Iconic New Zealand Scenery (newzealand.com)

New Zealand is world famous for its spectacular scenery. Every year, more people from all over the world flock to this isolated country to walk around this special place that was chosen by Peter Jackson to be “Middle Earth’ for his six epic Tolkien movies.

There are literally thousands of  dedicated walking tracks found in the three main islands that make up New Zealand. However, there are 9 major tracks that feature in the most popular travel guides. Most of these are found in the breathtaking South Island landscapes.

Let me take you on a tour of 5 of the “Big 9” walking tracks.


In May 2005, National Geographic Magazine voted The Routeburn Track one of the top 11 walking trails in the world.

Located at the top end of Lake Wakatipu in the South Island’s lake district, the 32 km Routeburn Track is regarded as one of the world’s great alpine walks.

Work started on developing the track in the 1880s but it wasn’t completed until the late 1930s. It is now a well maintained track and because of its accessibility, it appeals to those wanting to do a day hike in the pristine New Zealand great outdoors.

The weather is changeable in this part of the country so the authorities have provided 4 huts along the track for resting and shelter. (Huts are also provided on the other tracks I talk about)

Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track traverses open, flat tussock land before rising gently to the Harris Saddle, 1300 metres above the starting point. Trampers undertaking the 3 day guided hike are thrilled to meet native New Zealand birds as they pass a couple of small alpine lakes, along with waterfalls, rivers, forests and of course, the spectacular alpine scenery that has made the Routeburn Track so popular.


I know this part of the country well and can understand why this track is so popular with foreign visitors. There is a special crispness to the air and the unique brilliance of the light is simply striking. The vivid blue of the sky and lakes, contrasts with the vivid golden tussock and vivid green of the forests. Okay, I might be overdoing the ‘vivid’ adjective, but it’s the best way I can quickly convey the special quality of the environment found here. There is also a special magic in the silence only broken by the distant sound of a bird call or the light rustling of a nearby clump of tussock as its disturbed by a gentle breeze.

Queenstown is one of the world’s top alpine resorts and is close to this track. When visitors to the resort are told about the magic of the Routeburn Track, some alter their travel arrangements to experience the walk for themselves. However, over the summer months, the track can be busy so it’s wise to pre-plan a walk. This applies to all the South Island walking tracks.

There is a good visual representation of the Routeburn Track in this 5 minute video.


The 82km Heaphy Track was originally created by Maoris in their search for greenstone which they used for weapons and jewellery. Today, the track offers alpine scenery, ancient forests and dramatic, untamed coastal scenery.

Coastal View from Heaphy Track

The Heaphy Track is the most gentle of the “Top 9” New Zealand walking tracks. It also offers more contrasts than any other New Zealand walking track.  Many trampers mix and match their time by walking short sections of the track. They may choose the 10km walk from Brown River Hut. This takes them through dense beech forests where the world’s largest carnivorous snail lives. You can see this unique creature in action and read more about it in my blog: The Best Cycle Trails on Earth.


Flanagan’s Corner is the highest point of the Heaphy Track where hikers can look across the splendour of the Kahurangi National Park to Golden Bay, and on a fine day, they can see the almost perfect cone shape of Mt. Egmont on the North Island.

When the track meets the coastline, hikers pass the dramatic sandy cove of Scotts Beach edged by steep cliffs covered in thick rainforest. The wild Tasman Sea thunders onto the beach and the tangy salt air adds to the atmosphere of this wild West Coast location.

The 8km section from Lewis Hut crosses a number of rivers with narrow, somewhat scary bridges including New Zealand’s longest swing bridge. Along this section, massive native rata trees grace the side of the track, along with the region’s iconic nikau palm trees.

This short video gives you a really good overview of the diversity of scenery found on this great walk.



Like the Routeburn Track, the 60km Kepler Track is located in the spectacular lakes district of the South Island. This walking track passes the large lakes of Manapouri and Te Anau.

Breathtaking Views from the Kepler Track

Highlights of the Kepler Track include the beautiful alpine tussock flats and the magical Luxmore Caves. Regarded the most intelligent bird on earth, the cheeky Kea, is never far away looking for food or souvenirs to steal. The New Zealand falcon, the country’s most spectacular bird, can also be seen along this track.

The Kepler Track is well presented with boardwalks across boggy areas. All streams across the track have bridges. There are even handrails on the sides of some steep sections. The track usually takes 3 to 4 days to complete unless you take part in the Kepler Challenge. This annual race sees winners running the complete 60km in a staggeringly short 5 hours! Whew!!

Kepler Challenge (newzealand.com)

The Kepler Track would be my choice from the “Top 9” because breathtaking landscapes continually present themselves as you progress along this dramatically spectacular walk. It truly is a great way to experience the famous New Zealand alpine landscapes. I even prefer it to the world’s top walking track which I will talk about in More Walks in Paradise .

A unique conservation initiative called ‘Kids Restore the Kepler’ has resulted in an increase in the native bird numbers in the area resulting in more opportunities to experience the almost spiritual sounds many of the native birds are famous for. You can hear what they sound like in my blog Clumsy Flier Wins Top Award https://hewardblog.com/clumsy-flier-wins-top-award/

The majesty of the scenery on the Kepler Track is well presented in this video:



Last year, 7000 hikers completed this 43km, 4 day walk up and around volcanoes in the Central North Island. Part of the walk marketed as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, hosted 25,000 hikers last year.

Tongariro Northern Circuit

The Tongariro Northern Circuit doesn’t offer the breathtaking scenery found in the South Island walks but it does entice visitors who want to experience being close to a living volcano. In fact, this year, the Alpine Crossing was closed for a short period when Mt Ruapehu, one of the three volcanoes around the track, threatened to erupt. The green waters of the Emerald Lakes on the upper reaches of the track, are a sharp contrast to the brown, dusty, barren surroundings of the volcano’s slope.

This track can be reached by car from Auckland in just 3 hours. I guess this helps explain the large number of visitors. The South Island walks require flights, taking up valuable time for short stay overseas visitors. At least, the Tongariro walk gives them some experience of hiking in New Zealand’s fresh air but to me, they are missing the true essence this country has to offer. This walk is tough on the legs as the loose, unforgiving sharp scree constantly shifts under foot but with a trio of active volcanoes so close there is a certain excitement about walking in danger. No scenery to speak of here, just the simmering lava threatening to explode and provide a sensation on your Facebook or You Tube page.

Take a walk on this track in this video.



Stewart Island Native Forest

I don’t recommend this walk to the average tourist wanting an easy amble through the countryside. Here, the wild landscape is as it was before man arrived to modify it. You have to be seriously fit to undertake this walk but if you like to challenge yourself in a rather unforgiving landscape, this is the one to tackle.

The Stewart Island North West Circuit is in the Rakiura National Park and incorporates the Southern Circuit Track in a 125 km loop of the island. Because there is only one settlement at Halfmoon Bay, and just a few kilometres of roads around the settlement, the risk of running out of supplies or getting lost, is something to seriously consider. Those undertaking the walk are warned about the tides. Parts of the track are impassable at high tide and there is a danger of slipping on wet rocks where the track hugs the shoreline. Quicksand is another hazard. The Southern Circuit Track is only recommended to experienced trampers and is not a good idea for those with no bush experience.

Because of its geographic location, Stewart Island is exposed to the storms that sweep up from the southern ocean. Although the day can start out sunny, it can be blowing a freezing gale by later morning. It rains 265 days of the year. I have been to Stewart Island half a dozen times and have experienced these rapid weather changes. It is really a matter of being prepared. It can be brilliantly sunny then within an hour, it is blowing a gale and pouring with rain. Sudden temperature changes are a feature of the climate here too.

Why would anyone want to walk around Stewart Island? Answer: to experience the true wilderness in all its untamed majesty. There are a couple of basic huts to rest in but only the adventurous should consider this unique tramp. However, those who have completed the 11 day walk, say it was a life changing experience.

With all the rain the island receives, there is plenty of water around. Check this video but I want to add that not all the track is like this. There are some moody

beaches, open tussock hillsides and beautiful little coves and bays as well as muddy sections:


Ruggedy Beach Stewart Island

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