30 years ago, Aotearoa New Zealand’s Department of Conservation came up with an excellent plan to safeguard the country’s unique but fragile ecosystems: establishing a series of Great Walks for hikers to enjoy without going off trail.
The Great Walks pass through incredible landscapes and scenery, from old forests to sparkling lakes to breathtaking mountains. These areas have long attracted hikers and nature lovers, but the tracks created by the government have served to keep people enjoying these special spots without sacrificing the natural integrity of New Zealand’s national parks and other culturally significant areas. Each track is restricted to a certain number of pre-booked visitors, and has them sleeping in designated huts and campsites, controlling the impact on the environment.
This month, New Zealand celebrates 30 years of balancing love for nature with protecting it by showcasing the 10th trail in the Great Walks family, the Tuatapere Humpridge Track.
The latest addition to the Great Walk family is in Southland, and will be ready to book for the 2023/2024 walking season. It will allow walkers, or trampers as they’re called locally, to traverse beach, forest, and mountain ecosystems over the course of three days and 61km (38 miles). This loop hike goes along the south coast of New Zealand, as well as through the forested regions of Hump Ridge, which includes a series of historic bridges.
Unlike the other Great Walks, trampers will spend their nights in private backcountry lodges, rather than the more primitive huts found elsewhere. It’s also a touch more challenging, with one day featuring an ascent of 1,000m (3,280 feet).
In the 30 years since the Great Walks were established, the DOC has prioritized conservation and sustainability work to keep each trail as close to the way it would have looked 30 years ago.
“It’s more important than ever that we safeguard and grow our precious natural ecosystems,” says Penny Nelson, Director General of DOC. Tourism can easily negatively impact nature when it becomes over-loved, but the Great Walks showcase a sustainable model that blends connection with New Zealand’s nature and heritage with keeping it around long term. “We’re restoring biodiversity on these walks, with many of the programmes we run supported through partnerships like the one with Air New Zealand, which invests in six large Great Walks biodiversity projects.”
The Great Walks model has been so successful that Nelson says other tourism operators in the country are adopting the same approach to “restoration, immersion in culture and nature, and sustainable management.”
As for the next 30 years, New Zealand will continue to focus on ensuring Great Walks remain enjoyable and low impact, while continuing to benefit the country’s people. The DOC plans to measure the carbon footprints of the walks in order to minimize them, while increasing cultural aspects and storytelling, as well as ensuring local communities directly benefit from being in proximity to these attractions.
What to know when planning your Great Walk:
With over 950 huts, 1,400 kilometers of tracks, 300 campsites and thousands of cultural heritage sites to choose from, there is a Great Walk for everyone. Each offers low-impact experiences that immerse you in nature, but some may be a better fit than others.
- There is no right way to do a Great Walk. Whether you walk it or run it, camp in a tent or sleep in a hut, the experience is up to you.
- Learn about the various Great Walks to discover which one suits you and your travel companions best. Read about all of them, and their booking dates, here.
- Book in advance, and know that popular tracks can get scooped up quickly. It can help to be flexible about dates and which tracks you’re open to, since some remain available longer.
- Accommodations are primitive to basic, and can be shared with strangers (an excellent way to make friends). Be prepared to go without a shower or electricity for the duration of your tramp.
- When out in New Zealand’s nature, be a good guest by following DOC’s Tiaki care code.