13 wild New Zealand walks from beginner to advanced
New Zealand has many spectacular walkways and tracks providing access to unique wilderness areas and virgin forests.
Energetic hikers (or trampers) can discover glacier-carved valleys and traverse mountain passes, while more sedate day-walkers can explore golden beaches, bush walks and other sites of scenic, historic and cultural interest.
About one-third of New Zealand’s sparsely populated land has been set aside in national parks or reserves for the enjoyment of the public and increasing numbers of eco-tourists.
While opportunities for exploration exist all over the country, nine destinations are recognised as significant and have been designated ‘Great Walks’ by the Department of Conservation (DOC).
Apart from the coastal Abel Tasman track in the north of the South Island, the tracks are in high country or mountain areas. Ranging in duration from two to six days, the tracks cover a variety of landscapes on safe, well-maintained pathways.
All tracks offer guided tours for which bookings are essential. Accommodation is generally in basic huts or lodges, but some guided talks offer luxury options. The high season starts in October (late-Spring) and lasts until April (early-Autumn).
South Island Great Walks
Five of New Zealand’s ‘Great Walks’ are in the South Island; a sixth is further south on Stewart Island.
- Milford Track
- Routeburn Track
- Kepler Track
- Rakiura Track
- Heaphy Track
- Abel Tasman Coastal Track
- Pike29 Memorial Walk
North Island Great NZ Walks
Three ‘Great Walks’ are in the North Island: Tongariro Northern Circuit, Lake Waikaremoana Track and Whanganui Journey. Each offers a distinctive landscape and challenges for energetic walkers.
- Tongariro Northern Circuit
- Lake Waikaremoana Track
- Whanganui Journey
Not up for a long hike? New Zealand has plenty of day walks through areas of unique flora and fauna.
The Coromandel Peninsula – located two hours’ drive south of Auckland – offers forest and coastal walks. The virgin rain forest that once covered much of the peninsula was heavily logged in the late 19th century, and visitors can see the remains of enormous dams and tramways used to transport logs of the giant and much-prized kauri trees. The regenerated forest is spectacular and the coast has isolated bays of exceptional beauty.
Day-walkers not wanting to leave the city far behind can set out from Auckland with a map of the Waitakere Ranges which fringe the western city. These tracks skirt high cliffs and cross wild beaches of black sand.
In Kahurangi National Park – in the northwestern corner of the South Island – the Oparara Track offers 31km of pathways through virgin rainforest and access to a series of spectacular limestone caves, home to some of New Zealand’s unique fauna and flora.
Further south, Central Otago’s Rail Trail is a unique recreational facility preserving an important part of New Zealand history. The 150km section of old railway route has been redeveloped for walkers, cyclists and horse riders who can enjoy the unique Central Otago scenery and experience the South Island’s remoteness and history.
New Zealand’s sparse population and huge wilderness areas mean that most walking tracks are remote from many of the comforts of civilisation. Facilities at the 900 huts maintained by DOC are basic, and walkers need to equip themselves with adequate food and clothing.
Weather conditions can change rapidly, especially in the mountains, and it is essential, even in summer, to carry warm, waterproof clothing. No hike should be undertaken without consulting a detailed guide book and a map.
For any of the ‘Great Walks’, bookings are required for accommodation in huts, but permits or admission fees are not required for day walking. Bookings are made through the Department of Conservation.
Republished with permission of MyDiscoveries.
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