If you’ve ever wondered about walking one of the Great Walks, this is the issue for you. Not only do we show you how to do each of the 10 walks, but we’ve also asked New Zealand’s best outdoor writers to share what the walks mean to them.
When I asked the various writers to contribute their experiences, I was hoping to discover what makes each walk ‘great’: is it the views, the huts or the overall experience. Turns out, it’s a combination of these things but, also, much more.
I’ve discerned a couple of major themes running through the feature: that the walks are as much a cultural experience as they are a nature experience, and that those who walk them seem to develop an unbreakable connection to the landscape.
The cultural aspect comes in many guises, but on several of the Great Walks – Tongariro, Lake Waikaremoana, Whanganui and Rakiura in particular – walkers find a link to an indigenous world view that is mostly missing in our daily lives and conversations. Some walks, like the Milford, Heaphy and Rakiura, provide an insight into pākehā colonisation and endeavour. Before Covid-19 closed our borders, all the walks were a melting pot where Kiwis and international visitors mixed and mingled – what better way to broaden your horizons and find common ground among people than in the backcountry where all are equal.
Most hikers already feel a connection to the land – how can you not when you watch the sunrise from a remote campsite or alpine hut or listen to the babbling of a creek while stopped for a break on any number of bush tracks? Perhaps it’s due to the elevated status the Great Walks enjoy, but those who hike (or ride or canoe) these trails seem to almost have a religious experience. The landscapes are grand – beyond imagination in most cases – which also contributes to feelings of overwhelming awe and insignificance.
In this regard, there can, arguably, be no better introduction to multi-day tramping than a Great Walk. Take a newbie on one of these trips and you may make them a tramper for life. Even if they never lace up their boots again, the realisation of the beauty found in the natural world will encourage them to help protect these treasured places for future generations. That alone would be a great result.
So, while many hardened trampers have long turned their noses up at the Great Walks – decrying them for being too crowded, too easy and just a marketing gimmick (I have been guilty of such thoughts myself), after reading our collection of essays it’s plain to see they are not deserving of such criticism.
They are a chance for anyone to witness the greatest natural views in New Zealand. They are a chance to strengthen our connection to this country – the land, the rivers, the sea – and its indigenous people. And that is what makes them so great.
October issue update: The October issue is scheduled to be published on September 21.