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New Zealand is arguably one of the world’s greatest hiking locations with a third of New Zealand’s land in national parks and reserves. It contains ten ‘Great Walks’ and hundreds of different trails throughout numerous scenic national parks and nature reserves. As seven of the ‘Great Walks’ are all located within the South Island, it can be quite difficult to choose which track to experience.
Though there are ten ‘Great Walks’ you can choose from, Milford, Routeburn and Kepler Tracks are some of the most highly rated and sought-after hiking tracks in New Zealand. They all offer beautiful views and scenery throughout. There are some major differences that should be considered when deciding which track to hike or run. Routeburn, Milford and Kepler Track, which should you choose?
The Routeburn Track is a 33km one-way trail and the shortest hiking distance in comparison to the Milford and Kepler Track. As Routeburn is the closest ‘Great Walk’ track to Queenstown, it is a must visit if you are visiting or staying at Queenstown. Explore our Queenstown Attractions list to immerse yourself in the culture at the heart of South Island. Though Routeburn is considered one of the shorter ‘Great Walks’, don’t be fooled by its short distance! Routeburn offers some of the most beautiful scenery that nature can offer.
The full distance of the Routeburn Track takes approximately 3 days to complete, however there are many dedicated trail runners that complete it in one day. If you are short on time or would prefer a more relaxing guided experience, consider doing the Routeburn Day walk. This is a great option for those hikers that are looking for flexibility in their hiking experience while still wanting to experience the natural scenery and views. The Routeburn Track Day Walk can be modified based on the amount of time available and fitness level of hikers. If you are looking to experience your first ‘Great Walk’, the Routeburn Track is perfect trail. Check out our guide on how to prepare for a hike.
The short distance and flexibility of Routeburn makes it one of the most versatile and rewarding tracks. Routeburn’s trail is not complex, with only gradual climbs and descents, making it the perfect track for various fitness levels. The slow climbing and descent provides you with the perfect views and angles of the thick beech forests, alpine lakes, national parks and glacial valleys. Because this track is shorter, it allows hikers to take their time to take in the scenery and enjoy the views.
Throughout the trail, there is an array of beautiful species including the kākā, kea and rock wren. Those that are interested in a flexible and enjoyable hike and wanting to interact with natural scenery should add the Routeburn Track to their Queenstown bucket list.
The Milford Track is a 53.5km trail and is also known as one of the most famous hiking tracks in New Zealand. However, this beautiful and well-known trail is one of the most sought-after hikes and has a quota of 8,000 hikers per season. Though the Milford Track is the most in-demand hike, it provides one of the most highly rated natural scenery available in South Island. Those that are interested in hiking the Milford Track should book well in advance as it can be difficult reserving a spot, especially in peak travel periods.
The full distance of the Milford Track takes approximately 4 days to complete one way, however, the track is very weather dependent and track conditions can change. This can result in a longer and difficult hike. Weather around the Milford track can be very unpredictable and is often raining and foggy, which may impact your ability to take in the full scenery. However, in clear weather, the dark night sky provides the perfect opportunity to stargaze and the blue lakes and glaciers provide breathtaking scenery. But don’t let the unpredictable weather stop you from experiencing the spectacular waterfall views that the Milford Track has to offer, even when it is raining.
Milford Track can be considered a physically demanding track as there are uphill sections and steep declines throughout the trail. Considering the possibility of unforeseen weather changes, if you are interested in hiking the Milford track, you should read this guide on what to bring and wear on a hike to make sure you are prepared for any weather.
The Kepler Track is a 60km loop trail that starts and finishes in the same location and is considered the most challenging hike. However, the difficult climb and descent does not stop anyone from hiking, as it provides the most rewarding scenery and wildlife. Because the Kepler Track is a looped trail, hikers have the option of hiking in a clockwise or anti-clockwise route and allows some form of flexibility for which area to experience first.
The full distance of Kepler would take approximately 4 days to complete, however, there is the option to shorten the distance by 10km by exiting or entering at Rainbow Reach using a car or bus. The Kepler track is known for being quite windy. Therefore, if you have vertigo or not a fan of heights, Kepler should not be considered, especially on a windy day. The Kepler Track provides beautiful views of lakes, forests and wetlands. Those who appreciate nature and enjoy encountering various species, including the wild kiwi, should consider the Kepler Track.
As the Kepler Track is considered the most physically demanding track, due to the steep climbs and descents throughout the trail, only those with a reasonable high level of fitness should consider hiking the Kepler track. Have a read on how to prepare for a hike for those that are interested in hiking the Kepler Track or experiencing the scenic ridgeline.
The ‘Great Walks’ are the most sought-after trails in New Zealand, and all require booking in advance. If you are huge fan of hiking, another track that you should consider the Hollyford Track, located in the Fiordland National Park. Even though the Hollyford Track is not considered one of the ‘Great Walks’, it’s still highly recongised for its spectacular views of Lake Alabaster and scenic forests. Explore our Hollyford Track 3 Day Wilderness Experience for a different hiking experience.