New Zealand is paradise for hikers. Tramping, as hiking or walking is called here, is very popular and well organised. Most tramps are inside one of New Zealand’s 14 NPs and 19 National Forests.
From the northern tip to Stewart Island in the south, New Zealand stretches out for 1.600 km, and the country has a 10% larger area than Great Britain. Thanks to high rainfall, its elongated north-south position, geology, mountains and winds, the country offers an enormous variety in landscapes. You will find countless rivers and lakes filled with fish, lush rainforests, alpine ridges and active volcanoes. The coastline is seemingly endless and varied, and dotted with small beaches. In all these landscapes hiking trails have been laid out. Ideal if you are looking for wilderness and isolation.
Trails, or tracks as they are called locally, and so-called backcountry huts are mostly maintained by the Department of Conservation (DOC). Tramping is possible on all levels of difficulty. The DOC distinguishes 6 Track Categories:
- Easy Access Tracks (very short)
- Short Walks
- Walking track (2429 km): day hikes
- Great walks (380 km) and Easy tramping tracks (895 km): track is generally well formed, may be steep, rough or muddy
- Tramping tracks (7803 km): track is mostly unformed with steep, rough or muddy sections
- Routes (1458 km): challenging; Track is mostly unformed with steep, rough or muddy sections
A special category are the so-called 9 Great Walks. In fact there are only 8, because the Whanganui Journey is a paddling route. These Great Walks are very scenic, not too difficult, and consequently most popular. During high season – from mid December until late January – these are best avoided. The Great Walks are:
- Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk, 42 km, 4 days
- Tongariro Northern Circuit, 50 km, 4 days
- Whanganui Journey - paddle, 144 km, 5 days
- Abel Tasman Coast Track, 51 km, 5 days
- Heaphy Track, 78 km, 5 days
- Routeburn Track, 32 km, 3 days
- Milford Track, 54, 4 days
- Kepler Track, 60 km, 4 days
- Rakiura Track, Stewart Island, 36 km, 3 days
All tramps have huts and camp sites. You will need to bring your own food. Also bring your own stove for cooking, except on the Great Walks where the huts have a kitchen with stove. Most huts are basic and cheap, The better and popular ones may be staffed by a warden. There are three categories of huts:
- 1000 huts in the NPs. Payment with tickets purchased in advance at for instance DOC visitor information centres. You can also buy a Backcountry Hut Pass, valid for one year, and a good deal if used for 10 nights or more.
- There are a few Alpine Service Huts, high up in the mountains, which are a lot more expensive
- Great Walk Huts: these have their own separate ticket system and require a special Great Walks Pass. In addition these Great Walks, because of their popularity, are bookable online (DOC) and consequently frequently booked-out during high season.
Summer holidays in New Zealand run from mid December until late January. In this period walking trails are very busy. The Great Walks will be fully booked if you haven’t booked early. If you can avoid the high season, from mid November and until mid April is also a good time for hiking, although you may encounter snow high up in the mountains. Weather is changeable at all times.