Which Great Walk is right for you?

Department of Conservation —  02/06/2022

Are you thinking of doing a Great Walk, but not sure which one? Here’s a handy guide. By Jayne Ramage

Walkers on Heaphy Track, and the 30 years of Great Walks icon
📷: © Miles Holden

Great Walks are the jewels in the recreation crown here in Aotearoa New Zealand. These multi-day hikes provide unparalleled access to some of the country’s most incredible natural landscapes, wildlife and cultural heritage. The experience of doing a Great Walk is awe-inspiring, exhilarating, and highly photogenic.

Two hikers by the water on the Routeburn Track in Fiordland.
📷: © Miles Holden

But like all hot commodities, some of these walks book out quickly. 

Happily, there are many Great Walks to choose from.

And not all of them fill up as fast as the Milford, that’s a myth.

Which Great Walk is right for you depends on a few factors: it’s important to make sure you have a walk that matches your fitness and skills, and that you’re well prepared for both the track and the weather. A good way to decide is to … walk through the options. (Pun absolutely intended).

Here are six possible scenarios and our suggestion for which Great Walk fits best.

Off we go!

1) I’d like to do a Great Walk with my three kids

We love your ambition. If your kids have some hiking experience and would be up to doing a multi-day hike, have a read up on the Abel Tasman Coast Track to see if it would be suitable.

The Abel Tasman is famous for its mild climate, golden beaches, sculpted granite cliffs and coastal native bush.

Visitors look out over Torrent Bay and Estuary from the Abel Tasman Coast track.
📷: © Shellie Evans

This track is 60km one way and graded as an Intermediate walk. That means the track is generally well formed, although some sections are steep and muddy. The track will have signs, poles or markers, and there is one compulsory tidal crossing.

Adventurers with a kayak on the Abel Tasman Coast Track
📷: © Pete Black

You can walk the whole track in either direction or just do a shorter section depending on your group’s time, ability, and enthusiasm. You can take a water taxi or kayak between locations. There are four huts and 18 campsites along the Abel Tasman Coast Track, which need to be booked in advance.

The Abel Tasman also has great options for people who want to stay somewhere beautiful but aren’t interested or able to tackle a long walk and just want to hang out on the beach. There’s also an option of doing a guided walk, which may include private accommodation, or our campsites.

Abel Tasman highlights include Cleopatra’s Pool with a picturesque rock pool to swim in, a long suspension bridge, and plenty of kekeno/fur seals who call the place home.

Cleopatra’s Pool natural pool
📷: © RaviGogna under CC BY 2.0.

You’re best positioned to know what is and isn’t within the abilities of your kids, but a reasonable level of fitness is needed. If you decide yours aren’t quite ready for the full Abel Tasman experience, you could take them for an overnight adventure with a water taxi, or we have an easily searchable and kid-friendly section of our website.

Maybe test them out on some shorter adventures first, to see if they hate it.

Just in case they decide that walking is the broccoli of the outdoors.

2) Me and my uni friends in О̄tautahi Christchurch want to try our first overnight tramp

That’s an elite study break. What about doing an overnight camping trip to Routeburn Flats Campsite on the Routeburn, or spending a night at Heaphy Hut on—you guessed it—the Heaphy?

That way you get all the fun of a Great Walk without committing to the whole thing before you know if everyone in your group can hack it.

Three walkers sitting along the Routeburn Track
📷: © Keri Moyle

Routeburn Flats Campsite and Routeburn Flats Hut are about 1.5 – 2.5 hours walk from the Routeburn Shelter (road end). You could stop there and reverse back out the next day, or extend your adventure and tackle the incline to spend the night at Routeburn Falls Hut.

Routeburn flats campsite cloaked in early morning mist
📷: Tahu Taylor-Koolen, DOC

Through trips on the Heaphy aren’t possible right now on account of storm damage to three bridges, but that won’t stop you from enjoying it.

The Heaphy Hut has gas cooking facilities and 32-bunks, so you can get the whole gang together. This hut has gas cooking facilities and running water, so it’s an adventure but not too rough.

Hikers track playing card games at a hut
📷: © Keri Moyle

There’s also a drive-in camping option at Kōhaihai Campsite, with beautiful nīkau forest. You can do lots of day walk adventures if you set up a home base at this point, as well as go whitewater kayaking, windsurfing or swimming in the river or at nearby Scotts Beach.

Tents pitched at Kōhaihai Campsite at golden hou
📷: Laura Honey, DOC

The University of Canterbury also has a tramping club, you could always reach out to them for suggestions.

Remember these sites need bookings, so you’re going to want to wrangle your pals quickly. Maybe don’t invite your flaky friend.

3) I’m a real outdoorsy person and I want to be at one with nature. Also, I snore.

Say no more. You definitely need to check out the camping options on the Kepler Track or the Routeburn.

Then you can snore and hike as much as you like.

A hiker with a pack looking back along the Routeburn Track
📷: © Keri Moyle

The Kepler is renowned for its spectacular vistas over vast mountain ranges and valleys. It can offer some challenging conditions though, so make sure you know what to pack and what to expect.

Also, expect kea in the alpine section of the track. They’re bird geniuses and will outsmart the best of us, so watch out for your stuff while hanging out with these endangered rascals.

Our advice for interacting with kea: watch your stuff, and do not feed them.

No matter how persuasive they are.

A kea grooming itself on the sign for Mt Luxmore summit
📷: © Lyn Trewella

Highlights of the Kepler include, but are not limited to, the Luxmore Caves and the spectacular Iris Burn Falls.

A hiker at Iris Burn hut tying their laces before setting out
📷: © Keri Moyle

PS: you can also stay in huts if you snore, we don’t bar snorers from entry. Most people know to expect some snorers in shared accommodation.

Ear plugs are on most of our packing lists for a reason.

4) I’m an experienced tramper who lives in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, but things are really busy for me right now and I can’t be away from work for long

We hear you. What about a zippy trip down to the Central North Island, and then up the beautiful Tongariro Northern Circuit for a 44.9km loop walk?

Enjoy alpine views so magnificent, they’ll push the urban stresses right out of your head.

Three hikers on the Tongariro Northern Circuit track
📷: Daniel Deans, DOC

This track is estimated to take three to four days and is graded as Intermediate but note there are seasonal restrictions around this. Book for the Great Walks season, as out of season (May to late October), the track should only be attempted by experienced trampers with high fitness.

Waihohonu hut exterior in Tongariro National Park
📷: Janette Asche

Picture yourself at Waihohonu hut, a mug of something hot and maybe sugary in hand, reflecting on the exhilarating adventure you just enjoyed. Tongariro highlights include the Emerald Lakes—which really are emerald!—incredible views, and sunsets and sunrises that are Instagram gold.

Sunset on the Tongariro Northern Circuit
📷: Jimmy Johnston, DOC

Sunsets are an excellent palette cleanser before going back to work.

5) My partner and I are visiting NZ from overseas and we’re keen to immerse in nature

Haere mai! Welcome! What about getting really off the beaten track and heading down to Rakiura/Stewart Island to explore the Rakiura Track?

Enjoy the peace and quiet of one of the world’s most remote locations with bush, birds and the beach at your side.

Two hikers studying a fold out map at a track junction on Rakiura
📷: © Keri Moyle

This is 32km loop trip will take three days to walk. Depending on recent weather, it can get muddy in sections so good footwear and gaiters are recommended. It’s an Intermediate Walk offering many opportunities to relax and unwind with nature. And if you don’t want to an overnight trip, you can get a water taxi for a shorter experience.

Rakiura highlights include tokoeka/kiwi—listen for their calls and look for their footprints!—and a lot of places to learn about the ngahere/forest, not to mention the remarkable Ulva Island and its bird life.

Two hikers leaving North Arm hut, one waving
📷: © Keri Moyle

You will return home with nature travel stories than no one at the pub can top, plus you’ll often get the satisfaction of pulling up pictures on your phone to prove to naysayers that Rakiura is a real place.

6) I want to do a beautiful walk but not a multi-night trip because I don’t think I have the fitness or the skills

No shame in that! Lots of people want to start with the Great Walks because of how beautiful and famous they are. It’s true, they are both those things, but they’re not for absolute beginners.

We have many options for shorter adventures on our websites, and plus you can do specific searches filtered on your ability, or, importantly, the ability of everyone in your adventure group. As a starter for ten, we suggest you scope out overnight adventures like Anchorage Hut, Ces Clarke Hut, or Perry Saddle Hut.

And as mentioned, some walks like the Abel Tasman, can be done as a guided walk. It could be worth investigating guided experience providers if this sounds like a bit of you.

Two hikers at the Abel Tasman lookout overlooking a section of the coast track
📷: Eduardo Villouta Stengl, DOC

At the end of the day

The 2022-23 booking season marks 30 years of Great Walks, and we want to make sure that the love gets shared between them.

Keeping these walks great is a collaborative effort. In particular: local iwi, community groups and businesses like Air New Zealand work with us to protect and conserve these iconic tracks and their biodiversity.

Remember to research your adventure before you book it, plan carefully, pack smart, and limit your impact outdoors by following the Tiaki Care Code.

Head to our booking system to claim your spot(s) for the upcoming season.

Happy adventuring!

For more about the Great Walks, head to www.doc.govt.nz/get-to-greatness

2 responses to Which Great Walk is right for you?


    Great article team, but you might want to correct this bit..

    “The 33km one-way Kepler” is neither one-way nor 33km. Maybe you meant Routeburn?