12 Free Multi-Day Hikes in New Zealand
Which multi-day hikes in New Zealand have free accommodation?
So you’ve heard the news: multi-day hikes in New Zealand aren’t cheap. The appeal of hiking is how it puts the “free” in freedom, as well as being a great way to see those landscapes of the country. However, on multi-day hikes in New Zealand, you cannot just pitch a tent anywhere. Accommodation is the biggest expense of a multi-day hike. However, it is possible to do a complete multi-day hike in New Zealand without spending a cent on accommodation… We’ll go through those hikes on this quick guide to free multi-day hikes in New Zealand.
The hikes listed below are made up of the following accommodation: free campsites, free huts and huts which allow free camping beside them. The free huts managed by the Department of Conservation are known as “basic huts” or “bivvies”. They are literally a shelter with limited bunks, mattresses and sometimes a fireplace. They are not for the faint-hearted. What’s more, they are often on trails that are not likely to be well maintained, so you will either need navigational skills or keep an eye out for track markers. If you are not a skilled hiker, we recommend you opt for one of the Great Walks or one of the 12 Awesome Alternatives to the Great Walks of New Zealand.
1. Anatoki and Historic Kill Devil Pack Tracks
Experience stunning beech forest, gorge scenery and Lake Stanley. The 3-day hike is serviced by one standard Department of Conservation Hut (the Anatoki Forks Hut) which can be camped next to for free or stayed in for NZ$5. The next two huts on the tracks are basic huts meaning they are free to stay in.
Location: Kahurangi National Park, South Island. 1km south of Takaka in Golden Bay, follow State Highway 60 and turn off at Kotinga Road following the signage from there to a car park.
2. Te Paki Coastal Track
Explore the magnificent coastline of Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach on the Te Paki Coastal Track. Two of the campsites, the Twilight Campsite and the Pandora Campsites are free, while the Tapotupotu Campsite in the middle of the trail is NZ$8 per person per night. To make this a free multi-day hike in New Zealand, just do a 2-day section of the trail using one of the free campsites. Option one could be to hike from Spirits Bay to the Pandora Campsite (3 hours), then the next day hike from Pandora to Tapotupotu Bay (5h30mins). Alternatively, start at Cape Reinga and hike to the Twilight Campsite (3h45min) and the next day, continue to Te Paki Stream (4h30mins). The complete Te Paki Trail from Spirits Bay to Te Paki Stream takes 3-4 days.
Location: Cape Reinga, Northland, North Island.
3. Baikie Hut Track
Walk or mountain bike along on this 4WD track which runs beside the Twizel River. It’s a 3-hour walk to the hut then you can continue walking to the Duncan Valley and return to the hut for an overnight stay. This is also a great place to stargaze as it is within an International Dark Sky Reserve.
Location: Canterbury, South Island. Mackenzie District and Lake Pukaiki. The Baikie Hut Track car park is signposted off SH80, about 3.5 km from the SH8 junction near Pukaki.
4. Breast Hill Track
Part of the Te Araroa Trail, the Breast Hill Track. The 2-3 day track is serviced by a couple of standard huts, meaning it is free to camp by these huts, as well as one basic hut which is free to stay in.
Location: Hawea Conservation Park, Otago, South Island.
5. No Man’s Road
An area of the Ruahine Ranges known as No Man’s Road gives access to a number of free basic huts. Take them slowly for a 2-day trip. Starting from No Man’s Road, take the 1-hour walk to Diane’s Hut, then through beech forest and tussock lands to Taruarau Bivvy (2 hours) with some awesome mountain views along the way. An alternative walk from No Man’s Road is to Herrick’s Hut (5 hours).
Location: Eastern Ruahine Forest Park, Hawke’s Bay, North Island.
6. Gold Creek
With permission from the landowner (Te Papaioea / Palmerston North Office: +64 6 350 9700), there is a hike from Wakawara Road End in the eastern part of the Ruahine Ranges. Take the Gold Creek Route following a farm track to the Makaroro River. Follow the river to Gold Creek where the track starts on the true right of Gold Creek. The track follows a gentle ridge covered in beech forest before descending to the Gold Creek Hut (3-4 hours).
Location: Eastern Ruahine Forest Park, Hawke’s Bay, North Island. (From Napier, follow State Highway 50 for 66 km and turn right into Wakarara Road).
7. Borland Road to Clark Hut
Take in some of that famous Fiordland scenery in a World Heritage Area. The track starts on the south side of the Borland Road on the Borland Saddle leading past Island Lake. You’ll pass through a mix of forest, low-lying tussock areas and two lakes. At the junction to Green Lake, turn right, continue past Island Lake and to the A-frame Clark Hut (5 hours). There is a 30-minute side track to the historic Clark Hut through a swampy clearing if you want to check it out. You can return the same way the next day or take the junction onto the Green Lake Track to come out at the Lake Monowai car park. Another alternative is to extend the hike to the Monowai Hut (4 hours) which is NZ$5 per person per night. For more multi-day hikes in Fiordland, check out 5 Incredible Multi-day Hikes in the Fiordland National Park.
Location: Fiordland National Park, South Island. Starting from the Borland Saddle on Borland Road in Monowai.
8. Alpine Route
This demanding hike in the Mt Richmond Forest Park rewards hikers with amazing views of the Waimea Plains and Kaikoura Ranges. The 7-day hike is serviced by standard Department of Conservation huts which are either free to camp by or NZ$5 per person per night. It is best to tackle this hike as a group and with good navigational skills for areas where the track is unformed.
Location: Mt Richmond Forest Park, Marlborough, South Island. Start from Hacket road-end, 29 km south of Nelson.
9. Double Hut Track
The Double Hut makes a great base for climbing Mt Taylor. The track starts at the Lake Heron car park across the Rakaia Valley to the Lake Emily section of Te Araroa. The track takes three hours to complete taking in some excellent views of Lake Heron.
Location: Canterbury, South Island. Hakatere Conservation Park – Lake Heron car park, 1.7 km along the lakeshore, off Hakatere Heron Road.
10. Asbestos Cottage
Yep, you read that correctly. The hut is named after being built for people interested in asbestos mining in the area, but because the hut is riddled with asbestos (we hope). The track to this historic cottage which is now free for hikers to use as accommodation begins from the Cobb Valley Road. It follows an old asbestos mining path which turns into a hiking trail. There is an old mine to look at on the way to the rustic Asbestos Cottage. The cottage was home to an asbestos-mining couple for 40 years and overlooks some stunning views over the valley toward Takaka. The next day, you can continue to the Bullock Track which winds along the Cobb Ridge eventually making your way back down to the road beside the Cobb Reservoir (2-3 hours).
Location: Cobb Valley, Kahurangi National Park, South Island
11. Camp Creek Route
Get spectacular 360-degree views from Mt Alexander, while using the free Camp Creek Hut as a middle base. Follow the route through rainforest and along a creek bed before reaching a short side track to the Camp Creek Hut (3 hours). You can continue up to the Mt Alexander Summit which is a long and steep hike (5-7 hours from the hut). Find out more in 10 Hikes Around Lake Brunner.
Location: West Coast, South Island. 19 km south of Moana on the Inchbonnie-Rotomanu Road, just north of Lake Poerua.
12. Toaroha, Hokitika, Lower Whitcombe Track
A track for experienced hikers and during good weather conditions (summer and autumn tend to be the best time to go). The route follows rugged river valleys and alpine saddles. Good route-finding knowledge is recommended for this track. From the access road, it’s 3-4 hours to the Cedar Flat Hut and the Historic Cedar Flat Hut (the latter is free). From here you can either return the way you came to complete a two-day hike or continue on an 8-9 hour hike over saddles to the Toaroha Saddle Bivouac (the Toaroha Bivvy sleeps two people but is mainly used as a shelter). It’s then another 8 hours to the next free bivvy, the Frew Saddle Bivvy. It’s then a further 10 hours to the Hokitika Gorge road end. There are standards huts (around $5 per person) in between if required. For more tracks in the Hokitika area, check out 23 Unforgettable Walks in Hokitika.
Location: West Coast, South Island. Turn off the Kokatahi/Lake Kaniere circuit road at the signpost ‘Access to Toaroha Valley’, cross the bridge over the Kokatahi River and follow the road as far as you can go.
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