Planning Your Fiordland Great Walk

Known for its dramatic and untouched landscapes, Fiordland is a part of New Zealand that every resident and visitor simply must explore. The world heritage-listed Fiordland National Park is a true delight for all the senses, home to global attractions such as Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound which have helped claim New Zealand’s place as a ‘must-visit’ tourist destination.

The landscape here is so spectacular, diverse and remote that it should come as no surprise that Fiordland is home to more of New Zealand’s ‘Great Walks’ than any other region. The Milford Track, Kepler Track and Routeburn Track are some of the most popular hikes in New Zealand and all are located within the Fiordland National Park. There are many things to consider when planning your Fiordland Great Walk, from your route to your date, your transport to your accommodation. This guide to planning your Fiordland Great Walk is designed to cover all bases, allowing you to navigate your preparation with ease.

Selecting your Fiordland Great Walk

To get started on your planning, you’ll need to choose which Fiordland Great Walk you want to conquer first! Despite being geographically close together, the Milford Track, Kepler Track and Routeburn Track are remarkably different—and what may be perfect for one group or individual may not be ideal for another. 

Great Walks are known to book out very quickly, so we recommend selecting your track as soon as possible! That way, you’ll be ready to hit ‘book’ as soon as reservations become available.

Milford Track

First up on our list is the Milford Track – a 53-kilometre journey that is known for being the most famous hike in New Zealand. Said to be ‘moderately difficult’, the Milford Track is suitable for anybody with a fair level of fitness. After boarding a boat at Te Anau Downs, you’ll be dropped at the start of the track at Glade Wharf where your hike to Milford Sound begins. The highlights of the Milford Track include passing through dense beech forest, bathing in secluded swimming holes, crossing picturesque suspension bridges, seeing spectacular lakes, waterfalls and mountains and reaching the summit at MacKinnon pass, 1154 metres above sea level.

Kepler Track

The Kepler track is the Southernmost of Fiordland’s great walks, beginning in the Te Anau township and looping back to Rainbow Reach. The Kepler Track is unique in that it was created specifically for hiking, unlike other Great Walks which served a practical purpose in decades past. Also a four-day hike, the Kepler track is graded as ‘intermediate’, so you need to have a good level of fitness. The Kepler track showcases Fiordland’s very best natural assets—mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, forests, valleys, stone formations and more! A favourite among bird-watchers, hikers have the chance to spot the native Kea in its natural habitat as well as the bellbird, grey warbler, yellow-crowned parakeet and many other fascinating and unique species.

Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track traverses both the Fiordland National Park and the Mount Aspiring National Park in Otago, beginning in the North at Routeburn Shelter or in the South at The Divide Shelter. A slightly shorter Great Walk, the 33-kilometre Routeburn Track is usually completed over three days. Hikers will walk alongside rivers and waterfalls, cross swing bridges and pass through magnificent beech forest. You’ll stay a night alongside the spectacular Lake MacKenzie which is a highlight for many, and enjoy panoramic views over towering mountain tops. The Routeburn Track is also graded as intermediate, but is a shorter journey with different scenery to the Kepler Track.

When to explore Fiordland’s Great Walks

The official Great Walks season begins on the 1st of November and ends on the 30th of April. The season is set for safety reasons; there are far fewer hazards when there is no snow, less rainfall and a mild climate. Many people say that the best months to walk is March; during this time the ‘summer rush’ has died down but the weather is often at its best. Of course, the weather is always unpredictable, so the best time to walk is when it suits your lifestyle and existing commitments—or simply whenever you can get a booking!

Booking your accommodation

Trusted providers such as Easy Hike can take care of all your accommodation arrangements as part of a premium package. You are still able to walk independently, but Easy Hike arranges your accommodation bookings in approved lodgings as well as hiking gear and transportation.

If you are hiking independently, you will need to book your accommodation as soon as you can. There are Department of Conservation (DOC) huts and campsites at points along each track to align with your daily hiking itinerary. 

Bookings for the 2022/23 Great Walks season will open in the first week of May 2022 and are expected to fill quickly. Keep an eye on the Department of Conservation website for specific opening dates for each track and to make your bookings.

What to take

Experienced hikers will have a fair idea of what to take on their Fiordland Great Walk, but if you’re new to this there are some important items to remember. Firstly, you’ll need a large (40-60 litre) backpack – this will ensure you have enough space for all your essential supplies. You’ll need a warm sleeping bag (no matter whether you’re camping or staying in a hut), a first aid kit, a survival kit, large drink bottle, cooking utensils (if needed) and enough lightweight food to last your entire trip. Other recommended supplies include a phone, camera, torch, rubbish bag, lighter, changes of clothes, sun protection and, if you’re camping, a tent and a gas cooker. A detailed list of gear is available on the DOC website.

Transport for your Fiordland Great Walk

Something many hikers don’t consider until it’s too late is their transport to and from their Fiordland great walk. Unless you are taking a private car and completing the Kepler Track, which is effectively a loop, you will need to arrange transport for at least one leg of your journey.

Cheeky Kiwi Travel offers a range of transport for Fiordland’s Great Walks, whether you are departing from Queenstown, Te Anau or Glenorchy. This service is often preferred by hikers who are reluctant to leave their vehicle unattended in a public space for a number of days. Depending on which walk you choose, you can travel by minibus, car, water taxi or even scenic flight! A memorable way to begin a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Other useful tools

The Great Hikes app is a wonderful free tool for those considering embarking on one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. The free mobile app works offline, using GPS to allow you to see where you are on the track in real time and find descriptions for different sections of the track. 

No matter which walk you choose or what plans you make, the Milford Track, Kepler Track and Routeburn Track are phenomenal Fiordland hikes that will give you lifelong memories. We can almost guarantee that once you complete one Great Walk, you’ll soon be rushing to book the next!