If you're heading to New Zealand to watch the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, why not make the most of your trip by exploring its world-famous natural landscapes on foot? New Zealand's 10 Great Walks highlight the staggering and diverse beauty this country has to offer, with alpine peaks, coastal paths, luscious rainforests, and rare wildlife. There's even opportunities to follow in the footsteps of Māori tribes.
Here, we guide you through everything to expect on each low-impact trail, including a brand new Great Walk due to open later in the year.
Best for: Beach swims
Duration: 3-5 days
The Abel Tasman Coast Track hugs the shoreline, allowing you to explore New Zealand's golden beaches and luscious coastal forests. Taking anywhere between 3-5 days to complete, the trail is good for those who are new to walking or with a low level of fitness as it has little elevation and a manageable terrain. There's beach hut accommodation you can book, but it’s also worth carrying a tent with you, as the campsites en route offer some of the most breathtaking beach front views. The mild climate here makes for great year-round trekking.
Best for: Wildlife and waterfalls
Duration: 3-4 days
The awe-inspiring landscape on this hike is hard to beat, Kepler Track shows off all the best parts of Fiordland. From soaring mountains and glacier carved valleys, to magical waterfalls and native forests, this is what New Zealand is all about. Along the way you may spot keas, the world’s only alpine parrot - but do be cautious as they may steal your snacks. The starting point is around two hours from Queenstown, and just five minutes from Te Anau. It’s best to check the forecast before starting your trek, as the conditions can frequently change.
Best for: A historic journey
Duration: 4-6 days
Once walked by Māori tribes, the Heaphy track traverses through thick forests and onto the wild West Coast. An hour from Westport, this trail boasts the best of both New Zealand’s nature and history, with a chance to spot native wildlife, plants and rocks - some of which are up to 500 million years old. Those who are extremely lucky maybe even spot the great spotted Kiwi. Do beware, it can rain a lot on this walk, so make sure you pack your rain jacket and waterproofs.
Best for: Volcano hikes
Duration: 3-4 days
Heat things up on a hike around Mt Ngauruhoe, an active volcano in Tongariro National Park. This trail does pass through a volcano hazard zone, so do be aware of the risks. But if you book with experienced guide operators Adrift Tongariro and Chris Jolly Outdoors, you will be in the best hands for witnessing craters, explosion pits, lava flows and the breathtaking volcanic landscape. While exploring the World Heritage area, you’ll also be able to spot karearea, the New Zealand falcon which flies at more than 100mph and can catch prey six times its body weight.
Best for: Birdwatching and epic photos
Duration: 2-4 days
Linking Mount Aspiring National Park with Fiordland National Park, the Routeburn Track may be the shortest Great Walk, but is one of the most challenging. There are steep, rocky sections and climbs up to 1,255m above sea level. The scenery will reward your efforts, with sweeping views of mountain peaks, valleys and the Fiordland’s most impressive waterfall, Earland Falls. The walk is filled with native bird species, and you can also explore knowing you’re following in the footsteps of early Māori tribes, who once traversed this track in search for pounamu (greenstone).
Best for: Wilderness magic
Duration: 4 days
This is New Zealand’s most famous walk, and deservedly so after welcoming hikers for more than 150 years. The trail is so magical that Rudyard Kipling named it the ‘eighth natural wonder of the world’. Hikers will experience New Zealand’s untouched world, seeing the mighty Mackinnon Pass and Sutherland Falls en route. Some even prefer to explore in the rain, watching the water pour down the mountainsides. You can only access this hike by catching a boat, and it’s best to book in advance as it can sell out during peak times of the year.
Best for: Peace and solitude
Duration: 3 days
Passing through early Māori settlements, this walk lets you explore up to 80% of the South Island in just three days. This is the perfect walk for spotting Kiwis, or at least searching for evidence of the notoriously shy bird. Listen out for its calls and watch out for its footprints, and make sure to bring a red light so you can look but not disturb. Other than kiwis, you will be able to go bird spotting on Stewart Island and see tui, fantails, kereru and even little blue penguins. Stewart Island is also an International Dark Sky Reserve, a great place for seeing the dazzling Southern Lights.
Best for: Searching for gold
Duration: 3 days
One of New Zealand’s most recent walks which opened in 2019 is the Paparora Track. Just 40 minutes from Greymouth, the trail follows in the footsteps of early gold miners and settlers, and links to Pike29 Memorial Track which remembers the 29 miners who sadly lost their lives in the Pike Mine disaster. Hikers will wind through snowcapped mountains, limestone landscapes and rainforests bursting with life. Our very own Pheobe Smith took on the Paparoa Track before it opened to the public in 2019.
Best for: Spiritual journey
Distance: 87km or 145km
Duration: 3 or 5 days
Although not technically speaking a ‘walk’, this kayak or canoe adventure follows the Whanganui River and provides one of the most spiritual and memorable journeys in New Zealand. As you paddle downstream in a kayak or canoe, passing by canyons and rainforests, you’ll be able to connect with many significant cultural sites which have importance to the Māori population, including the Tieke Kāinga village. There’s also the chance to catch a glimpse of short and long tailed bats, the country’s only native mammal. This is a fantastic trip to do on a group tour with friends, but you must be a strong swimmer to do so.
Best for: A new adventure
Duration: 3 days
Due to be New Zealand’s next Great Walk, the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track is a three-day loop around the south coast offering the most awe-inspiring sub-alpine views of Steward Island, Fiordland coastlines and the Southern Ocean. This is the only private walk open on national park land in New Zealand, and is one of the more challenging hikes, covering a great distance in a few days and with a 1,000m ascent on one day. Want to be one of the first to take on this Great Walk? Book your guided tour with Hump Ridge Track and Tuatara Tours.
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