Walking them all

Walking New Zealand’s Nine Great Walks in nine weeks presented a challenge for two visiting travel bloggers recently. But it was a challenge tempered by enormous reward.

In February this year my partner Cat and I began a challenge that was over the year in the making.

It all started with a simple discussion about our bucket lists; the Nine Great Walks of New Zealand were very high on it. We were looking for a challenge and decided to attempt all nine walks in nine weeks. 

After the endless planning, the day arrived to embark on the first Great Walk; the Routeburn Track. It’s a hike that is world famous for its stunning landscapes and we were excited to be starting our Kiwi challenge in such an epic way.  

After an hour of beautiful hiking, we were introduced to the famous Fiordland weather. The rain was torrential and when it stopped, we were surrounded by fog so thick that we could barely see each other.  

By the time we made it to Lake McKenzie Hut for the night, we knew this wouldn’t be a leisurely stroll in the wilderness. As we took off our boots (which were dripping wet) the clouds parted, and a majestic view of the glacier appeared. So began a common trend of difficulty followed by reward.  

This continued with the stunning Milford Track.  

On the second day we received 200mm of rain, equivalent to a third of the annual rainfall of London in just 24 hours. This moment certainly took us to a whole new level of soaking wet.

But the rain also brought the mountains to life, creating hundreds of waterfalls that simply don’t exist when it’s dry. By the time we set out on day three, we were amazed to find the clouds had disappeared, and  from the summit of the MacKinnon Pass we saw the  whole mountain range in all its glory.  

As we reached the start of the Kepler Track, we’d got into the swing of multi-day hiking again. We shot up the steep climb to be greeted by the incredible views at Luxmore Hut. Sunset from the hut was a moment we will never forget. As soon as we got above the bush-line, we knew that we were doing one of the greatest walks of our lives.  

All around us were panoramic views of mountains and lakes from a vantage point that felt like we were on top of the world. This continued for the whole of the next day as we crossed stunning ridgeline after stunning ridgeline. We knew the walks would be good, but we didn’t realise just how spectacular they would be. 

After the extremes of Fiordland we headed south. Hopping over to Stewart Island, we hiked across beautiful windswept beaches and through pristine forest in the hope of seeing a wild kiwi. Sadly, the kiwis were in hiding, but it didn’t detract from a beautiful walk on the Rakiura Track. 

Next, we headed to the very north of the South Island to take on the Abel Tasman Track. For four glorious days the sun was out, the path barely left the coast and we walked from empty beach to empty beach via some beautiful forests and crystal clear freshwater pools.  

Our final Great Walk of the South Island was the Heaphy Track, a walk that many New Zealanders declare to be their favourite. It’s easy to see why as we barely saw another soul on the track and it gave us a feeling of hiking deep into the wilderness. Across all four days, through the beech and alpine tussocks, to the tropical nikau palms on the coast, the Heaphy felt like you were thousands of miles from civilization, offering genuine escapism. 

After crossing the Tasman, we embarked on the only Great Walk that has no walking. The Whanganui Journey was the one we were pretty worried about as we have little to no experience of canoeing. After five days of paddling down the glorious Whanganui River (and despite a couple of close calls with tree trunks and other debris) we made it to the end completely dry. We didn’t for one second think we would stay in the boat through the infamous 50/50 rapid. Maybe we could be converted to this paddling lark… 

It wasn’t long before the boots were back on and we were walking amongst the stunning volcanoes of Tongariro National Park for our eighth Great Walk. We’d seen pictures before, but nothing really compares to seeing the amazing emerald lakes and Mount Ngauruhoe from the summit of the Red Crater. After hiking up a steep and slippery scree slope, dodging people and falling rocks on the way up, it was another of those rewards that we came to expect from these incredible Great Walks. It was one of the many moments we felt truly blessed to be able to do all nine. 

By the time we got to Lake Waikaremoana (our final Great Walk), we were sad to think it would soon all be over. The walks had become our lives for the last year and we weren’t ready for it to end. However, Waikaremoana brought us back down to earth with storms, flooded tracks and even snow.  

There was little time to be sentimental when you’re freezing cold and wet, though it was some of the most spectacular forest of them all. After three days of some tough conditions, we’d finished. Nine Great Walks in nine weeks. It was the most wonderful feeling to have spent time in some of the greatest landscapes in the world. Once we’d finished, we realised that we may have hiked all the Great Walks but only until November. DOC have announced a tenth Great Walk that will open later this year. Maybe a return visit is in order. 

Volkswagen New Zealand assisted Joe and Cat between their Great Walk destinations with a Volkswagen Tiguan for them and all their gear. To follow Joe and Cat as they continue their journey beyond our shores, visit  


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