Great Walks breakdown - SUPER long post!!
WARNING! An incredibly long read! Feel free to skip to the walk/s that interest you most. I thought I'd take the time to give my thoughts on the pros and cons of each of the Great Walks. I've done all of them except Paparoa, but know that area incredibly well, and also had a small say in the track, so am confident I can pass on some thoughts. Inevitably I get asked to rank them; some of you will know just how difficult that is to do! So I'll instead mention weather, effort required, ease/difficulty of logistics, views and wildlife. And I'll list them in the order that I have done them. 1. Northern Circuit, Tongariro NP. 43km. Loop track. I love this track for obvious reasons. The other-worldly nature of the place is just one of the reasons the Tongariro Crossing is the most popular day walk in NZ. If you time it right (as in, out of season) you can avoid the crowds, and of course, the crowds quickly thin out once you're past the Crossing anyway. I did this as part of my North Island TA walk. Instead of just doing the Crossing, I spent 8 glorious days in the park. I did Round the Mountain (I actually slightly prefer this to the Circuit; climbing a waterfall is COOL!), then the Circuit. I ended up doing it in the reverse order to what the Crossing is normally done, and in September. Almost no one on the track, and no one traveling in the same direction as me. Huts can be busy, even out of season. But they are extremely well serviced. Weather: it's mountainous, and mountains make their own weather, so always double check forecasts for this track. Views: Spectacular! Volcanic lakes, craters, "Mordor". Effort: Given it's within the mountains, surprisingly little effort required, except for the actual crossing, which I'd say is moderate for a Great Walk. Wildlife: very little, except on the section between Mangatepopo and Whakapapa Village. But that's to be expected; the bulk of the track is above the bush line. Logistics: as a circuit, it makes logistics a breeze. Get yourself to any starting point on the track, and you'll end up back there. Makes it a lot easier than if you just did the Crossing. Final thought: I have done sections of this again; next time I have other plans in the park... 2. Whanganui River Journey. 87km or 145km. Thru-paddle. Easily the most fun I had on any Great "Walk"! My best mate from submarines, Charlie, flew over from Perth. At the time I was an outdoor adventure guide on the West Coast, so I borrowed a small raft from work rather than hire a canoe. Should have got the canoe! It was really calm when we did it, and we paddled our arses off in the hot sun for the entire trip. So different from every other Great Walk; because it's not a walk! You pull up on the river at the hut/campsite locations each day. Great huts/facilities. A true highlight was staying at the Marae, and laying out on the grass under a billion stars. Oh, and paddling across to the other side of the river to get a sneaky beer. There are countless side streams, crevasses, waterfalls to explore, and we definitely checked out a few. Of course, you should definitely tie up and stretch your legs by taking a lovely wee walk to the Bridge to Nowhere before carrying on down the river. Before you do this journey, PLEASE watch River Queen! It's a movie about the Maori Land Wars, and was filmed right along the very same river. Cinematically stunning! Weather: We had blazing sun every day; not a drop of rain (which I would have liked). Of course, this can be very different at times. I was supposed to do this journey when I first visited NZ 10 years prior, but all trips got cancelled due to flooding and someone sadly dying on the river the day before we were supposed to set off. Anyway, typically the weather won't stop you from fantastic scenery, and may even enhance your experience, making this a great one to do if you don't have time to wait for perfect weather at one of the alpine tracks, where you really need clear weather for the views. Views: because I'd seen River Queen, and knew some of the local history, I couldn't stop soaking up the primeval feel of this somewhat spiritual location. Wildlife: lots of birdlife! To be honest, back then I wasn't into birds (the feathered kind) like I am now, so my memory is a bit hazy when it comes to specific species, but there were plenty. Effort: This absolutely depends on the flow of the river at the time. You might get lucky and only have to really steer as you float peacefully down the river (until a jetboat roars by), but definitely be prepared for several hours of solid paddling each day. Logistics: Some solid planning definitely needs to go into this one. The hire of canoe, sealed gear barrels etc. Drop off and pick up. Deciding where to enter the river; do you want to do 3 or 4 days? And whilst it's fairly rare, be prepared for the fact that you COULD have your trip cancelled on you. Also, the hire/transport companies in Ohakune/National Park are very reluctant to hire out gear for a solo traveller on this journey. And even though I do the lion's share of my tramping solo, I definitely don't blame them for this one. As a swiftwater rescue trained person, I would strongly suggest going with someone on this one. It's a LOT safer; and you have someone to share the paddling with! Final thought: 100% I will be taking this journey again! I know I said I'm not going to rank them, but this is definitely one of my favourites. The experience was unique, and I had fantastic company to share it with. 3. Rakiura, Stewart Island. 32km. Loop track. For some reason this track gets a bit of a bad rap. I love the Rakiura track!! There are no "hoards" to deal with, for starters. It's a very easy walk, despite some mud. Stunning little coastal bays, excellent hut facilities, and of course, this track is absolutely the best of all of them when it comes to your chances of seeing a Kiwi bird in the wild! Weather: Other than rain softening up the track, weather has very little bearing on this track, as it is a non-alpine track. This is a track you can 100% plan for, without hedging your bets due to weather. I went with my friend; it was her first Great Walk. We had clear weather, but as I said; on this track I wouldn't have minded any sort of weather. Views: Think Abel Tasman (we'll get to that) beaches; without all the people! However, that's just the first day of the 3. One gripe some people have about Rakiura is the lack of views. I don't find that to be the case; I enjoyed the change up from coast to bush. Effort: Honestly, effort-wise this is probably the easiest Great Walk. Short and flat. It really is not much more than a stroll along the beach/through the bush. Wildlife: KIWI BIRDS!!!! We saw three. The first night some partying yobos scared away everything within cooee of the hut, but the morning of the last day we got up and started our walk pre-dawn. One stepped out onto the track right beside me. I literally could have patted it. One came bounding along the track, skidded to a halt in front of me, looked up at me, then bolted back the way it came. It very much reminded me of the roadrunner! And the third must have had ADHD! It was running in and out of the bush all over the place, like a headless chicken. It was absolutely hilarious! There were of course other species, but Kiwis are the star of this track. Logistics: there's a bit involved; you have to get to Stewart Island, either by ferry or light plane. But once there, the track itself is a loop, finishing back in the only township of Oban, so super easy. Some people organise a lift to the true start of the track, but we enjoyed the walk. Final Thought: DON'T write off Rakiura. It's a wee gem! Oh, and if you're into birds, add an extra day and do the guided cruise/walk to Ulva Island, a completely pest-free island just off Stewart Island. The birdlife is incredible! Actually, it was this little half-day tour that brought me my new-found love of birds. 4. Kepler, Fiordland NP. 60km. Loop track. Did this in September. There was some snow. It was my first true alpine Great Walk. Funny story actually. I'd bought NRL grand final tickets for myself, my father and 3 of my brothers, but I lost my passport and couldn't go. So instead I went to Fiordland for a couple of weeks. I'd been going through a bit of a rough time, but getting up onto the tops of Kepler instantly stripped all stress from my soul; if you've done this track, you probably know what I'm talking about. The huts are large and very well maintained, even out of season. Weather: Very dependent on the weather, so go either in season or very close to it. On a clear day you truly will feel like you're on top of the world! Vast views of Lake Te Anau in one direction, huddled mountain peaks stretched off into infinity everywhere else. Be aware it is an alpine track; there is the potential for there to be limited views. Effort: This track is very much a track that goes by days. First day; up!! Biggest effort of the whole track. Once rested though, go and check out the nearby cave. Day 2. You're on the tops, and on top of the world! Truly exhilarating!! Then you drop down back into the forest. Days 3/4 (I did as a 3 day trip) consist of tracks meandering through the forest, and alongside the River Anduin (one of them, anyway). Or you run it. There's a race there every year, and the leaders run it in around 7 hours. Crazy bastards! There's a wee hut that's technically not on the Great Walk, but close by, on the shore of Lake Manapouri. Worth a stay (I went back and stayed there). In fact, one of my favourite huts ever. Wildlife: You're in the mountains baby! It's all about the kea! Cheeky little so-and-so's! Of course, once you drop back into the bush the species change. Pest control is extensive, so you'll come across plenty of native birds. Logistics: As far as the Fiordland 3 go (Kepler, Milford, Routeburn) this is by far the easiest logistically. It's a circuit, and you can even walk to the start of the track from the middle of Te Anau. It's just one of the things I really love about the Kepler. Final Thought: I love the Kepler. It often gets overshadowed by the Milford and Routeburn tracks, but I absolutely put in on par with either of them, and logistically so much easier! 5. Milford, Fiordland NP. 54km. Thru-hike. What can I say about the Milford Track that hasn't already been said? It truly is one of the world's greatest multi-day walks. I got off the Kepler and immediately did the Milford. I'd met a Texan named Todd on the Kepler, and he decided to do the Milford with me. We met a third guy, Paddy the Irishman (true) on the boat, and the 3 of us did the track together. We skipped the first hut, so we were actually on our own for the entire track, a whole day ahead of everyone else on the boat. (It was just before the season opened). Weather: Again, being alpine, be prepared for everything from scorching heat to deluges (Fiordland IS one of the wettest places in the world) to avalanches. Out of season they take the bridges out, and the boats stop running. You CAN get onto the track via Dores Pass, but it can be treacherous in winter and I definitely do not recommend it. Not to mention you still have the small matters of avoiding avalanches in the Clinton Valley and figuring out how to get back from Sandfly Point (incidentally, I believe that is the most appropriately-named place in all of NZ). We had PERFECT weather!! I know many of the stories from Mackinnon Pass, including the emergency biv being blown OFF the mountain not once but TWICE before! We, however, had truly breath-taking views back down the Clinton and down the Arthur. Views: Must be seen for yourself to be believed. You feel very small in this land of granite giants. NZs highest true waterfall (and the 5th highest in the world), Sutherland Falls, is something to behold!!! 550m, only a few nutters have ever climbed it. (Yeah, not me)! However, I simply couldn't resist frolicking in the pool this magestic beast thunders into; refreshing, to say the least. Crystal clear trout streams, many waterfalls, expansive views; Milford has it all. Wildlife: We're still in the mountains, so the world's only true alpine parrot, the kea, is still the order of the day. Again, extensive pest control means there are plenty of endemic bird species, including one of my faves; the wee rifleman. You will also 100% meet Te Namu, the fierce guardian of Fiordland! Logistics: difficult! But this is why companies exist; to do all the work for you. You need to get a boat from Te Anau Downs (not Te Anau itself; don't get caught out), and another boat from Sandfly Point to Milford Sound "village". Then have to get back to Te Anau, Te Anau Downs or Queenstown; whichever you left your car at. Final Thought: All Kiwis should do this historic and mesmerising track at least once in their lives. 6. Routeburn, Mt Aspiring/Fiordland NPs. 32km. Thru-hike. For many, this is THE greatest of the Great Walks. For me, it's simply the scene of a few of my favourite tramping stories. Remember Todd the Texan? He decided to do the Routeburn with me as well. (Yep. Kepler, Milford, Routeburn back-to-back-to-back). We dropped his car at the Divide, and drove mine all the way round past Glenorchy to the other end of the track. We had literally just come off the Milford, so we got there at night. Figured we'd head straight in to Routeburn Flats hut. Well, it began snowing. HARD!!! We pushed on though, and got to the hut no problem. Woke up the next day to an absolutely stunning winter wonderland! I had some alpine gear with me, but Todd didn't. I wasn't expecting to make it over Harris Saddle, but we carried on to see how far we could safely get. On the way up to Routeburn Falls hut, we started to notice and dodge tree fall from the previous night's snow. Thinking nothing of it, we carried on. Pushed on up past the hut into the valley, and as far as the saddle. No way were we getting past that bad boy in those conditions; couldn't even see where the track actually went. There were avalanches occurring all around us now that the day had warmed up, so we made the only call we could; we turned back. As we did, it started snowing pretty hard. A helicopter buzzed us a couple of times. I gave them a friendly wave and indicated we were heading down. Anyway, we got back down to the Flats hut. From there.... Oh my giddy aunt! Such devastation along the track! Bridges wiped out, massive slips. Took us AGES to get back to the carpark. I took photos all the way along and the next day shared them with DOC. Maybe you've seen my photos. Anyway, we get back to the carpark and..... A TREE had fallen on my car! A metre over and it would have pizza'd it. Amazingly I was able to get it out! Nothing but a cracked windscreen (or so I thought at the time). We drove all the way back to the Divide to get Todd's , chatting excitedly about our crazy adventure. I had unfinished business with the Routeburn, so I went back a year later on a crystal clear day and fast-hiked it. Weather: Definitely check the forecast properly!! This is an alpine ridge. It often gets clouded in. And is impassable in winter. (Or sometimes in October, as it turns out!). But when it's clear..... Views: Phenomenal!! Stare up at Mt Tutoko. Cast your gaze down the Hollyford Valley, towards Martins Bay and the Tasman Sea. Do full 360 spins and just TRY to take it all in! Waterfalls, alpine lakes, lush forest; this track has so much to offer. As one of the shorter ones, all of this combines to make it a fan favourite. Wildlife: Can't recall a whole lot of wildlife on the Routeburn, to be honest. Honestly though, the sheer beauty of the place meant I wasn't looking for wildlife, on either occasion. Effort: Moderate effort needed. You are going up and over a mountain range. Logistics: Logistically one of the tougher ones. A thru-hike where the two ends are over 5 hours' drive from each other. Luckily there are companies that can help you sort this out. I've only ever actually stayed in the one hut, but the facilities are brilliant. Final Thought: The Routeburn Track and I are not finished. There's a bunch of off-track stuff I want to do around there, and I think one day I'll do the track slow-time, staying in the huts along the way. 7. Heaphy, Kahurangi NP. 78km. Thru-hike. Whilst I can't tell you which is my absolute favourite Great Walk, I can say that the Heaphy impressed me the least. The OG of Great Walks, this one is loved and fiercely defended by many. I did it with my friend Emily. She is a speed demon! But that's ok. We've done a bit of tramping together, and are both comfortable tramping alone, so each morning she'd race off and I'd plod along checking out the birdlife. The huts were well serviced, and one even had working gas stoves - out of season!! Weather: as a subalpine region of the West Coast, weather can certainly effect your views. Importantly though, it won't effect safety too much. We had crystal clear weather. Views: This is the reason I wasn't overly impressed with the Heaphy. Given the logistics required, it just didn't deliver on the views for me. Bush, tussock and the coast - which was nice - on the final day. Wildlife: This is what saved the Heaphy for me! They've introduced takahe into the area, and we saw a number of them. I was also enthralled by a pair of whio early one morning, and was able to film them for the first time. Extensive pest control occurs on the Heaphy, so it's absolute redeeming feature is the wonderful birdlife. Of course, sandflies will have a bit of a nibble, especially when you get to the coast. Logistics: one of if not THE most logistically difficult. One end is a 7-hour drive from the other!! I drove to Karamea, dropped my car there. Caught the bus to Nelson. Emily picked me up and we went to the start of the track the next morning. When we finished we got the shuttle into Karamea, where we got my car AND DROVE ALL THE WAY BACK TO HERS. In season there are companies that will shift your car for you, or you can fly from one end of the track to the other. As it was just me coming from Karamea, that wasn't an option, but one I think I would have liked. Final Thoughts: I probably won't do the Heaphy as a full track again. I would definitely do an out-and-back for a day or two from the Karamea end, but that's about it. Having said that, I LOVED the birdlife on this track! 8. Abel Tasman, Abel Tasman NP. 60km. Thru-hike. I had done sections of this track before, and it's stunning. Having just completed the Old Ghost Road (not a Great Walk, but could be; could even be the Greater Walk) and Heaphy Track back-to-back, I was kind of in my tramping groove. I got Emily to shuttle me to the start of the track after dropping my car at the other end, and we parted ways. Weather: Weather on the Abel Tasman will only effect your photos. The only potential safety issue regarding the weather is the tide at the inlet next to the Awaroa hut. (The other crossing can be avoided altogether by walking around the end of the inlet, and I'd suggest it's worth doing that anyway). Views: Stunning coastal views of crystal clear azure bays. Can often see dolphins frolicking just a wee way out to sea. This track is all about the beaches! Wildlife: Loads of birds, and as mentioned dolphins often seen out at sea. Effort: Minimal effort. Barely a hill to climb. The track is so well formed, this is an incredibly easy walk. Just be aware that at 60km it's one of the longer ones. Having said that, I did it in a day and a half. And I'm a fat bastard. I stayed one night at Awaroa Hut, crossed the inlet early the next morning, and had finished by lunchtime. Logistics: Another thru-hike. Although not as logistically difficult as some of the others. Because people consistently do this track all year round, you shouldn't have a problem meeting someone to do the car shuttle thing with. Of course, there's plenty of companies - including a water taxi - that can take the stress out of planning entirely. Or you can do the Inland track, and make it a loop. Final Thought: A FANTASTIC Great Walk to get wee kids started in the tramping world! I probably wouldn't do it in its entirety again, just because I'm more of a mountains/variety kind of guy. I don't know the official numbers, but I would hazard a strong guess that more people do the Abel Tasman Track than any other of the Great Walks. 9. Lake Waikaremoana, Te Ureweras. 46km. Thru-hike. (Note: unless you walk the extra 30km by road back to the start, this is NOT a loop track). My most recent, just a couple of weeks ago. The walk itself I thoroughly enjoyed; it was some of the other stuff that tarnished my experience. Weather: Not going to be an issue as far as safety goes, but it can effect your views/photos. Views: Stunning lake views, and from different perspectives. Although my tramping buddy Julie did comment that she didn't need a hundred photos of the same lake. Wildlife: There is a distinct, actually disturbing lack of birdlife. It's sadly obvious that there's very little effort being put into pest control here. Apart from a few swans on the lake and literally the odd robbin/tom tit, there was nothing. Effort: I enjoyed the variation in effort required. The first day is the big uphill (and downhill if you skip Panakire Hut - which personally I recommend doing). Other than that it's fairly straightforward. Although lots of undulations and tree roots. The side trip to the waterfall is fun - especially if you drop your pack at or near the junction. Logistics: Quite difficult, especially out of season. First you have to get to the lake. The two ends are some distance apart, along a quite remote dirt road. There won't be much traffic. There is a water taxi that makes it quite easy to get back to your car; if it's running. And I'll say it as part of logistics; the local iwi runs this track, but DOC still advertises it and collects hut fees (apparently on their behalf). As a result of this duality, the huts themselves aren't actually serviced. At least, that was our experience and that of many others. Final Thought: I wish I could combine the Heaphy and Lake Waikaremoana Tracks. That would be brilliant! Since that's not possible, my final thought regarding Waikaremoana is that it is an enjoyable walk; you just need to manage your expectations of facilities better than I did, and solidify your logistics. Personally, I wouldn't even consider doing this one again UNLESS those issues were resolved. But if like me you want to do all of the Great Walks, then it's on the list (unless it loses its Great Walk status). 10. Paparoa, Paparoa NP. 55km. Thru-hike. Whilst I haven't walked this track end-to-end yet, I still know it fairly well, having lived on the West Coast when it was being formed, and having enjoyed many of the tracks in the area. The Croesus Track - now the start of the Paparoa Track - is one I have done numerous times. Weather: It is the West Coast. IF you get a clear day, you get incredible views out across the coast and Tasman Sea. However, be prepared for heavy cloud, no matter what time of the year. Views: As mentioned in weather. You will also of course tramp through lush West Coast bush; and I personally love it! And can even see some historic gold mining sites. Wildlife: This is a track of two distinctly different topographies; the winding your way up or down through the bush, where you'll encounter many bird species, and the tussock of the subalpine tops, where you won't. Having said that there ARE Kiwis in the Paparoas. I personally have never seen them there, but have heard them quite a lot at night. Effort: Ok, here goes. Over all I'd call this a moderate effort Great Walk. One issue I had with the head project manager of this track is the spacing of the huts. This track is designed to be dual purpose; trampers and mountain bikers. Unlike the Heaphy, where mountain biking is only allowed seasonally, on this track it's all year round. (Currently not allowed due to track work, but that's only temporary). The project manager is a mad keen mountain biker, so he spaced huts for bikers, not trampers. And this is a unique track, as there's a significant side track to the Pike29 memorial. Sadly, the spacing of the huts means that very few trampers will be able to complete this side trip. So watch this space. I bet within the next few years they'll have to do what I suggested they do in the first place; put another shelter at the junction of the main track and side track. The two ends of the track are an hour apart in a vehicle; one end at Blackball, the other at Punakaiki. In season there is a shuttle service available. Out of season, your best bet is two vehicles, one at each end. Final Thought: I love this part of the world! This track, if they make the necessary changes, will be sublime in fine weather, otherworldly in fog. 11. Hump Ridge, Fiordland NP. 61km. Loop track. I put this as 11 because it won't be an official Great Walk until 2022, but I did this one between Routeburn and Heaphy. Hump Ridge Track shares an "edge" with the South Coast Track. On the ridge itself there's currently only a private lodge that offers accommodation; DOC is building huts. I did it in two days; stayed at a hut once it had connected back with the SCT. There was only 3 people up the top; me, and a guy proposing to his girlfriend. They were happy for me to take some photos for them. In return, they took a couple of me for my Survivor application. I didn't get in. Weather: only the views will be jeopardised, not your safety. Views: on a clear day you can see across Foveaux Strait to Rakiura/Stewart Island (both the traditional name of the island and the track are Rakiura). And if you turn inland you'll get a sense of the vastness of Fiordland. Of course, there are decent coastal sections as part of the SCT as well. Wildlife: plenty of birds! Extensive pest control is carried out, and it was on this track I saw my first mohua (yellowhead). You know, the wee fella on our $100 note. And of course, there's even kaimoana, if you know where to look. Effort: Easy to maybe moderate at absolute most for a Great Walk. Logistics: you can only get to the start of the track by private vehicle. There's a fairly long section of dirt road, so I can't even suggest hire cars. Of course, once officially opened as a Great Walk, I'm sure someone will start a shuttle service from Tuatapere. I'll put this under logistics. I know why they chose Hump Ridge as the next Great Walk; I'd argue except for the huts it's at that standard now. That means they have relatively little time/money to invest to bring it up to standard, compared to say the Greenstone/Caples loop. But.... There's too many stairs for my liking! I absolutely understand why they have them, but they're a big detractor for me. My knees hate stairs. Conversely, this is great for people new to tramping; you're not going to get too muddy. Definitely plan on a night or two at Port Craig, an abandoned but well-maintained township on the coast. The school has been converted, and is now the DOC hut. It's great! Final Thought: This would be an excellent track for parents who have children they want to introduce to uphill tramping; after all, it's only a hump, not a mountain. Ok, final Final Thoughts: Weather: This is Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud. ALWAYS be prepared for rain, and for plumetting temperatures. Even on the Great Walks. Even in summer. Views: The Great Walks have that status primarily for the views. You just have to work out which views float your boat most. Wildlife: Take your time. You'll always see/hear more when you do. Effort: These Great Walks do vary quite a bit in effort required. Know yourself. What level of effort will you be required to undertake, and will you still enjoy yourself? Logistics: Some love planning logistics, some don't. No matter which way you're inclined to be, there's a Great Walk for you. There are other tracks they are considering designating Great Walks. What are your thoughts on the ones they've ear-marked? What other ones do you think are worthy of the Great Walk status? And just remember, everything I've written here is just MY experiences of these tracks, my thoughts and feelings. Take it for just that. My wish is that for every one of these Great Walks you do, you have an even better time than I did! Enjoy!
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That would be more in keeping with the Great Walks “theme” I guess.
I had a look at the Ngai Tuhoe Annual Plan for 2019-2020 but couldn't see any reference to management of the Great Walk. It looks as though there are plans to develop more direct revenue earning activities within the land. https://www.ngaituhoe.iwi.nz/annual-plan-bringing-the-blueprint-to-life
theres great walks and then theres great walks the routeburn and milford have more money coming in from Ultimate hikes to put into maintaining the track, they few gravel onto the routeburn, covering the alpine section with it... putting in steps all over the place, every little side creek is bridged.
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