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Not so Great Walks

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October 2019 Issue

October marks the beginning of the Great Walks season, but what if your Great Walk experience wasn’t quite what you expected? Wilderness discovers a few walkers who were left less than impressed.

Years ago I visited the stunning Lake Matheson, with its mirror reflection of the Southern Alps. 

It was a crisp blue morning, with barely a hint of wind, and the track was teeming with visitors.

At a viewing platform, a disgruntled middle-aged American couple were putting away their camera, complaining about occasional ripples dancing across the black surface. 

“I guess that’s the best we’re going to get it today,” one moaned to the other. 

I couldn’t believe it – the morning had me buzzing, and the reflection was perfect to my eyes, yet this couple was heading home in a huff because it wasn’t good enough.

Maybe I’m easily amused, or perhaps I have low standards, but I like to think you could put a pack on my back and my boots on a track and I’d be happy anywhere in the outdoors.

Not so with everyone, I’ve discovered.

TripAdvisor is the world’s largest travel website – a virtual guestbook where travellers can rate their experiences at accommodations, attractions and more. 

New Zealand’s Great Walks have received outstanding reviews across the board, and with good reason – they’re accessible, diverse, and boast some of the best scenery New Zealand has to offer. 

But not everybody found them great, and some didn’t even think they were good. 

Sandflies, weather and “too many trees” are common complaints for the otherwise well-rated walks – proof you can show a critic the Sistine Chapel, and they’ll think Michaelangelo an amateur. 

Reviewer ‘Avihayh’ thought the native forests and golden beaches of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track to be “way overrated”, giving it two stars after a miserable day hike from Bark Bay to Marahau. 

“It’s an easy walk but has little to offer. A few sandy beaches and nice creeks. But that’s it. Do a boat tour – you don’t need more than that,” he said. 

‘Ian-Bruce-Rob’ wrote in a one-star review that he was “terribly disappointed” with the track, which he found to be “very up and down and badly maintained with tree roots and rocks everywhere”.

“Don’t expect views apart from the odd gap in the trees and from the beaches themselves,” he said.

“As often with New Zealand, the hype is much greater than reality. I just don’t get it,” he gloomed. 

The Milford Track – regarded by some as the greatest walk in the world – isn’t much fun when you can’t see it, noted several miffed reviewers in one-star reviews.

‘RxRaymond’ has done the track twice in heavy rain and bad visibility and said “it’s not bad luck, it’s typical” of the track. He then quoted a local who he claims told him: “I didn’t see the view until my fifth or sixth time.” 

In response to someone who got good weather, he kept to his negative tone: “You’re one of the lucky few,” he said. “Dumpling Hut is the third wettest spot in the world.”

Reviewer ‘shlui1’ believes it’s “the most overrated track”, but with clouds covering their views, they’ll never really know.

“I do not want to say that it is a nice track just because I have spent so much effort and money to book it,” they wrote. “The truth is, over 90 per cent of the time I was hiking in forests, with trees blocking all the views. Even when there is no tree, you need to be quite lucky to see something as raining is a norm.”

Reviewer ‘msnakim’ walked a section of the Routeburn Track and was less than impressed by what the lush beech forest had to offer.

“You get bored after the first 15 minutes as it all looks the same. The Sugarloaf swingbridge provided some diversion, but that’s about all you get,” they wrote.

John from Gloucester called the Kepler Track the “best of a bad lot” in his three-star review.

“Te Anau claims to be the world capital of walking – they need to get out more! World capital of ripping off walkers perhaps,” he scathed. 

“The huts are what you would expect from a government organisation – functional but no atmosphere. There is virtually no other walking apart from the Great Walks.”

Johanna B said the Kepler was the noisiest walk she had done in New Zealand due to all the activity on Lake Te Anau.

“If you don’t mind walking through lush forest and lake shores with the thundering roar of motorboats on one side then that’s okay, but tranquil isn’t a phrase I’d use to describe this,” she wrote in a one-star review.

Australian hiker Lynda loved the “stunning scenery” of the Tongariro Northern Circuit but found the number of people overwhelming. 

“This walk would best be done in the shoulder season,” she said. “Many of the people on the walk have no idea about hut etiquette because they aren’t trampers, so a degree of patience is required at times.”

Kiwi reviewer ‘nzp0ppy’ called the Rakiura Track her least favourite Great Walk – in part due to the “mud, mud and more mud”.

“On the second day, there is absolutely no scenery except mud and forest – unable to see any viewpoints,” she wrote. “I didn’t enjoy the gravel paths through beautiful forest – but also understand that it is needed in places due to the mud.”

As the Great Walk season gets underway, we at Wilderness wish you a better experience than these reviewers and hope you’re not bored in the first 15 minutes. 

Great Walks ranked by TripAdvisor ratings

  • Abel Tasman Coastal Track – 5 stars based on 854 reviews
  • Routeburn Track – 5 stars based on 619 reviews
  • Kepler Track – 5 stars based on 448 reviews
  • Milford Track – 5 stars based on 337 reviews
  • Heaphy Track – 5 stars based on 85 reviews
  • Tongariro Northern Circuit – 5 stars based on 44 reviews
  • Lake Waikaremoana Track – 5 stars based on 19 reviews
  • Whanganui River Journey – 4.5 stars based on 271 reviews
  • Rakiura Track – 4.5 stars based on 52 reviews