New Zealand is blessed with truly awe-inspiring terrain. Verdant forests, shimmering rivers and lakes, picturesque beaches and majestic mountains are abundant in both the North and South islands.
For those of you who want to get amongst it all, the New Zealand Department of Conservation has designated eight ‘Great Walks’. These tracks are well maintained, furnished with decent lodging and boast some of Aotearoa’s best scenery.
However, New Zealand has many more excellent walks to offer. Here we share seven of our favourite, slightly less well-known walks. They showcase equally varied and breathtaking landscapes, each with buckets of quiet walking trail charm to boot. Look to these if you’d like to immerse yourself in New Zealand’s bountiful nature, without the crowds for company. From North to South:
The Country’s Crown: Te Paki Coastal Track
Te Paki Recreation reserve/Cape Reinga, Northland, North Island
The Cape Reinga walk covers 41km of coastline around the headland of the northern-most point of New Zealand. The trek begins among the tall, sleepy dunes of Te Paki Stream and culminates in an epic view of the point where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean collide in a mass of foam and salt. The campgrounds have been deliberately sited to showcase the incredible seascapes this section of coast has to offer. Be sure to spend a night at the Kapowairua (Spirits Bay) Department of Conservation campsite [http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/northland/places/te-paki-recreation-reserve/things-to-do/campsites/kapowairua-spirits-bay-campsite/] and, if you’re brave enough, take a swim at the often deserted Spirits Bay with New Zealand to one side and a seemingly endless expanse of ocean to the other.
Undercover Stunner: Buck Taylor Track Loop, Karekare, North Island
Karekare, Auckland region, North Island
A mere 45 minutes drive west of Auckland lies a secret gem of a track. It’s only a short walk at 2km, but you would be hard pressed to find another track this length that has as many wonderful sights. It runs among the Waitakere Ranges, which are covered in wild, subtropical bush and fall gently to a rugged coastline and the testy Tasman sea. The charmingly unkempt trail will lead you through an ancient forest generously populated with native Manuka and Cabbage trees and mighty ferns, past rich black sand dunes and emerald cliffs, and take you to an impressive rock cave! Be sure to take a detour across Lone Kauri Road when as you make your way back – it’ll lead you to a shallow pool where you can relax and cool off!
Clifftop Climb: Makara Walkway
Kapiti, Wellington, North Island
Sitting on the coast, just outside of the country’s capital, is the Makara walkway. The 6km loop presents another easy outing with an appealing ratio of reward to effort. Be sure to pick a calm day as the wind can complicate this walk. Towering cliffs, complete with gun emplacements installed during World War II, offer plentiful opportunity to take in epic views of the rollicking seas. Fortifications from a different era lie at the Western end of Fisherman’s Bay, where a Ngati Ira pa site occupies the promontory. The return stretch brings you closer to the water, with a walk along the wild, craggy Makara beach. There are rock pools galore for kids to explore, and you’re free to clamber up to the wind farm – although the steep track can be challenging in less than ideal conditions. Indeed, reserve this wonderful walk for a calm, sunny day, and you’ll have a glorious time.
Beech Trees and Emerald Pools: Pelorus Track
Mount Richmond National Park, Marlborough, South Island
This 36km trail winds its way through the Mount Richmond Forest Park, offering an intimate experience of New Zealand’s native bush and the tranquil Pelorus river. Unlike many New Zealand rivers, the Pelorus is not chillingly cold so the swimming here is some of the best. The famous Emerald Pools are a popular destination, but those who wander a little further through the groves of Matai and Beech Trees will find equally beautiful pools without a soul in sight. Magic.
A Tough Climb to Sublime Views: Mueller Hut Route
Mount Cook National Park, Central Otago, South Island
This tough 1828 metre ascent is not for the faint of heart, but those who can shoulder the pain are rewarded with exceptional views. Starting at the valley floor, the switchback track allows you in take in increasingly panoramic views of the country’s finest glacial terrain – punctuated by the highest mountain the country, the aptly named Aoraki (cloud piercer) Mount Cook. The landscape is bright and pristine, with other worldly glacial pools, braided rivers and, on a good day, a cavernous blue sky. And the sky gets even better once you arrive at the cantilevered hut, rest your aching legs and take a moment to appreciate one of the best sunsets in the world.
Backcountry Luxury: Hump Ridge Track
Fiordland National Park, Fiordland, South Island
Although the Hump Ridge track is not an official Great Walk, the views are equally impressive, the track is well maintained and there is a bounty of flora and fauna. The accommodation is what makes this walk unique, however. Those who can endure the toughest walk in this list will get to enjoy the rare luxury afforded by the track’s two lodges, each positioned to offer spectacular vistas. Hikers can indulge in a beer or a glass or wine and gaze over the region’s impressive scenery before retiring for a hot shower and into a king size bed – a real treat in the New Zealand bush.
360 Degree Panorama: Ben Lomond Track
The Ben Lomond Track is undoubtedly Queenstown’s premier walking trail, rewarding the brave souls who take on the steep climb with incredible views of the entire ‘basin’ as it is known by locals. Be sure to make a left at the Ben Lomond Saddle and head for the Ben Lomond Summit. Once you have completed the ascent, you will find the impressive Remarkables mountain range standing proud to the south east, and Walter and Cecil Peaks visible to the south across the many-hued expanse of Lake Wakatipu. Those who have enough energy reserves to continue turning their heads will take in Moke Lake to the west and a maze of valleys and canyons to the north. An astonishing 360 degree view that will leave you smiling the whole way down.
Have you got any other suggestions? Let us know what your favourite walks are!