Walk weaves around bush-fringed granite headlands between a succession of beautiful golden sand beaches, coves, inlets, bays and islands. Birdsong is plentiful and sightings of seals, little blue penguins and dolphins are common.
The track begins by following easy contours through open country. Then it enters beech forest and eventually turns inland, winding in and out of gullies before bursting out on a beautiful seascape in Torrent Bay to reach Anchorage Hut.
The morning calls for a shallow tidal estuary crossing, followed by a bush walk that includes a 47-metre suspension bridge to arrive at Bark Bay. Day three has another wading exercise, leading to the Tonga Saddle and Awaroa Hut.
Next morning enjoy a six-hour ramble over the inlet and around to Totaranui. Then you meander through forest to Anapai Bay, before detouring to Separation Point seal colony and arriving at Whariwharangi Hut. The final day is a short climb to a saddle overlooking Wainui Inlet and continuing to the track end and a return to Nelson via Takaka.
Nelson is on the eastern shores of Tasman Bay and is the oldest city in the South Island. Marahau is 67km from Nelson. This guided walk uses Department of Conservation huts.
Kaikoura Wilderness Walkway
An all-inclusive guided walk into the Puhi Peaks Native Reserve in the Kaikoura high country is an enjoyable out-of-this-world experience, where you return to your luxury lodge each evening.
This true alpine wilderness is just 30km from Kaikoura and is based in the private Shearwater Lodge. Many native birds are seen here, along with red deer, chamois and the rare Arapawa Island sheep. It’s the habitat of the endangered Hutton’s shearwater, kea, black-eyed gecko, giant weta and native falcon.
The first walk is a moderate grade, six-hour circuit through manuka, beech, rimu and totara stands viewing a mountain called ‘World of the Gods’ in the snow-capped Seaward Kaikouras.
Next day you follow another circuit through steep-sided alpine valleys to Surveyor’s Peak Lookout, before crossing Seaward Saddle. The final day has a leisurely walk to Beverley Falls, before descending a ridge track to Puhi Peaks Station to meet your transport back to Kaikoura.
Kaikoura is a 2.5 hour drive north of Christchurch and two hours south of Picton. The lodge arranges transport to and from Kaikoura.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Ruapehu
Step into the presence of the smouldering giants like Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu on the North Island’s Central Plateau and get a real sense of how these fiery volcanoes have forged this land.
Often described as the ‘best one day walk in the world,’ this 19km moderate grade guided walk can be combined with a guided climb to Mt Ruapehu’s Crater Lake on another day.
The track winds through an alien landscape of bizarre lava sculptures, sidles around a volcanic cone with a skirt of shifting scoria. It then passes active geothermal areas, arid badlands along with blue and emerald lakes, before crossing alpine meadows and descending through forest to the road end.
This World Heritage Area was the location for scenes of ‘Mordor’ and ‘Mt Doom’ in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Many other walking options are available in the park, including the Tongariro Northern Circuit, another Great Walk.
Guided walk pick-ups are from Rotorua, Taupo or Whakapapa on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu, 45km south of Turangi on SH48. This walk is strictly weather-dependent.