Take A Hike: A Boot-Wearer’s Guide to New Zealand’s Epic ‘Great Walks’

Post originally Published January 26, 2024 || Last Updated January 26, 2024

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Take A Hike: A Boot-Wearer's Guide to New Zealand's Epic 'Great Walks' - Packing Essentials for Trekking New Zealand Trails

Before embarking on any New Zealand hiking adventure, it’s crucial to pack wisely. The country’s dramatic landscapes and temperamental weather demand proper preparation and the right gear. While overpacking is a common mistake, going too minimalist can leave you uncomfortably cold, wet, and hungry when conditions rapidly change. Follow these packing tips from veteran Kiwi hikers and take only what you need for safety, comfort, and enjoyment on the trails.

Sturdy hiking boots with good ankle support are non-negotiable for New Zealand’s rugged terrain. Break them in well before your trip. Sandals or light sneakers will suffice for short day walks, but multi-day treks require waterproof boots to withstand mud, streams, and rain. Quality socks that wick moisture are also essential for blister prevention.

For clothing, a good rule of thumb is to dress in light breathable layers that can be added or removed as temperatures fluctuate. Merino wool and synthetics trump cotton for speedy drying when sweaty or wet. Bring base layers, fleece, and a waterproof outer shell jacket. Pants should be durable, quick-drying and stretchy for full range of motion. Many hikers opt for convertible pants with zip-off legs for flexibility. Don’t forget a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
Even during New Zealand’s warmer months, nights and early mornings can be quite chilly in alpine areas. A down jacket, beanie, and gloves are smart additions for colder weather. For hut-based adventures, pack a sleep sheet or sleeping bag rated to withstand frigid overnight lows. Earplugs and an eye mask can help you sleep better in shared bunkrooms.

Along the trails, snacks and plenty of water are vital. Energy bars, trail mix, and electrolyte supplements will keep you energized and hydrated. In case huts are full, a portable stove, cookset, and freeze-dried meals allow flexibility for camping. Likewise, a high quality sleeping pad and compact tent can turn any trailside spot into a campsite.

A robust daypack (25 liters or more) comfortably holds gear for full-day excursions. Trekking poles will save your knees during long descents. Don’t forget basic first aid, blister care, sun protection, insect repellent, toilet paper, and a flashlight. When overnighting in huts, you'll need a bowl, mug, cutlery, towels, and earplugs. For longer independent hikes, consider a locator beacon for emergencies.

What else is in this post?

  1. Take A Hike: A Boot-Wearer's Guide to New Zealand's Epic 'Great Walks' - Packing Essentials for Trekking New Zealand Trails
  2. Take A Hike: A Boot-Wearer's Guide to New Zealand's Epic 'Great Walks' - Top Short Walks for Casual Hikers
  3. Take A Hike: A Boot-Wearer's Guide to New Zealand's Epic 'Great Walks' - Multi-Day Hikes for Serious Backpackers
  4. Take A Hike: A Boot-Wearer's Guide to New Zealand's Epic 'Great Walks' - Planning Your Hut-to-Hut Adventure
  5. Take A Hike: A Boot-Wearer's Guide to New Zealand's Epic 'Great Walks' - Best Times of Year for Hitting the Trails
  6. Take A Hike: A Boot-Wearer's Guide to New Zealand's Epic 'Great Walks' - Staying Safe While Hiking solo
  7. Take A Hike: A Boot-Wearer's Guide to New Zealand's Epic 'Great Walks' - Taking in New Zealand Vistas Along the Way
  8. Take A Hike: A Boot-Wearer's Guide to New Zealand's Epic 'Great Walks' - After the Hike: Soaking in Natural Hot Springs

Take A Hike: A Boot-Wearer's Guide to New Zealand's Epic 'Great Walks' - Top Short Walks for Casual Hikers

For travelers who want a taste of New Zealand's stunning landscapes without committing to an epic multi-day trek, the country offers countless top-notch short walks suitable for casual hikers. These gentle rambles deliver big rewards in scenery while requiring only modest time and effort. From seaside cliffs to mountain peaks, a few hours on these postcard-worthy trails provides memories to last a lifetime.
One perennial favorite is the Hooker Valley Track in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. This mostly flat 10km out-and-back follows the glacial Hooker River through grassy meadows fringed by epic peaks like Aoraki/Mt. Cook and Mt. Sefton. After about 3 hours, you'll reach the trailhead's crescendo - an up-close view of the impressive Hooker Glacier. The terrain is gentle enough for nearly all ages and fitness levels. Yet you still capture that quintessential New Zealand mix of glaciers, turquoise waters, and towering mountains.

Equally stunning is Lake Matheson near Fox Glacier township. Its calm, mirrored surface perfectly reflects the Southern Alps on clear days - creating an unforgettable scene. A gentle 1.5 hour circuit around the lake takes in various angles of Matheson's "view of views." Early mornings before winds pick up offer your best chance at an iconic reflection shot. Later in the day, the easy Rainforest Walk loop adds another hour of lush greenery.
The Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Walk at Punakaiki is another South Island favorite, known for its fascinating limestone formations and coastal scenery. This 2 hour loop tours the pancake-stacked cliffs and surging blowholes during high tide. Time your visit for big waves to witness the blowholes forcefully spraying water high into the air - an impressive sight. The layered rock formations alone make the easy walk worthwhile.

North Island brims with top short walks too. The Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway near Auckland delivers gorgeous coastal vistas along 5km of seaside bluffs. Starting from Mangawhai Heads, ramble over grass-topped cliffs for panoramas of the Pacific Ocean below. 1-2 hours brings you to a sandy cove for swimming, sunbathing, or picnicking.

Tongariro Crossing may be the North Island's most famous long hike, but don't overlook its excellent short walk - the Taranaki Falls Track. This 2.5km loop through native bush showcases the island's only waterfall over 20 meters high. The thundering Taranaki Falls' sheer power and cascading tiers impress in under an hour, making it one of the North Island's top waterfall walks.

Take A Hike: A Boot-Wearer's Guide to New Zealand's Epic 'Great Walks' - Multi-Day Hikes for Serious Backpackers

For hardcore backpackers and avid trekkers seeking the ultimate multi-day adventure, New Zealand's network of Great Walks deliver the goods. These epic hut-to-hut tracks immerse hikers in some of the world's most incredible scenery for days on end. The camaraderie of the trails couples with physical challenges and a disconnect from the online world. According to many who've conquered New Zealand's legendary multi-day treks, completing a Great Walk becomes a life highlight alongside once-in-a-lifetime experiences like spotting mountain gorillas in Rwanda or gazing up at the Taj Mahal.

The famous Milford Track stands tall in Kiwi hiking lore as the country's first Great Walk constructed in 1888. Stretching 53.5km from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound deep within Fiordland National Park, the Milford Track treats backpackers to mind-blowing alpine scenery as it passes through beech forests, above gushing falls and glacial valleys. Hikers bunk down in cozy huts equipped with gas stoves, flush toilets and bunk beds after full days on the trail. Entire books have been devoted to the Milford Track’s majesty and rugged beauty. Lifetime memories from the 4-day adventure include sunrises over the Clinton valley and views of the thundering Sutherland Falls. Permit requirements manage crowds and protect the environment. For many seasoned trekkers, completing the Milford cements their identity as a New Zealand hiker.
New Zealand’s premiere hiking circuit, the 9-day Whanganui Journey combines canoeing, jet boating, and hiking along the Whanganui River and its tributaries. Starting from Mt. Tongariro, hikers trek and paddle over 290km through remote bush studded with historical and cultural sites. River with kayak
Every bend of the emerald Whanganui brings new scenery from native rainforests to volcanic stretches with turbulent rapids. Accommodations range from riverside campsites to a wilderness lodge. Guided group options provide extra insights but require less wilderness experience. The full Whanganui Journey takes planning and tenacity to complete, making it a rite of passage for serious multi-day trekkers.

Take A Hike: A Boot-Wearer's Guide to New Zealand's Epic 'Great Walks' - Planning Your Hut-to-Hut Adventure

New Zealand's hut-to-hut treks deliver an immersive backcountry experience unmatched elsewhere. Yet realizing such multi-day adventures requires diligent preparation months in advance. Follow these planning tips from Great Walk veterans and avoid rookie mistakes.
First, book your huts six months ahead, since beds fill fast in peak season. Department of Conservation’s online booking system opens specific dates half a year in advance for each Great Walk. On those mornings, be ready on your computer right at 8:30am to snag your preferred itinerary. You'll choose an easy start date from a range of options, then reserve consecutive nights at designated huts advancing each day’s distance. Hut fees average around $35 NZD per person per night.

Popular routes like the Milford Track sell out in minutes, so have back-ups ready in case you miss out on your first choice. For greater flexibility, consider bringing camping gear too. This allows you to pitch your tent when huts max out, rather than skipping a day or turning back early.

Having secured your hut sleeps, now focus on permits and reservations a few months out. Great Walks cap total visitor numbers based on environmental factors. You'll need to book a specific start date through DOC’s permit system that aligns with your hut itinerary. Per-person permit fees range from $40-170 NZD depending on track. Confirm all permit/booking details match your preferred dates before paying.

Carry printed permits displaying each overnight hut for ranger checks along the way. If huts indicate full capacity at booking, waitlist yourself in case of cancellations. Remaining spontaneous just isn’t realistic on the Great Walks anymore with their popularity. Accept the compromise of committing months ahead for the epic experience these tracks deliver.
As departure nears, research trail conditions and arrange transportation logistics. Bus shuttles can simplify transfers between trailheads and airports/towns. Pack proper gear and supplies listed on DOC’s website per each walk’s specific requirements. Physical training preps your body for long days on rugged terrain.

When budgeting, factor in all permit fees, hut costs, shuttle transport, and food/gear expenses. Guided group treks provide extra support but cost much more. Going self-guided does require diligent preparation yet delivers a more wilderness-focused experience. Determine which option best fits your needs and abilities.
Talk to recent Great Walk completers at online forums to gather insider tips. Kiwi hikers happily share advice on everything from how many hiking poles work best to what time of year the sand flies are least pesky in the huts. Their wisdom grants invaluable perspective.

Take A Hike: A Boot-Wearer's Guide to New Zealand's Epic 'Great Walks' - Best Times of Year for Hitting the Trails

Pinning down the prime time to hike New Zealand's Great Walks depends on many factors. Yet Kiwi trekkers who've logged endless trail miles agree the shoulder seasons of March-May and September-November generally deliver ideal conditions for most routes. Avoiding the crowds and unpredictable weather of summer and winter makes spring and autumn the best times for epic hiking adventures.
After the intense heat and busy tourist season of December-February, March brings welcomed cool down while the trails are less crammed.DOC starts transitioning the Great Walks to self-service mode around April. Hut wardens leave and you'll need to carry a Backcountry Hut Pass for self-check in. Trails remain consistently drier before winter rains intensify.
Veterans praise May as the absolute best month with comfortable temperatures, long sunlight hours for big mileage days, vivid fall colors emerging and fewer people on the tracks after summer rush. Mountain weather is typically more settled before winter storms roll in. Rivers run full and ferocious from snow melt for dazzling scenery.
Come September, the fiordland walks like Milford Track reopen after winter closure. Snow slowly recedes from alpine zones over September and October. DOC's online booking system opens more dates for these months - take advantage of the lighter crowds before peak season returns. Warmer layers are still needed but you'll welcome sunshine returning after a dark, cold winter.

November maintains spring-like conditions in most regions. Trails dry out further after October rains and winds die down. The moderate weather ensures you won't overheat lugging a heavy pack uphill for hours. Visitors numbers drop again after October school holidays. With long daylight, you can start early and log big mileage.
Some factors may shift ideal timing. If seeking wintry landscapes, schedule June-August treks for snow-capped scenery. However, prepare for more extreme weather, fewer daylight hours, and avalanche risks on icy trails. Or visit the sub-alpine circuit tracks like Kepler in December-January to escape crowds on ultra-popular walks like Milford.

Take A Hike: A Boot-Wearer's Guide to New Zealand's Epic 'Great Walks' - Staying Safe While Hiking solo

While solo hiking offers freedom and self-reliance, safety should remain the top priority when tackling New Zealand's rugged backcountry alone. Kiwi trails pose objective hazards from steep terrain and unpredictable weather to river crossings and wildlife encounters. Subjective risks also loom around physical conditioning, inadequate gear, and lack of wilderness experience. Yet with proper preparation, cautions and common sense, legions of intrepid wanderers hike safely solo on the islands each year. Their collective wisdom shares hard-earned tips for staying vigilant, avoiding unnecessary risks and enjoying treasured alone time in nature responsibly.
Before departing, diligently research your planned route and current conditions. Check weather forecasts frequently and tweak plans accordingly. Unexpected downpours and blizzards regularly catch hikers unaware in New Zealand's volatile mountain climate. Carry detailed topo maps, a compass and navigation app offline maps as backups. Share your precise solo itinerary with a trusted contact at home who can raise alarms if overdue.

While hiking, stay keenly alert to surroundings at all times. Make noise around corners to warn any nearby wildlife. Watch for natural hazards from loose rocks to tangled roots. Cross rivers with care as their currents easily knock you off balance. Stop frequently for food and water to keep energy and spirits high. If feeling unwell, rest immediately rather than pushing limits. Don't hesitate to turn back or detour if conditions deteriorate or objectives feel too risky. The mountains will be there another day.
When disaster strikes, don't panic but immediately assess the situation. Tend any injuries and get to safety. Seek help from other hikers if possible. Remember you carried a locator beacon for this very scenario. Initiate its emergency signal per device instructions when truly distressed. Practice ahead of time, since real emergencies make calm, methodical actions difficult.

While solo trekking inherently lacks a buddy system, practiced self-reliance bolsters safety immensely. Carry first aid and survival supplies you're capable of using independently. Master navigation/route-finding and outdoor living skills through experience and classes. Know when to say no to sketchy river crossings, icy slopes and other questionable calls without a second opinion available. Avoid complacency by regularly reevaluating conditions and preparedness. Stay conservative, not cavalier.

Take A Hike: A Boot-Wearer's Guide to New Zealand's Epic 'Great Walks' - Taking in New Zealand Vistas Along the Way

The sweeping vistas along New Zealand's trails offer far more than just scenic backdrops - they provide transportive moments that epitomize the country's essence. One glance at an alpine panorama and months of pre-trip planning feel justified. The sun emerging over the Tasman Sea, lighting up golden tussock grasses and distant peaks, imprints lifelong memories. Conquering a thigh-burning ascent pays dividends when the impossibly turquoise waters of a glacial lake sparkle into view. Some vistas even hold cultural and historical significance for native Māori who view them as sacred legacies of ancestors long past. Taking time en route to fully soak in these picture postcard scenes proves just as important as putting one foot in front of the other on New Zealand's storied tracks.
Veteran trampers insist the journey is made just as much by moments of awe as miles covered. Leaving hut bunks before dawn to glimpse Mt. Cook flushed pink in first light makes the early rise worthwhile. Scrambling up to an exposed ridge to eat your trail snacks while soaking up Views from the very top. Spotting your first wild kiwi darting furtively through dense bush. Watching the full moon ascend over ancient mountains cloaked in silver. New Zealand reveals herself in glimpses both grand and subtle. Tune into your senses. Breathe deep alpine air untainted by pollution. Listen to native birds filling the forest with ethereal song at dusk. Sip fresh water straight from a icy cascade. Let these simple pleasures nourish your spirit.

The diversity of New Zealand's landscapes ensures a non-stop parade of eye candy. Coastal tracks like the Queen Charlotte Track gazers out over the deep blue Marlborough Sounds as you trace secluded bays. Subalpine routes like the Circuit pass turquoise tarns nestled under The Remarkables. Temperate rainforest coated the Kepler Trail's panorama. Volcanic Tongariro crosses the vivid Emerald Lakes below Mt Ngauruhoe of "Mt Doom" fame. Even just hiking the first few photogenic kilometers of a Great Walk offers a vivid taste.

Take A Hike: A Boot-Wearer's Guide to New Zealand's Epic 'Great Walks' - After the Hike: Soaking in Natural Hot Springs

After long days on the trail, one of the best ways for weary hikers to unwind and rejuvenate tired muscles is by soaking in New Zealand's natural hot spring pools. The geothermal wonders scattered across the North and South Islands provide the perfect antidote to grueling uphill treks and sore knees. Slipping into the relaxing warmth lets you deeply exhale, tensions melting away as the mineral-rich waters work their magic.

Fellow trampers rave about how a long soak eases aching feet and newly formed blisters after intense mileage days. The heat penetrates deep to relax tightened muscles and tendons pushed to their limits lugging heavy packs. Your whole body begins to feel lighter almost immediately upon immersing in the thermally-heated pools. Butter-soft water envelops skin irritated by long days of sun exposure and windburn. Circulatory benefits boost recovery and leave you feeling remarkably refreshed.
The restorative respite of natural hot springs resonates both physically and mentally after the rigors of the trail. The steaming warmth feels indulgent but in a back-to-nature way that connects to New Zealand's primal side. Surrounded by mountains, forests, and steam rising in wispy spirals, the soak takes on an almost spiritual dimension. Native Māori consider the springs sacred treasures with legendary healing powers. Allow the stillness to calm your mind. Let the burbling, mineral-rich waters wash away stress. Focus on restoring inner balance and gratitude. Tomorrow's trails feel less daunting.
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