The great unofficial walks of New Zealand
When stuck at home, many of us yearn for one thing: the wilderness.
The Great Walks of New Zealand, like the Tongariro Crossing and Abel Tasman, are world famous.
But, there are dozens of lesser-known walks that are arguably just as good – without the crowds. Here are New Zealand’s ‘great unofficial walks’ that lie ahead when travel restrictions from the latest Covid-19 outbreak are relaxed.
The towering peak of Mount Tarawera collapsed in a massive eruption 135 years ago, creating a 17-kilometer split in the earth. Most lives within 6 km have been extinguished and villages have been buried. Lake Rotomahana has been enlarged to 20 times its size, destroying the unofficial eighth wonder of the world: the pink and white terraces. The force of the eruption was so great, 15 craters formed.
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What happened over a century ago is beyond comprehension – unless you see it with your own eyes. Few Kiwis have ever hiked the summit as the mountain is a sacred place to Maori and is closed to the public. However, a travel agency has a special relationship with the local iwi and organizes walking tours.
A 4×4 will do most of the hard work to climb to the top, where you’ll join a 4km walking track for a walk around the crater.
The mountain is wildly twisted in places, with a crust of deep volcanic red falling into a distant crater below. In other areas there is an almost peaceful symmetry of V-shaped valleys that appear to have been formed by a slow glacier, much like Milford Sound. Many of us have done the Tongariro Crossing, but you will almost always see crowds on the trail. Here you will have the mountain all to yourself.
Is it safe?
After the devastating Whakaari / White Island eruption, you are right to wonder if volcanic tourism is safe. GNS Science says it’s important to remember that Tarawera is a recently active volcano and you need to be aware of the risks before you go. Volcanologist Brad Scott said: “Caldera volcanoes such as Tarawera typically give weeks, months or even years of warning signs that they are entering a period of unrest. there is unexpected eruptive activity at Tarawera, as can happen to cone volcanoes like Ruapehu, Whakaari and Ngāuruhoe. “
In summer, the island of the Great Barrier becomes almost tropical, with turquoise waters lapping over golden beaches. What’s even more remarkable is that you can be there in under 40 minutes from Auckland – it’s all in contrast to a concrete jungle.
The two- to three-day Aotea Trail is a circuit around the island’s Jurassic center, passing through kauri forests, serene wetlands, dramatic boulders, swing bridges, and even a natural hot spring.
The two huts on the circuit must be booked in advance. The Department of Conservation (DOC) says, “The trail is a combination of easy walking trails, boardwalks, steep climbs, stairs and bridges. It is suitable for beginners in good physical shape or experienced trampers.
It might be some time before the Kiwis can get to Siberia; Fortunately, the New Zealand version is much easier to access.
The Siberian Valley – in Mount Aspiring National Park – is surrounded by Mount Dreadful and Mount Awful, so whoever named the place clearly didn’t have a good day. However, when I visited it was only blue skies and beautiful mountains.
There are several options for accessing this magnificent slice of New Zealand. The easiest is a day trip by plane and jet boat, known as the Siberian experience.
Or, you can walk via the four to five day Gillespie Pass Circuit, which involves crossing the Makarora River. It comes with a warning from DOC that river crossings are dangerous and lives have been lost on it.
A much safer and recommended alternative is to take the jet boat ride – which starts at just $ 25.
The Hollyford Wilderness Experience
If you prefer to walk with a generous touch of luxury, a lively stroll along the Hollyford Track should be at the top of your to-do list.
The trip begins with a luxury night in Queenstown before taking the bus to Fiordland, where the walk begins. Rather than staying in backcountry DOC huts, this tour includes private lodges (with hot showers), cooked breakfasts, packed lunches, and hot evening meals like game. It also offers a jet boat ride, to avoid a more difficult part of the trail. The walk ends on the west coast, in a place of rugged beauty known as Martin’s Bay. Here you are picked up by helicopter for a ride through Milford Sound to board a bus for your return to Queenstown.
You can, of course, do this trail on your own – with much heavier bags (transporting bedding and meals) and basic DOC huts. But if you can afford it, the Hollyford Wilderness experience is a way to mark a world-class walk in serious style.
Pointe de Robert track
New Zealand has some of the easiest to reach glaciers in the world – but there is no fear of a grim reality. The Franz Josef Glacier is melting quickly and the view from the main walkway is a bit underwhelming – you almost need binoculars to see it.
However, the five-hour round-trip Robert’s Point Track offers a much closer view, but it’s a much more difficult wanderer. The trail winds through some of the country’s most unspoiled wilderness, a swing bridge and a walking platform that descends along a large rock face.
One of the best ways to appreciate the Bay of Islands is the legendary Cape Brett Trail.
The eight-hour walk passes through spectacular scenery, with cliff-side walkways overlooking turquoise bays, where you can often see dolphins and seals.
If you do the walk in the summer, you can add a snorkel at Deep Water Cove to cool off and see lots of fish.
The trail is difficult, with steep drops and over 26,000 steps. It is recommended for people with a “moderate to high” level of trampling experience.
At the end of the peninsula, you can spend the night in a cabin and wake up to the sunrise overlooking the nearby Hole in the Rock. Pack lots of snacks for the return walk; excitement gets you there on day one, sugar can get you back.
Hello expert trampers, I walk around with your name on it.
Angelus Hut seems to come directly from the Italian Dolomites; it sits high up in a mountain range that is part of Nelson Lakes National Park.
There are several ways to get there, depending on the conditions. The good weather option will allow you to follow the Pinchgut Track and the Robert Ridge Route, which follows a dramatic but very windy ridge. The DOC has many warnings regarding walking, including that “you need to be comfortable on rough terrain and not afraid of heights.” He also warns that “from May to October most years the lake is frozen over, snow covers all four roads and you may have to dig to make your way to the lodge.”
Old ghost road
An old miners’ trail has been transformed into a magnificent walk (or bike) through ancient forest, along forgotten streams, through exposed mountains and deep into secret valleys.
The 85 mile Old Ghost Rd near Westport will typically take two to four days to cycle or five days to walk.
The trail has a series of huts along the way and you should add one last night at the luxurious Rough and Tumble Lodge. It’s like arriving in paradise after a long walk – with big comfy beds, exceptional food, and a hot forest shower overlooking the roaring Mōkihinui River.
Mount Tarawera the guided crater walk costs $ 185 per person including transport from central Rotorua. See: kaitiaki.co.nz
Great barrier is served by Barrier Air from Auckland and Sunair from Ardmore, Hamilton, Tauranga, Whangārei and Whitianga. See: barrièreair.kiwi and sunair.fr. Aotea slope refuge reservations starting at $ 15. See: doc.govt.nz/aotea-track
Angelus hut to Nelson Tasman. See: doc.govt.nz
The Siberian experience includes a 25 minute flight, three hour walk and 30 minute jet boat ride. It departs from Makarora, 45 minutes north of Wanaka. Prices are $ 455 per adult and $ 360 per child. See: siberiaexperience.co.nz. DOC has detailed instructions on how to get to the Siberian Hut on foot. See: doc.govt.nz. Jetboat river crossings can be arranged by Wilkin River Jets. See: wilkinriverjets.co.nz
The four days Hollyford Wilderness Experience is $ 2795 per adult (double room) including hotel, bus, lodges, meals, jet boat and helicopter trip. See: hollyfordtrack.com
Pointe de Robert track advice on the DOC website: doc.govt.nz
Stay Safe: New Zealand is currently subject to restrictions related to Covid-19. For the latest travel rules, see: covid19.govt.nz.