New Zealand Hiking Tours: multi-day hikes
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).
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 9 Great Walks of New Zealand include:
- Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk
- Tongariro Northern Circuit
- Whanganui Journey (actually a kayak journey, managed by the Great Walks system)
- Abel Tasman Coastal Track
- Heaphy Track
- Routeburn Track
- Milford Track
- Kepler Track
- Rakiura Track
- Paparoa Track (opening in 2019)
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
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.
Our favourite multi-day hike in New Zealand is the Angelus Circuit in the Nelson Lakes National Park
Day 1: Saint Arnaud to Lakehead Hut
Our hike begins in the charming village of Saint Arnaud, on the edge of Nelson Lakes National Park. This is serious wilderness country, with incredible views and marvellous solitude. The park straddles the upper Southern Alps, an area composed of beech forests, big lakes and even bigger mountains.We’ll hike the relatively gentle trail through the forest alongside Lake Rotoiti to Lakehead Hut, a small mountain cabin at the head of the lake and our home for the night. Our guides are pretty tough and they’ll carry the lion’s share of the load. All you’ll be carrying is a backpack with your sleeping bag, a few spare clothes, and a share of our food. To protect this beautiful and fragile environment, we always keep our group sizes small and our exact route flexible.
Photo: Happy hikers at Lakehead Hut, in Nelson Lakes National Park
Day 2: Lakehead Hut to Angelus Hut
Today is an unforgettable day – the scenery gets better with each step! We follow the Travers River through beech forest, before heading up the Hukere Stream towards the ridgeline.This is a steep hike, with an elevation gain of 1,000 m (3,000 ft), but it’s absolutely worth it. The Angelus Circuit has exceptional scenic diversity, so it provides a great reward for the efforts you put in. We will encourage you all the way up to Angelus Hut, nestled beside a gorgeous alpine lake, whatever your hiking speed. Many people tell us this hidden gem was the highlight of their New Zealand adventure, and a lot of Kiwis prefer the Angelus Circuit to better-known tracks.
Photo: Angelus Hut, nestled on the shores of Lake Angelus in the Nelson Lakes National Park
Day 3: Angelus Hut to Lake Rotoiti
This morning you’ll wake up on top of the world. After breakfast, we’ll hike out along the barren Robert Ridge with dramatic views of Tasman Bay and the mountainous Kahurangi National Park in the distance. We’ll descend below the treeline again into native beech forest completing our hike on the shores of Lake Rotoiti. Here, we’ll meet up with the kayakers and cyclists and share stories of our adventures, before carrying on to the West Coast.
Photo: Take one last look at the view before descending through the native bush, at the end of day 3 of the Angelus Circuit
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, ferna 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:
New Zealand Adventure Tours that include a multi-day trek:
Rimu Ultimate South Island Adventure
- 14 Days
- South Island
- US$5,299 + tax
This is our signature adventure and a great, outdoorsy way to see New Zealand. We’ve been fine-tuning this perennial favourite since 1996 and it’s simply an awesome trip. You’ll explore the most beautiful, famous and little-known places in the South Island – up close and personal – with legendary hospitality and our unsurpassed attention to detail. For a great way to see the North Island too, combine this trip with our 11-day 'Kauri' (5-day 'Kauri' options available).
Activity level: The ‘Rimu’ is one of our more adventurous trips, but has options to suit a wide range of ages and outdoor experience. Typically, hikes on the ‘Rimu’ trip range between two and five hours to complete, with longer hikes available on the multi-day option. If you think you’d prefer a more relaxed pace and shorter one to three hour hikes, we recommend checking out our ‘Kiwi’ trip. Please get in touch with us if you’d like to chat about the various options.
Manuka Milford Hiking Adventure
- 14 Days
- South Island
- US$6,199 + tax
If you wish to concentrate on hiking the iconic tracks of New Zealand and like your creature comforts, we’ve crafted this trip just for you. It has a strong focus on New Zealand’s natural history. Our guides have plenty of time to interpret the flora and fauna and explain the geological and social history of the areas you’ll visit. You also have the choice of a selection of the best day hikes Fiordland National Park has to offer, along with an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound, or hiking the famous Milford Track in its entirety. The ‘Manuka’ really is hiking New Zealand in style!
Activity level: The 'Manuka' is an active hiking trip, but has options to suit a wide range of fitness levels and outdoor experience. Typically hikes on the 'Manuka' trip range between three and six hours to complete, with longer hikes on the Milford Track Guided Walk option.
Tui Essence of the South Island
- 8 Days
- South Island
- US$3,999 + tax
This is an action-packed adventure where you’ll explore some of New Zealand’s most iconic and remote wilderness. It works well if your vacation time is limited, since you can fly from North America on a Friday evening, sleep on the plane, and be back at work ten days later to share your photos and stories on Monday morning. For a great way to see the North Island too, combine this trip with our 11-day 'Kauri' (5-day 'Kauri' options available).
Activity level: The ‘Tui’ suits people of a wide range of fitness levels and outdoor experience, particularly if you enjoy a variety of activities. Typically hikes on the ‘Tui’ trip range between two and six hours to complete.
Winter Rimu New Zealand Winter Adventure
- 14 Days
- South Island
- US$4,599 + tax
May to September is one of the best times to explore New Zealand. Our maritime climate ensures we have relatively mild winters, we’ll almost always have the tracks to ourselves and the snow-capped mountains make an even more dramatic backdrop than in summer – and usually you can get a great deal on flights! Years ago, we adapted our signature Rimu trip to suit the cooler conditions by adding skiing and snowboarding options, along with some of the South Island’s best hikes. This adventure is the perfect excuse to escape the heat!
Activity level: This is one of our more adventurous trips, but has options to suit a range of fitness levels and outdoor experience. Typically hikes on the ‘Winter Rimu’ range between three and six hours to complete, with a longer more challenging hike on the Copland Track.
Kea New Zealand Family Adventure
- 13 Days
- South Island
- Adult: US$4,599 + tax, Child (15 & under): US$3,799 + tax
Let us take care of every detail so that you and your family can enjoy exploring New Zealand’s iconic places on a fun outdoorsy adventure. The ‘Kea’ is the perfect opportunity for everyone in the family to try some new activities together while our guides encourage, entertain, serve up delicious meals and ensure you make the most of your precious vacation time. You’ll be amazed how much everyone learns along the way and our guides will have you laughing as much as the kids! For a great way to see the North Island too, combine this trip with our 11-day 'Kauri' (5-day 'Kauri' options available).
Activity level: This trip has been designed to be fun and gently challenging for the young, and the young at heart. The pace is flexible and most hikes range between two and four hours to complete.
Here's a pretty cool video of what it's like to travel with your family, on an Active Adventures trip.