New Zealand's Great Walks: A Comprehensive Guide for Hikers
For those with a passion for hiking, New Zealand offers the ultimate adventure through its renowned 'Great Walks'. These 11 multi-day trails, set amidst some of the country’s most breathtaking landscapes, promise an unforgettable experience. Before embarking on these trails, there are key things to consider, from hut bookings to essential gear.
Essential Planning for New Zealand’s Great Walks
Booking Huts and Campsites
While permits are not required for the Great Walks, the Department of Conservation (DOC) mandates booking huts and campsites in advance to minimize environmental impact. Facilities in these huts vary, but typically include bunk beds, cooking amenities, and basic utilities. Bookings open in June for the season running from October to April, and given their popularity, especially for tracks like the Milford and Abel Tasman Coast, early booking is crucial.
Packing Essentials for the Trail
The packing list for these trails should include a high-quality hiking pack, sturdy hiking shoes, and possibly hiking sandals for trails with water crossings. Essentials also include thermals, a rain jacket, cooking equipment, and food for independent travelers. Tour operators often provide meals and snacks for their guests.
Trail Difficulty and Preparation
All Great Walks are graded 'intermediate', with varying degrees of difficulty. They are well-maintained with clear signage, making them accessible for both beginners and experienced hikers. Using apps like 'Plan My Walk' for packing lists and track alerts is highly recommended, especially for less confident hikers.
Budgeting for the Great Walks
Costs vary based on the trail and accommodation choice. For example, the Abel Tasman Coast Track's DOC hut costs NZ$56 per night, while campsites are NZ$24 per night. Additional costs include transport to the trailhead, which is around NZ$50 each way. Guided tours offer a more inclusive and luxurious option but at a higher price point.
Travel Tips and Seasonal Considerations
- Best Time to Visit: The Great Walks season runs from late October to late April, with some trails accessible year-round. The South Island, particularly the southern half, tends to be cooler and wetter. Hiking outside the main season (May to September) is advised only for highly experienced hikers.
- Getting There: Airlines like British Airways, Air New Zealand, and Emirates offer flights from London to key New Zealand cities, with the journey taking approximately 24 hours.
- Tour Packages: Companies like Trailfinders offer comprehensive packages that include several of the Great Walks, providing a structured way to experience multiple trails.