With spring on the way, New Zealand’s walking tracks are high on the agenda of many of the travellers we see at our Auckland car hire. Around one third of New Zealand is designated a national park or reserve. The country has nine hiking tracks that are classified as ‘Great Walks’ and are considered the best that the country has to offer. A tenth route is due in 2019. Terrain varies from mountainous wilderness to dense forest. Tracks can either be explored alone or as part of a guided tour. Many routes are fairly easy to explore alone with clear paths and good signage. The Department of Conservation (DOC) maintains around 900 huts that are available overnight on many of New Zealand’s tracks. On the Great Walks the huts must be booked in advance and hikers are responsible for ensuring they have adequate layers and food to see them through.
From November to May, your car rental can be taken to the South Island which means all of these walks are available for you to explore. Here’s a run down of the Great Walks. North Island Tongariro Northern Circuit – The full walk is a three-to-four day loop through spectacular volcanic scenery with lava formations, geysers and the much-photographed Emerald Lakes. Fans of Lord of the Rings may be particularly keen as the route featured as Mordor in the movie trilogy. A popular alternative to the full loop is the one-day Tongariro Crossing which takes in the lakes and crater-like scenery over a much shorter distance. Lake Waikaremoana – This 46 kilometre hike takes you around the lake over four to five days. It’s a relatively easy track with one steep section to navigate on an otherwise flat journey. The steep climb is worth tackling if you can, as you’ll find yourself at the top of Panekire Bluff with a view worth the pain.
Whanganui Journey – Get your paddle ready, the Whanganui Journey Great Walk is not a hike, but a kayaking trip. You’ll be floating down the Whanganui River for 145 kilometres and five days, camping or staying in huts along the way. The route begins in Taumarunui and follows an old Maori pathway which was also used in the early days of European settlement as a steamboat route. South Island  Routeburn Track – Situated on the South Island and easily accessible from Queenstown, the Routeburn Track offers a chance to see a diverse range of scenery over the three day journey. Expect alpine flora, forest hiking, the Routeburn river, beautiful waterfalls and spectacular views as you head from Lake Wakatipu to Fiordland. The route was originally a Maori trail and gold transportation route, and is currently part of the Te Wahipounamu heritage area. Abel Tasman Coast Track – The only track that doesn’t journey into mountainous terrain, the Abel Tasman track sits at the top of the South Island is the more sedate option. It’s 51 beautiful kilometres, mixing wooded paths and golden beaches. As well as stopping along the way in huts or campsites, you can complete some of your journey by kayak or even take a leisurely sailing trip en route.
Milford Track – The Milford Track is New Zealand’s oldest recreational walking track, originally spearheaded by a Scottish explorer in the 1800s. Spanning four days and three nights, the Fiordland track starts Lake Te Anau and continues to must-see Milford Sound. Along the way, hikers take in dramatic forest, cross the Southern Alps at Mackinnon Pass, see New Zealand’s highest falls and end at the famous fiord. Kepler Track – Another fiordland track, the Kepler is a circular route ending at Te Anau. The four-day hike takes in beech forests, Lake Te Anau – the largest freshwater body of water in Australasia, open grassland, alpine scenery and one day of mountainous terrain. There some challenging climbs but they’re worth it for the views. Heaphy Track –  At the top of the South Island, not all that far from the Abel Tasman Coast Track, the Heaphy Track covers 80 kilometres over around five days. Scenery varies widely between mountains, forests and downs before leading you on to the western coast. There are some steep sections and it can get muddy. Once again, you’ll be tracing the tracks of ancient Maori and the gold searchers that followed them on the Heaphy Track.
Rakiura Track – Of all the Great Walks, the Rakiura Track is the furthest south, situated on Stewart Island. You’ll need to plan in time to get the ferry across and beware that the journey can be rough. The three-day track is home to more birdlife than any of the other walks. There aren’t any big climbs so it is suitable for most walkers and there huts available en route. To kick start your hiking trip, get your Auckland Airport car hire sorted today and you’ll be good to go from the moment you land.