I wrote this magazine article back in 2015 but for some reason it never ended up on my blog, If anyone is planning a walking trip to NZ, plenty of good tips here!
Ask anyone who has been to New Zealand and they will tell you how the outdoors calls to you in this rugged and seemingly untamed country. It may seem too adventurous to step out into the wild to explore, but it doesn’t have to be thanks to the NZ Department Of Conservation (DOC). They have developed a series of Great Walks which provide waymarked trails through the otherwise vast and inaccessible NZ countryside.
There are nine walks in total, three in the North Island, six in the south. The distance and terrain varies as does the summer/winter accessibility. The most famous and popular is perhaps the Milford track which allows you to walk into the beautiful Milford Sound.
In December 2014 I travelled to Queenstown in the South where I met my old school friend who had taken a short flight down from her home in Wellington. Always on the lookout for the next adventure we had decided to combine two of the Great Walks to create a seven day hike (or Tramp as the locals call it). We would start with the Kepler Track before going straight on to the Routeburn Track.
The Kepler is a circular walk with two potential entry/exit points. We decided it made the most sense for us to complete it in the direction described in the DOC leaflet but there is nothing to stop it being completed in reverse. To start the walk we had to make our way to Te Anau, so we used one of the shuttle bus services which runs from Queenstown. You can use a similar service to transfer you to, and from, the Kepler track car park where the walk begins.
The daily distances and accent on these walks is well documented and broken down in the DOC leaflets, these can be downloaded from their website. As well as the main track there are a number of side trips described. We did the majority of these and always found them incredibly worthwhile. The Kepler track reminded us both of Scotland with a stunning ridge walk on Day 2 which was very beautiful and atmospheric in swirling clouds and faint blue sky. The walk out through forest and an old land slip was also beautiful. At our final hut, Moturau – which is on the shore of Lake Manapouri, we found stunning weather and promptly plunged into the icy lake. This was the third day without a shower, and so freshening up was rather appealing!
The huts provide basic accommodation, there are bunks with mattresses, sinks and flushing toilets (in summer). They also have a kitchen/dining area and a hut ranger is resident in summer who deals with any problems and also provides a weather update. The Kepler and the Routeburn huts also have gas stoves but these were not self-igniting so we did get caught out by the fact we didn’t have matches or a lighter. It is necessary to carry your own sleeping bag, food and even a plate, cup, cutlery and pan. Of course you also need to carry your clothes and maybe a small towel. Anything you carry in you must carry out, including your rubbish.
We left the Kepler track on Day 4 at the Rainbow Reach car park. This reduced the walk length by 9.5km but allowed us time to catch the shuttle back into Te Anau, stock up on food supplies, and catch our next shuttle to The Divide. At 532m, The Divide is the lowest crossing of the Southern Alps and one end of the Routeburn track. In this instance we were starting the route in reverse to that described in the leaflet but it made perfect sense as it reduced our car travel time and resulted in us essentially walking ourselves back out to Glenorchy near Queenstown.
The Routeburn is a 3 day walk, during which you tramp through both the Mt Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks. We were blessed with spectacular weather and the terrain varied from forestry and beautiful blue lakes to waterfalls and snowy ridge lines. We continued to find freezing cold lakes and rivers to freshen up in along the way. When we made it to the Routeburn Shelter near Glen Orchy we were more than ready for our shuttle back to Queenstown and a hot shower. It is worth noting that no special skills are required for the walks in summer, if there is late summer snow the DOC will close the track. Obviously you have to be fit enough to carry everything you need and you should always carry additional food in case you have to take to cover in one of the designated shelters along the route due to bad weather.
- Huts MUST been booked up in advance and popular dates fill up fast, book through the DOC website.
- Hut tickets must be collected a maximum of 48 hours beforehand in order for you to receive the latest weather. When booking check where you must collect them and factor this into your trip. Check the hut facilities – do they have stoves and gas for example?
- You can buy dehydrated meals in many of the local supermarkets, these are easy and tasty. Remember, there is no kettle so even with this option you need a pan to boil water. These meals are marked as gluten free where appropriate. It’s not possible to take any food into NZ, and all luggage is scanned on arrival.
- In many cases the walks can be followed in either direction, and some require specialist skills in winter, check the DOC website for more information.
- DOC: http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/things-to-do/walking-and-tramping/great-walks/
- Shuttle Services: http://www.tracknet.net/tracknet/welcomeTNT