March 12th, 2018
Adventure Travel Bucket List: Great Walks in New Zealand
New Zealand is country full of diverse terrain, from stately mountains to dramatic lakes and shorelines. Though there are plenty of ways to explore, hiking one of the nine Great Walks is an adventure that should top everyone’s adventure bucket list.
It was a beautiful, bluebird blue sky day when we stood at the sign that announced the adventure. Slicked with mozzie (mosquito) repellent and lathered with sunscreen, I adjusted my pack and set off on the trail. After almost a week exploring New Zealand’s South Island, I had kayaked, bungee jumped, and even walked on a glacier. However, the next few days were the pinnacle of my trip and something I had been waiting to check off of my bucket list: hiking the Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks.
These multi-day hikes are located on both the North and South Island in New Zealand and, though they vary in length and difficulty, they all take trekkers through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, from pristine lakes to glacier-carved cliffs and coasts.
To figure out which hike is best for you, decide how much time you have and the level of difficulty you’d like to experience. The Walks vary in length from 32 kilometers (about 20 miles) to the 145 km (about 90 miles) Whanganui Journey, which is not a walk at all but a canoe journey down one of the longest rivers in the country. They’re also graded from easy to intermediate and can take between three and six days, depending on the route and your hiking speed. Most of the Walks incorporate overnights in huts, eliminating the need to carry a tent. During the busy season, these huts can fill up, so it’s important to book your bunk ahead of time. Packing earplugs isn’t a bad idea, either: Sometimes it can get loud in the bunk rooms!
If you have a limited amount of time to trek, don’t worry: You can still get a taste of the Great Walks. Though some hikes are circuits or loops, others (like the Routeburn) are “out and back,” which means that you can start at either the Routeburn Shelter (near Glenorchy) or at The Divide (closer to Te Anau) and walk for as far as you can, for a few hours or the entire three-day distance.
Another element to take into account is the time of year: some of the tracks can be obscured by avalanches during the winter or can experience high river levels during spring run-off. In general, the best time to tackle one of the Great Walks is from late October to late April, which falls during the spring and summer months in the southern hemisphere.
If you’re thinking of tackling a full Walk, consider hiring a guide or going with a group. If you’re an experienced trekker, this may not be necessary, but if you’re a novice or simply don’t want to spend the time sorting out details, planning meals, and reserving space in a hut, there are several companies that take groups on the Great Walks. For me, going with a group allowed me to focus on the experience and the phenomenally beautiful scenery instead of what I was going to eat for lunch.
The Kepler Trek was perhaps one of the most difficult—and rewarding—hikes that I had experienced and it set off my love for trekking. We traveled through forests, forged rivers, found alternate routes around washed out bridges and cozied up in the alpine huts with other trekkers in the evenings, wearing every layer that we had while sipping hot tea. It was challenging and extremely gratifying when we emerged over the swing bridge to Rainbow Reach.
Though there are currently nine Great Walks, a new one is set to open in 2019. The Paparoa Track will lead trekkers through a karst limestone landscape, allowing you to wander through an ancient forest and over the Paparoa Ranges.
It sounds like I need to start planning another trekking trip in New Zealand.
While Eagle Creek is here to provide tips and insights on travel, we cannot accept any responsibility for any potential consequences arising from the use of this information. Always conduct your own research and use your best judgment.
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by Katie Coakley
Katie Coakley is a Denver-based freelance writer who writes about travel, craft beer, and outdoor adventures. She’s just as happy sleeping on a ledge as in a five-star hotel. You can follow her journeys on Instagram.