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Credit: Blaine Harrington

Best Hikes in New Zealand

Choosing worthy candidates for a \'best hikes\' list in a country which has literally thousands crowding at the door - each with their own valid arguments for inclusion - is an almost impossible task. There are those which register as an open-to-all pleasant ramble for a few hours amid stunning scenery to those which last for days and could be considered hardcore by the tramping fraternity. And of course endless possibilities in between.

New Zealand is famous for its Department of Conservation managed 'Great Walks' which cover both islands and take in just about type of terrain possible. This organised network of tracks, trails and pathways dotted with back-country huts and isolated camp-sites for the nights spent en route, take between 2 to 6 days. These aptly named great walks are worthwhile in the extreme but there is much more to hiking in New Zealand than just these famous nine.

Here we have included a little bit of everything. From the short and scenic which offer slices of pristine wilderness without the crowds and the need for lots of gear to a couple of the Great Walks themselves.

But First a Word on the Great Walks.......

If you have your heart set on bagging yourself one or more of the nine Great Walks don't assume you can simply roll up your sleeping bag, pack your stove and set out to conquer. Access is strictly controlled with a limited number of places to keep human impact to a minimum. This means booking ahead – sometimes months ahead if you plan to go in high season. Secondly, this kind of fun doesn't come cheaply if you intend to get among it all during the busy season which runs from October 1 to April 30. Although there is no permit to fork out for or any access charges as such, the huts and camp-sites do come with quite hefty nightly price tags. Outside of the high season you can purchase a general back-country hut pass for some of the Great Walks which works out somewhat cheaper.

Hut facilities vary from very basic to surprisingly comfortable but all have at least a communal shelter with mattresses, water, toilets and heating.

The title Great Walks may tend to suggest you have to be ridiculously fit and outdoors-confident and although some level of fitness is necessary along with some preparation awareness, tracks are intended to be there for all so difficulty levels and terrains encountered vary considerably from walk to walk.

Check out www.doc.govt.nz – an enormous resource for all things Great Walks related including such things as hut facility details, route breakdowns and comprehensive terrain guides and maps.

1. The Tongariro Crossing

Regularly touted as one of the best day hikes on the planet, this 20km, one way tramp across a still very much active volcano truly is a one-of-a-kind experience. The walk weaves its way over craters, past smoking mounds and comes complete with crater lakes of almost impossible colours.

The crossing is very much weather dependant and has a tendency to get exceptionally busy in summer so good luck scoring that perfect moonscape camera shot free of any people then.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing (Credit: Paul Abbitt)
Tongariro Alpine Crossing (Credit: Paul Abbitt)

2. Tongariro Northern Circuit

If you want to experience the Tongariro Crossing but fancy extending your adventure you can opt to sign up for the 3 to 4 day 51.5 km hike known as the Tongariro Northern Circuit. One of the Great Walks, this looped tramp circumnavigates Mount Ngauruhoe which also goes by the name of Mount Doom if you happen to be a Lord of the Rings movie fan.

There are three huts en route and several side trips which are worth an explore such as the Lower and Upper Tama Lakes and the lovely Taranaki Falls which are situated an easy five minute detour away from your main path.

3. Medlands Beach Hike, Abel Tasman, South Island

If idyllic beach scenery floats your boat this easy 11 km track should be on your hiking agenda.

This is another walk which is actually part of a Great Walk – this time the Abel Tasman Coastal Track – and is bursting at the seams with lovely lookouts en route as you wind your way towards Anchorage.

The adventure factor is upped instantly because you have to take a boat ride to get here and should you fancy a hike/kayak combo that too is possible. Expect sweeping golden beaches and ocean waters of the perfectly translucent kind along with lush coastal forest.

Make sure you don't miss the gorgeous natural swimming pool an hour from Anchorage which goes by the name of Cleopatra's Pool. You'll have earned the cool off in this magical place after your walk and if you still have any surplus energy you can have some fun with the natural rock-slide here.

Medlands Beach (Credit: Scott Venning)
Medlands Beach (Credit: Scott Venning)

4. Abel Tasman Coastal Track, South Island

The Nelson Tasman region in the South Island's top left corner has been a little greedy on the pristine wilderness front. It has three National Parks to its name – the Kahurangi National Park, the Nelson Lakes National Park and the Abel Tasman National Park contained within which are two of the Great Walks – the Abel Tasman Coastal Track and the Heaphy Track. As might be expected opportunities for hiking here abound with incredibly varied terrain which includes luxuriant rainforest, mountain wilderness, sparkling lakes and deserted beaches. Should the latter call to your inner beach-bunny you might want to strap on your hiking boots for another of the Great Walks.

The 54 km long Abel Tasman Coastal Track is the only coastal Great Walks which makes it a bit special and what's more it is considered a bit of a doddle making it a perfect choice for all those unsure of their ability to complete some of the other tracks.

The total tramp takes between 3 to 5 days (depending on how much of a doddle you want to make it) and has 4 huts and 18 camp-sites, many of which are so beautiful you might struggle to get yourself shifting from.

5. Charming Creek Walkway, Ngakawau River Gorge, South Island

This six hour (three hours each way), 19 km west coast tramp – rated by the Department of Conservation as 'easy' – is a great option for all who like their scenery dramatic and their trails historic. The well-marked route follows an old coal line liberally dotted with plenty to keep you interested along the way.

The river gorge is both stunningly beautiful and geologically fascinating with some of the best overall vistas found from the suspension bridge which allows a glimpse of the roaring Mangatini Falls up ahead. Also along the way are all kinds of atmospherically rusting mining relics, a tunnel section with cascading water and canyon wall views from 'the Verandah' and the historic Watson's Mill.

6. The Coromandel Walkway, Coromandel, North Island

Because of its proximity to Auckland the Coromandel can get a little busy during weekends and holidays but travel further up towards its tip – where this day hike is located – and things start to feel a whole lot more remote. Away from the crowds the coastal scenery is sublime, offering views of rocky outcrops and islands such as the Pinnacles, Sugar Loaf Rocks and Great Barrier Island.

This 10 km tramp blessed with solitude links Stony Bay and Fletcher Bay - both of which are lovely enough to linger awhile – and dishes up the aforementioned ocean views as well as crossing bush and farm land.

Most choose to hike just one way – a tramp of some 3 to 4 hours – and grab themselves a pre-arranged shuttle back which can be booked with Coromandel Discovery or Coromandel Adventures.

 

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