Discover Some Of The Best Of New Zealand's Landscapes On This Trail

When you think of New Zealand, what springs to mind? Hiking, the Haka, and hobbits? Fjords and Flight of the Conchords? If your mind snagged on hiking and fjords, you might have heard of New Zealand's Great Walks — a series of unique tracks that traverse diverse ecosystems and dazzling vistas. As of 2023, there are 10 Great Walks, all passing through some of the country's most spectacular scenery. And that's saying something because all of New Zealand is pretty stunning.

All of the Great Walks are set up as multi-day treks. On the North Island, you can hike through a volcanic wonderland on the Tongariro Northern Circuit. Down on the South Island, many people choose a coastal adventure on the Abel Tasman Coast Trek. However, one of the best Great Walks to get a sense of the country's awe-inspiring scenery is the South Island's Routeburn Track. This 20-mile one-way trek winds through the Southern Alps (Kā Tiritiri o te Moana), passing majestic mountains, vast valleys, and beautiful bushland.

The Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track is in the southwest of New Zealand in Fiordland. The region is heart-stoppingly beautiful. Most walkers (or "trampers" as they're called in New Zealand) take three days and two nights to complete the hike. Hikers often start at the Routeburn Shelter and ease in with a 5.4-mile walk on the first day. This day takes walkers through beech forests and grasslands and across two swing bridges suspended over a lush valley.

The second day is a 7-mile hike with a big climb to the highest point of the track. Walkers have views of Lake Harris, which one reviewer on Google calls the highlight of the trek, and are surrounded by mountain peaks. The final day is a 7.5-mile tramp past Earland Falls, often giving trampers a much-needed shower as they spray onto the track. A Google reviewer calls the falls a delightful spot for a dip, so you might want to bring your swimwear. Next is another high point (literally) of the track at Key Summit, with incredible mountain views.

If the thought of an overnight backpacking trip fills you with horror, don't write the Routeburn track off. You can do several day hikes along the track. Try the 12-mile (round-trip) hike to the Routeburn Falls Hut. This hike gives you the mountain views the trek is famous for in a six to seven-hour hike. It starts from the Routeburn Shelter.

How to hike the Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Shelter, where most people start from, is just a 45-minute drive from popular Queenstown. You will need to arrange a shuttle or a company to transfer your car while you're on the trek. There are lots of local operators that can do this. You can also arrange to go on a fully guided walk on the track if you wish.

You can stay overnight at the Department of Conservation huts and campgrounds along the way. Staying in a hut is a true Kiwi experience and not to be missed; some trekkers have even declared the hut system their favorite part of New Zealand. Be aware that the Routeburn Track is popular, so book your place in advance. If you turn up to the hut or campground without a reservation in high season, you may be fined and-or turned away. You can book huts on the Department of Conservation website. There are three huts and two campgrounds spaced conveniently along the track.

And finally, when should you plan to do your big adventure? The New Zealand summer is, without a doubt, the best and safest time to go. November to April is the main Great Walks season; anyone who attempts the walk outside these months should have alpine skills.