If you want to see some of the best views in New Zealand, and you’re up for an adventure, a Great Walk is worth looking into. There are 10 Great Walks in New Zealand (well, nine + a river journey) and three of the most popular are located in Fiordland National Park. I’ve done all three Great Walks in Fiordland National Park in the last year (Kepler, Routeburn and Milford) and now I’m going to rank them for you!
I’m going to rank the Fiordland National Park Great Walks in three main categories – effort, views and cost.
Note: The Routeburn Track is in both Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park.
Great Walks can be tough, especially if you’re not a big hiker (or had just had a very lazy 6 months like me). You’ll be walking for over six hours most days and you have to carry a fair amount of gear. Even if you are pretty fit, a 10 kg pack does make a difference.
So, which of the three Fiordland National Park Great Walks is the easiest? This one is easy – it’s the Routeburn. The Routeburn Track is generally hiked in three days, and the first day is quite easy. There are a couple of decent sized detours (Conical Hill and Key Summit), so if you do both then the second and third days are quite long. But you can’t go past that easy first day, and the fact that the second and third days would be quite easy without the detours.
The Kepler Track is also only three days (you could stretch it out to four though), with the main difference being the difficult first day. It’s a big climb up to Luxmore Hut – so much harder than the first day of the Routeburn!
The Milford Track is in some ways harder than the Kepler. It’s four days for a start, meaning you’ll be carrying more in your pack. The first day is very easy (even easier than the first day of the Routeburn) and the last three days are all quite long but fairly easy in terms of hills. The big climb up to Mackinnon Pass is the only really demanding uphill section, but the final three days were all quite long and tiring.
And the Easiest Is: The Routeburn Track by a landslide. Next I’d say the Milford Track, mostly due to the easy first day and the relative lack of big uphill sections. Last is the Kepler Track – there’s quite a lot of uphill walking and the first day means you can’t ease into it.
The main reason to do a Great Walk in Fiordland National Park is to see the views. I reckon this the most stunning region of New Zealand, and while you can see heaps from road trips and day walks, nothing beats getting out into the wild for a few days.
This one is quite hard to rank, as we had perfect weather on the Milford / Routeburn Tracks and average weather on the Kepler. Still though, from everything I’ve seen I’d rank the Milford Track and Routeburn Track slightly higher than the Kepler. The Routeburn Track is full of variety. It actually starts off in Mount Aspiring National Park, and at the highest point you can get an awesome view of the both the Mount Aspiring side and the Fiordland side (which are very different).
There is so much to see on the Routeburn Track. Stunning waterfalls, a pristine river, an impressive high-altitude lake and breathtaking views from high above both valleys.
The Milford Track is the most iconic of New Zealand’s Great Walks, and it’s easy to see why. Starting with a boat trip across Lake Te Anau, you’re soon immersed in the wonders of the Clinton Valley.
This valley is your home for the next two nights, and it’s a special place. From there you head over the Mackinnon Pass, where you’ll get views over the Clinton / Arthur valleys. It’s the best spot on the track and one of the most scenic places in all New Zealand!
You’ll also see the tallest waterfall in New Zealand (Sutherland Falls) and dozens of other ones crashing off the cliffs surrounding the valleys (after rain especially).
The Kepler Track has great views too, although we didn’t see them in the best conditions. The first day takes you through the bush and then up the hill to Luxmore Hut.
The second day seems like it’d have the best views, but it was raining when we did it! It still looked cool, but it’s a bit hard to compare to the other two walks where we had perfect weather.
Day three on the Kepler Track is a bit boring. It’s pretty much all through the forest with some obstructed beach views but still very few views to speak of.
Doing a Great Walk in New Zealand isn’t cheap. You’ve got hut fees and transport to and from the track, as well as petrol / flights from wherever you’re coming from.
If cost is a factor in choosing which Great Walk to do, it becomes an easy decision. The Kepler Track wins out here as it starts and finishes in Te Anau (or a very short distance from town). I think we paid about $30 return to the start and end of the track.
If you’re looking into the Routeburn Track you’ll see that it’s a bit more complicated. If you’re staying in Queenstown, you’ll need to get a bus (or drive / get someone to take you) to the start of the track near Glenorchy. The track ends on the road to Milford Sound, so you’ll need to organise transport from there back to Queenstown or wherever your car is. These transfers aren’t cheap!
The Milford Track is more expensive again. You need to take a boat across Lake Te Anau to the start of the track, and then boat trip / bus ride back to Te Anau at the end.
Throw in hut costs (but not food, petrol etc) and it cost us around $450 each to do the Milford Track, $215 for the Routeburn (we got dropped off at the Glenorchy end, saving us some money) and $150 for the Kepler.
Day Trip Opportunities
There are good day walks on both the Kepler and Routeburn Tracks. The Routeburn especially – you can see the best bits of day one and day three on easy day walks from either end. We did Key Summit a few years before the whole Milford Track, and if we’d also done the day walk to Routeburn Falls and back it would have left just one “new day” for us.
You can also do a day walk up to Luxmore Hut, although it’d be a tough day. This is the first day of the Kepler Track and it’s pretty good for views.
You can’t do day walks on the Milford Track. For this reason, if you’re planning on doing a day walk on the Routeburn or Kepler Tracks one day, and you only want to do one multi-day walk, the Milford Track makes the most sense.
So, which is the best?
If you’ve read this far, it’s obvious that the Routeburn Track and the Milford Track are the best of the three. I’d say the Milford Track has slightly better views, but the Routeburn has more variety.
Both are excellent multi-day walks, but the fact you can do day walks on the Routeburn makes doing it all in one go not quite as important. You can only do the Milford if you do the whole thing, so if you’re planning a once in a lifetime hiking experience in New Zealand, I’d go for the Milford Track.
The Kepler is good too. We got quite a lot of rain (some hail and snow), which meant the views weren’t as good, but it’s a solid option. You could get rain on any of these tracks – Fiordland is one of the wettest places in New Zealand after all.
Are you planning on doing a Great Walk in New Zealand? Let me know in the comments below!
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