Top 5 NZ Great Walks Summits | Back Country Cuisine

Top Five New Zealand Great Walks Summits

08 December 2021

NZ's Great Walks

Gary Patterson - Great Hikes App

Our partner and team behind the Great Hikes App have compiled a ‘Top 5 Guide’ of some of the best aspects of the NZ Great Walks. After a read, download their free app for all the NZ Great Walks and a selection of private tracks too.

In our opinion it’s the best app content for the Great Walks there is, plus the app works offline, is GPS enabled, and has 1,000+ pages of content!

Download from the Apple or Android app stores or visit the Great Hikes App site.


#1 - Tongariro Northern Circuit – Red Crater Summit

DISTANCE: 43.1km


BOOKING: Seasonal

Tongariro Northern Circuit

The Red Crater summit has the highest point of any NZ Great Walk and on a clear day is the most incredible of viewpoints. It’s a tough climb to reach the 1,868m summit and right beside it is a huge vertical shaft descending into the red crater with steaming explosion pits of emerald lakes just beyond.

Just when you thought the view can’t get any better you turn around and see the giant symmetrical cone Mt Ngauruhoe (2,287m) standing beside you and, if in luck, scan across the lowlands to see the distant shape of Mt Taranaki (2,518m) out west. In our opinion, far as NZ Great Walk summits go, this ones is the tops!

#2 - Routeburn Track – Conical Hill

DISTANCE: 33.1km


BOOKING: Seasonal

The Routeburn Track

The forest walk up the Routeburn Valley past the 176m Routeburn Falls is a great entrée. Second course is consumed when one passes through the sub-alpine meadows with flowering herb fields, ice cold tarns and a squeeze between giant towering rock monoliths. However the third course is truly delish! Reaching Harris Saddle (1,255m) the hillside drops away, it makes you feel that you are about to glide out like a Karearea falcon.

From this tight glacier carved valley take flight into wide trough of the Hollyford Valley. For the best vantage point clamber up a side route to Conical Hill. The 360 degree view from the hill (who names a 1,515m mountain peak a hill?) on a clear day takes in hundreds of the rippling ridges of the Fiordland National Park. Before descending cast your eye to follow the meanders of the Hollyford River to its outlet into the glistening waters of the Tasman Sea.

#3 - Milford Track – Mackinnon Pass

DISTANCE: 53.5km


BOOKING: Seasonal

Mackinnon Pass

Milford Track’s Mackinnon Pass just had to make into this top list as it certainly makes the cut. It’s a steep grade to climb up to the 1,069m high pass to reach the summit’s stone memorial to its first European explorer. The final few metres of the tussock path leaves the Clinton River catchment behind and marks the headwaters of the Arthur River, a tributary that feeds Milford Sound.

From this point the size of the glacier carved mountains are on a truly massive on a scale unlike any other NZ Great Walk. From here you can see the two days of walking of where you have come and the next two days of track ahead. This is truly a remarkable summit for sheer mass of mountains irrespective of whether you arrive in hail, rain or sunshine.

#4 - Lake Waikaremoana - Bald Knob



BOOKING: Year Round

Lake Waikaremoana

One of the least accessible Great Walks offers one of the most satisfying viewpoints. Climbing up Panekire Bluff on the first day in the middle of summer with a full pack could make you feel the cliffside should be called “Panekire Puff”. Yet reaching the vertical cliff at the Bald Knob (1,161m) viewpoint is well worth the effort.

From this point the tentacles arms of Lake Waikaremoana extend 500m below you. It’s the North Island’s deepest lake surrounded by virgin forest is one of the least known Great Walks. Before leaving don’t forget to look out east into the distance to spy a thin strip of land of Mahia Peninsular with its Rocket Labs launchpad on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

#5 - Kepler Track – Mt Luxmore



BOOKING: Seasonal

Kepler Track
PHOTO - Remarkable Creative

The sub-alpine tops of the Kepler Track offer one of the best NZ Great Walk ridge line walks. The high point is actually on a short side track over a boulder field that leads to the summit of Mt Luxmore (1,472m). Here you are greeted by curious keas and an incredible view east of the rural flats of civilisation and Te Anau and the flip side out west is of forested wilderness of the Fiordland National Park.

It’s a crazy landcover juxtaposition and very easy to linger here to watch clouds, walkers and time passing by if you can handle the elements on this harsh, windy and cold peak of the deep south.

So there you have it, make sure to add these summits into your Great Walks itineraries and even though you’ll no doubt be a bit tired when you first top out, the amazing vistas will provide plenty of rejuvenation and inspiration for the rest of your trip ahead, as well as the satisfaction of seeing just how far you’ve come.

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