Remote treks in New Zealand for epic wilderness escapes


New Zealand is renowned for its breathtaking natural landscape and rugged wilderness areas perfect for remote trekking adventures. From the Subantarctic Islands of Stewart Island to the volcanic moonscapes of Tongariro National Park, New Zealand offers epic multi-day hikes traversing remote backcountry with few other people around.

What is remote trekking?

Key considerations for New Zealand routes

Remote trekking refers to extended multi-day hiking journeys typically completed without seeing many other people and relying mostly on basic provisions and shelters along the way.

Some key aspects that define remote trekking in New Zealand include:

Route isolation:

Treks discussed here traverse large wilderness areas with minimal infrastructure, lodging or cell service. Days or even weeks may pass without seeing other people. Self-reliance in navigation, backcountry skills and emergency preparedness is essential.

Basic accommodations:

Overnight huts, basic campsites and bivvies are the norm. Do not expect luxury lodging – most facilities are very basic with few amenities beyond shelter from the elements. Camping equipment and skills are required.

Wildlife encounters:

Meeting native New Zealand wildlife like kiore (ship rats), kaka, kea and even rare kiwi is very possible. Proper food storage and precautions are mandatory to avoid conflicts.

Weather variability:

Four distinct seasons cause highly changeable weather from scorching sun to intense rain and snow. Rapid weather shifts are common – careful planning prevents risks.

Permits and booking:

Most routes traverse DoC land requiring free/paid hut/campsite passes booked in advance. Competition for spaces increases during summer/holidays.

So in summary, remote trekking demands self-sufficiency, resilience and prudent planning to safely enjoy New Zealand’s spectacular wilderness areas. Let’s now look more closely at some of the best multi-day treks.

The Milford Track – Fiordland National Park

Within Fiordland National Park lies New Zealand’s most famous walk – the Milford Track. This 54km/4-day route is renowned worldwide for its glacially-carved fiords, rainforest-clad valleys and summit views over Dusky Sound. Its popularity means booking hut/campsite passes a year in advance as a maximum of 40 people are allowed on the track per day.

Route logistics

The route is walked from north to south, beginning inland at Glade Wharf before ascending to high alpine vistas as it winds its way down to the coastal village of Milford Sound. Comfortable boots, layers for changeable weather and a basic first aid kit are essential. Hut accommodation, toilets and campsites along the way provide overnight shelter. Guided options are available which include transport, accommodation and meals.

Scenery highlights

Days 1-3 treat hikers to glacier-carved fiords, dense rainforest and cascading waterfalls. Key spots include Mackinnon Pass (height gain), Lake Te Anau and waterfall-filled Sandfly Point. Day 4 rewards after an early rise with views down to Milford Sound and Tasman Sea before ending back at the wharf. Rainforest plants and birds seen along the way include rimu, rata, kaka and kea.

Conservation considerations

As one New Zealand’s most iconic tracks, visitor pressures exist. Staying on designated tracks helps protect fragile alpine ecosystems. DoC education programs encourage treading lightly. Respect for wildlife includes avoiding interactions and keeping food/scents secured overnight. With care, the track’s magic can be experienced sustainably.

While popularity means pre-booking is essential, the Milford Track rewards hikers with unforgettable scenery of Fiordland’s mountains meeting the sea. With prudent preparation, it offers a quintessential New Zealand wilderness experience. Let’s explore more remote options next.

The Routeburn Track – Mount Aspiring National Park

Vying with the Milford as New Zealand’s top Great Walk, the Routeburn Track rewards those seeking a multi-day adventure surrounded by stunning alpine scenery without the crowds. Nestled within Mount Aspiring National Park, this celebrated 28km/2-3 day route weaves between temperate rainforests, mountain tarns and glacial valleys beneath the looming peaks of Fiordland and the Southern Alps.

Route logistics

Hiking from south to north, the trail begins at Blue Pools and finishes at Routeburn Flats after traversing climbs, ridges and waterway fords. Quality overnight hut accommodation is available at Glenorchy, Routeburn Flats and Greenstone. Booking essential, especially summer/holidays. Limited bus options to starting points possible from nearby towns.

Scenery highlights

Day 1 features quiet beech forest and aquamarine Blue Pools before ascending to the High Country and views to the glacial-carved Spey Valley. Day 2 rewards with mountain vistas near Routeburn Falls. Stretches along McKellar Burn glide between tussock basins and scree slopes, passing alpine tarns fringed by lupins and native ribbonwood.

Conservation considerations

Relatively lighter traffic versus the Milford Track aids a sense of remoteness. DoC maintain the Routeburn with sustainability as a priority. With 1,300 walkers annually versus 40,000 on the Milford, impacts remain low when minimal impact practices like staying on-track are followed. Protecting rare alpine plant and bird habitats ensures future generations continue enjoying this wilderness.

For those seeking solitude in spectacular scenery, the Routeburn delivers an utterly unforgettable multi-day tramp through a quintessentially Kiwi landscape. With prudent booking and care for the environment, it rewards as one of New Zealand’s finest walking tracks.

The Kepler Track – Fiordland National Park

Vying with the Routeburn for second spot behind the Milford as one of New Zealand’s Great Walks lies the Kepler Track. Winding for 60km through verdant temperate rainforest, alpine meadows and mountains, this 4-5 day circuit rewards hikers with breathtaking inland Fiordland scenery without the crowds.

Route logistics

Traversed clockwise, the track starts and finishes at the small settlement of Brod Bay. Comfortable walking boots, layers and basic supplies are essential for climbs through beech forest, tussock grasslands and exposed high-altitude ridges. Quality hut accommodation is available at Luxmore, Iris Burn and Moturau, with campsites too. Bookings advised. Shuttles connect to trackheads.

Scenery highlights

Day 1 rewards with rainforest trails and views to the snowy Kepler Mountains. Day 2 passes alpine lakes and tarns as it climbs to the Moturau Saddle with vistas over Dusky Sound and Fiordland. Day 3 rewards at Red Tussock Bivvy perched high above Lake McKellar before descending through forest to Brod Bay Village. Spot kohekohe, rimu trees and birds along the route.

Conservation considerations

Less crowded than competing Great Walks yet equally stunning, the Kepler sees fewer numbers helping protect flora and fauna. Careful planning prevents damage to fragile alpine ecosystems. Logistics like controlled hut numbers, restricting campfires and blocking dangerous areas with boardwalks help balance access and preservation. With visitors’ cooperation, this track can remain a place of natural wonder.

Overall, for those happy taking their time to fully immerse in Fiordland’s outstanding scenery away from crowds, the Kepler delivers. With prudent planning and care of the environment, it offers a truly wilderness multi-day experience to remember forever.

The Rakiura Track – Stewart Island

For remote adventurers seeking total solitude, New Zealand’s third island Stewart Island delivers a true wilderness jewel – the 36km Rakiura Track circling its southern coastline. Traversed in 3-5 days, this remote seaside tramp passes bays, beaches and birdlife in a landscape shaped by centuries of isolation.

Route logistics

Beginning and ending at Oban, the main Stewart Island settlement, this loop track can be walked in either direction. Basic huts and campsites provide overnight shelter along the unspoiled coastline. Food, fuel and supplies must be self-sufficiently carried due to the island’s remote amenities and populations of only 500 year-round residents. Boat or plane transport reaches the remote start point.

Scenery highlights

Day 1 introduces scenic beaches and glimpses of rare kakapo before passing freshwater lakes under vertical cliffs. Days 2-3 delight with tidal bays, remote coves only accessible by foot and vistas to surrounding tiny islets. Birdlife is prolific with opportunities to spot kiwi, weka, dotterel and more in their natural habitat

Conservation considerations

Stewart Island/Rakiura’s isolation is both its allure yet vulnerability. With few people, impacts accumulate. Careful planning and low-impact hiking prevents damage to ecosystems and disturbance to wildlife. Practicing principles like remaining on-tracks, carrying rubbish off-island and avoiding wildlife interactions maintains this scenic haven in pristine condition for generations.

Overall, the Rakiura Track offers a truly immersive wilderness walk around New Zealand’s third island. With its unsurpassed natural beauty and solitude, it rewards remote adventurers seeking to truly escape from it all. Through sustainable practices, its magic can be preserved.

Other notable remote routes

New Zealand offers abundant opportunities beyond its iconic Great Walks for multi-day adventures through awe-inspiring scenery. Some other top options for remote trekking include:

Rees-Dart Track (Mount Aspiring National Park)

Traversing sheer-sided valleys and alpine passes, this remote 4-5 day route delights more serious trampers seeking true wilderness.

Whanganui Journey (Whanganui National Park)

Paddling canoes through magical rainforest and clear waters, this multi-day inland journey rewards those seeking off-track adventures.

Paparoa Track (Pancake Rocks – Punakaiki)

Hiking through limestone gorges and beaches, this developing multi-day track reveals the wild Paparoa Range.

Waitutu Track (Stewart Island)

Traversing windswept coasts above remote Fiordland seaboard, this circuit offers stunning coastal scenery for experienced trekkers.

Hollyford Track (Milford Sound)

Threading through unspoiled valleys and beech forests, this challenging route rewards fit adventurers willing to get well off the beaten path.

Planning an epic remote trek

Careful planning is essential for safely enjoying New Zealand’s many remote multi-day routes. Consider:

  • Book huts/sites early, often a year in advance for Great Walks
  • Organize transport to trailheads well ahead of time
  • Check intended route conditions and regulations
  • Prepare mandatory/recommended equipment and supplies
  • Consider travel insurance, emergency plans
  • Check multi-day weather forecasts
  • Leave detailed trip intentions with contacts
  • Respect any track closures or advisories
  • Follow principles of low-impact travelling

With prudent organization and sustainable practices, New Zealand’s remote trekking routes safely deliver epic multi-day wilderness escapades amid unforgettable scenery. Let the planning begin!

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