New Zealand - South Island

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My wife and I (60's) are planning to visit NZ for 3 weeks and Tasmania for 2 weeks. We would like to do three treks in NZ, while we are there; 3 - 6 day in length for each. We are experience hikers and carry 30-40 pound packs at altitude, so we feel we are up for challenges. We have backpacked around the world and are now planning a New Zealand / Tasmania trip. We are up for camping, if required, or hiking/tramping hut to hut and cooking our own food! Guide is not necessary, but sometimes worth it to learn more about the area. Any suggestions are welcome. We like it where there is less people and the challenge gives you amazing scenery!
what month are you planning to come?
I could mention plenty of circuits I've enjoyed. Do you want circuits on tracks only or would you enjoy untracked sections or even sections involving a bit of navigation?
we plan to travel Feb-March spending about 3 weeks. We were interested in doing Milford sound, kepler and Routeburn and staying in the huts along the way. What do you think about those 3? We would also like to do some day hiking in the south island. Is it worth going to the north island to do Tongariro Alpine Crossing? I'm not sure how expensive it would be to fly from the north to the south islands? What about the St. Andrews/mt. cook area? I think we would like to stay on tracks. We are in the planning phases but we know we need to have our itinerary set so we are ready for June 11 when the huts become available. We are open to any suggestions. Where would you suggest we stay between the treks? Lake Te Anau, Milford Queenstown ???? thank you
You're looking at what's called "The Great Walks". Bookings open (around) June 14th. Milford is multi-day. Huts must be booked in advance. Kepler is usually done as a multi-day, if you want to experience the 'Tops'. For Milford, Kepler & Routeburn Tracks, you would probably be looking to stay at Te Anau. You could travel in from other NZ locations. Edit - Different Great Walks open for booking at different dates (Thanks Gregor). DoC has the correct dates as per the link above.
Just a bit more clarification: bookings for the Milford Track open 11 June 9:30am NZST; the Routeburn Track opens for booking 12 June 9:30am NZST; and the Kepler Track opens for booking 13 June 9:30am NZST. All three tracks are beautiful and you won't be disappointed. Keep in mind that you can't change your booking when you're on the track. For example, when walking the Milford you will stay at Clinton Hut on night 1, Mintaro Hut on night 2, and Dumpling Hut on night 3, regardless of weather or conditions. The same holds true for the Routeburn and Kepler. You'll also be sharing the huts with, most likely, whatever capacity of people the hut holds. One strategy I've used for a bit of solitude on Great Walk track was to wait until the masses left the hut. Then, I was able to enjoy the track almost to myself before rejoining the throng that evening. If fine weather, the last place I'd want to be is in a crowded Great Walk hut. Another idea to consider is tramping on non-Great Walk tracks, of which there are hundreds of options. If you're in the Otago or Fiordland area of the South Island, consider the Greenstone-Caples circuit or the Rees-Dart track. Each of these options offer incredible scenery at a fraction of the hut fees of the Great Walks. I think they also would be within you and your partner's capabilities. Links are below:
thank you for the information, Gregor, you are right on the different days for booking the huts on the various hikes. I have already looked into what day and time it would be for me in USA. I'm assuming I can pay for the hut reservations with a credit card? What about the ballroom hike in Paparoa National park? We could stay on Punakaiki Beach? Would we be able to get transportation via bus or shuttles to Milford, kepler and Routeburn if we made our home base Te Anau and did the hikes with a rest day or two between them? We would then rent a car and move around the south island? Where should we stay in Te Anau? Is there a Milford town with places to stay? No sense renting a car when we will be trekking . Your thoughts and suggestions are very much appreciated.
You can book a shuttle ride from Te Anau to the wharf & boat, to the start of Milford Track. You will see that on the website when you book your huts. All part of the same booking process. The same shuttle bus then goes to The Divide, the Te Anau-side start of the Routeburn, and onto Milford Sound boat terminal, where you come off the Milford Track. The shuttle then makes the return trip. It does this throughout the day. Milford Track is walked in one direction only. All the connecting transport is well established & booked same time as you book your huts. You can do it as 'Independents' using Department of Conservation (DOC) Huts & carrying your multi-day packs, or use 'Guided', which have their own accommodation (proper beds, hot showers, cooked meals) for 4-5 times the price. DOC hut wardens give evening talks on things of interest. Be sure to do the "Sutherland Falls" side trip. Highest in NZ. 3rd highest in the World ?. There is a hut at the start of that walk where you can leave your packs. Kepler Track start is about 5 minutes drive out of Te Anau. Or you can save yourself an hour or so and take the boat ride across the lake, which cuts out the lakefront hike. Usually tramped counter-clockwise, with first night at Luxmore Hut. You need a good Day 2, as that's when you're around the Tops. Suggest you get yourselves some hiking sticks/poles. There's a bit of up- & down-hill involved. Rains about 50% of the time in Milford Sound. You may need a useful coat. You can do daytime boat rides up & down the M-sound. Recommend the night boat if you can get it. Choice of 2 depending on what you want to pay. They depart in the afternoon, harbour in the Sound overnight where you can kayak or take a rubber dinghy ride, bring you back the next day. Meals provided. A plus is that they are smaller than the daytime boats and they put you out of synch with the masses of daytime tourists. Google "accommodation Milford Sound". I don't really see a lot of point staying there. There aren't many amenities. It's basically just a boat harbour IMHO. Easy to shuttle back to Te Anau which is a proper town. Google "accommodation Te Anau". Depends on what you want to pay. 'TripAdvisor' website might be worthwhile exploring. "Te Aanu Lakeview Holiday Park" has budget accommodation 5 or 10 minutes walk out of town. It is almost directly across the road from the DOC office where you must pick up your Milford Track tickets. It's one of the shuttle bus destinations. They have a trip booking facility. Te Anau is quite a decent sized town for the middle of nowhere. Might pay to book ahead your time for an evening meal. Has a good Fresh Choice supermarket. You might want to bus through to Queenstown to pick up a rental car ?. Possibly a Q-town pick-up from the Q-town end of the Routeburn Track. Or do it from the Q-town end & be picked up at the Te Anau end and bus to Q-town when all done?. Would highly recommend "Southern Lakes Helicopters" in Te Anau. For around $420NZ per head they'll fly you around the Main Divide mountain tops, land on the Tops near a high altitude lake for a 20 minute walkabout, then on the return leg can drop you off at Luxmore Hut, if you want.
The easiest way to get to the southern Great Walks from up north or from Australia is to fly into Queenstown. Queenstown is an overcrowded tourist trap full of drunk 20 year olds backpacking around the world, however, it does also have far more facilities then Te Anau. You can hire a vehicle from here, Te Anau has no vehicle hire. So you need to decide weather you want to hire a vehicle and drive to Te Anau (and pay hire fees while out tramping), or catch a bus around to Te Anau, do your tramping, and not worry about a hire vehicle until your return to Queentown. You also have to worry about your non-tramping gear. Queenstown has long term gear storage, I'm not sure about Te Anau. You should check with your accommodation before you book if they will store some bags for you. Tracknet ( runs a daily tramper bus between Queenstown and Te Anau. They are also the main tramper shuttle on the Milford road between Te Anau, Te Anau Downs, The Divide, and Milford Sound for the Milford, and Routeburn tracks. You could also try Trips and Tramps ( for smaller shuttles along the Milford Road and some private guided trips if you want. Both of these companies do drop offs and pick ups for the Kepler and the Control Gates and at Rainbow Reach. For the Queenstown end of the Routeburn, Info and Track (, Buckley Transport ( and Glenorchy Journeys ( all run buses/vans between Routeburn Shelter and Glenorchy and Queenstown. My suggestion would be fly into Queenstown, leave your non-tramping gear there, bus around to Te Anau, tramp the Kepler, then the Milford. Then you can either return to Te Anau for a rest and head out to the Routeburn another day, or on the same day you get off the Milford get dropped off at the Divide and walk the Routeburn. Then bus from the Routeburn Shelter back to Queenstown (or Glenorchy if you want to do the Rees/Dart). Pick up your hire car in Queenstown and off you go.
thank you for your information, now what do you think about Mt. Cook area? Hooker valley, Tasman Glacier view track? Is the boat ride on milford sound a "must do" ?
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Forum Beginners and newbies
Started by Robert Brosko
On 11 May 2019
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