Multi-Day Hiking in New Zealand: How to Plan the Perfect Trip for You

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New Zealand has earned itself a reputation as one of the world's ultimate hiking destinations. So strap on your best pair of hiking boots, learn about New Zealand's best multi-day hiking trails and discover what makes a multi-day hike 'down under' so special.

Also check out the Active Blog - "Multi-day Hiking in New Zealand’s Backcountry, and 8 Reasons Why You Should Go Guided"

What makes a multi-day hiking trip in New Zealand so unique?

Imagine hiking through some of the world's most stunning native forests - where there's not a single insect or animal that can harm you. The trail is nicely groomed and soft to the step, with a blanket of beach leaves on the forest floor. You follow this trail until you break the tree line, and a few steps later you're exposed you to complete 360 degree views of the surrounding rugged granite peaks.

Continuing into the vast tussock alpine you'll come across a tranquil lake high on a mountain top - with a cosy hut sitting on its shores. When you arrive at the hut you'll kick off your hiking boots, celebrate your successful journey and share stories of adventure with your comrades as the sun sets over the mountains. Take a moment to reflect on your day and enjoy a delicious candle-lit dinner with a well-earned glass of wine, before settling in for a comfortable night's sleep.

You'll wake to an electric-orange glowing sunrise. The silence is only broken by a light mountain breeze passing the hut and the cheeky laughter of a family of Kea flying over head. After a hot breakfast it's time to slip on the boots and head off to the next hut... which is only a few ridges away.

This is what multi-day hiking in New Zealand is all about, and this is why we love it.

Video: Experience a 3 day hike in the Nelson Lakes National Park. See this on our 'Rimu - Ultimate South Island Adventure'

How to choose a multi-day hiking trail in New Zealand

Trekking in New Zealand, multi-day hiking or backpacking trips into the backcountry is commonly known to us Kiwi's as 'tramping'... and it's one of our favourite things to do. So when you visit New Zealand, you're visiting a country full of people that have adventure in their veins, and love sharing their back yard with like-minded people from all corners of the planet.

New Zealand has a network of over 500 incredible hiking trails which meander their way through the great kiwi countryside, connecting our most dramatic mountains, rain forests, river valleys and glacier fields. The length of New Zealand's best hiking trails vary from single day hikes to overnight treks and  multi-day hikes - which can take up to seven nights to complete. And many of these treks are geographically close enough to string together into one much longer hiking trip. 

But having this much choice can make it difficult for keen hikers to choose their next hiking trail to explore – be it on a fully-guided trek, or by carrying their own backpack and staying in the Department of Conservation (DOC) huts or in tents.  So do plenty of research, and ask the experts for advice on which hikes are the best. 

And remember, unlike treks elsewhere in the world, when you're hiking in New Zealand’s National Parks, there are no hostels, refugeos, tea houses or shops along the way, so you have to carry all you need for the duration of the trek (unless you opt for one of the few, and more expensive 'Great Walks' guided treks - read on to find out more about these).

New Zealand’s Great Walks

kepler track

The New Zealand Great Walks are our nine most popular and well-known multi-day hikes. The primary purpose of the Great Walks is to provide a safe and easy path through some of New Zealand's most stunning landscapes.

In years gone by, the Department of Conservation (DOC) required hikers to check-in at the local office prior to departing on their hike, and check-out when they complete the hike. But with many hikers forgetting to check-out, DOC would think the hikers are lost in the mountains and large scale man hunts were a regular occurrence... even though the 'missing' hikers were already on the road, half way to their hotel.

So the system of checking-in and out of a hike was put to bed, and the Great Walks were born. These hand-picked trails were widened and manicured with obvious sign posting, making it almost impossible for novice hikers to get lost on them. These trails are the safest and easiest way to hike into New Zealand's back country, which make them very popular for international visitors. So popular in fact, that access to the trails that make up the 9 Great Walks of New Zealand is strictly regulated during peak season. Although there is no regulation on how many people can hike the trail per day, the regulation comes from the limited spaces available in each of the mountain huts along the way, which need to be booked months in advance.

The trails which make up the 10 Great Walks of New Zealand include:

Trekking and guided walks in New Zealand are a little bit different to the rest of the world

The concept of trekking as seen in destinations like the Himalayas doesn't totally apply to New Zealand. Nowhere in New Zealand do you have the option of hiring porters to carry your gear, and there are no tea houses to book into overnight to avoid carrying sleeping bags, tents and stoves. The closest match to trekking as experienced overseas are probably the guided walks – companies running fully-guided hikes along some of the Great Walks (Milford and Routeburn Tracks), and other Department of Conservation and private tracks (Hollyford, Hump Ridge and Banks Peninsula Tracks). These companies have their own private huts, with much better facilities – proper beds, hot showers, and cooked three course meals – though of course you have to pay for the privilege of these home comforts – currently over NZ$2000 for the 5-day Milford Track. The advantage is of course that you need only carry essentials with you in a day-pack, so they are a lot less daunting than a self-guided trek.

Popular New Zealand multi-day treks for those hikers who want to avoid the crowds

Routeburn Track lookout

Apart from the well-established Great Walks listed above (a few of which can be experienced as a guided trip) the majority of treks in New Zealand are self-guided missions, staying in backcountry huts or camping in tents overnight. Most of these treks are off the tourist path, they're the trails that we Kiwi's choose to hike because you can hike for days on end without seeing a single other hiker. You feel like New Zealand is yours to own, and you'll be expecting to see Bilbo Baggins from the Lord of the Rings around any corner.

These are the trails that we Kiwi's grew up exploring. We know them like the back of our hands, and we love sharing them with keen adventurers - just like you! These walking trails are still managed by the Department of Conservation - so they're well maintained, they're safe and perfect for complete novice hikers and seasoned adventurers alike.

What are the benefits of doing a fully guided multi-day hike, over doing it by yourself?

1. The absolute best hikes (in our opinion) don't feature high on the tourist map - this is why we love them so much. So finding blogs, maps and advice on these hikes can prove quite difficult. By travelling with a group of locals, we'll take the hard work out of deciding which multi-day hikes will make the most of your time in New Zealand.

2. Most of New Zealand's best multi-day hikes start and finish in a different location. This makes it difficult to plan transport and shuttles from point A to point B. So by taking a guided trip, any of these logistics are completely taken care of for you. 

3. When you see the rugged beauty of New Zealand's jurassic landscapes, you'll wonder how they were formed, and how man came to live in a place like this. By taking a guided tour, you'll get an in-depth lesson of our history - be it landscapes, fauna, flora and indigenous culture.

4. Surviving a multi-day hike in New Zealand requires a fair bit of equipment. You'll need enough clothing to be prepared for all 4 seasons; rain, hail, snow and shine. You'll need cooking equipment, meal food, snacks, a first aid kit, torches, sleeping bags, toiletries and a rubbish bag (to take out what you bring in). But if you take a guided tour, the guides will take the lions share of the load - including the food, cooking equipment, first aid and rubbish. That'll lighten your load quite nicely, and you'll be able to spend more time enjoying the views than thinking about how sore your back is.

5. If you find you're out of your depth for fitness or you sustain an injury along the way, your guides will make sure you get home safely and in comfort. Our New Zealand guides are highly trained in first aid and mountain safety, and they'll stay by your side every step along the way.

Video - Take a look at what our travellers are saying about joining a multi-day guided hiking tour:

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Written by Active Adventures

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