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Thursday, April 04, 2013

Clinton Valley, Milford Track
Any destination was once imagined.
It might have been even traveled already: 
In the memory of eagles. 
In the remembrance of ancient journeys of blue whales.
In our past born in prehistoric oceans and hidden within cells of archaic ferns of our lost rainforests.

I knew I was coming home before I was told anything real and profoundly insignificant about New Zealand.
I knew that a place like Fiordland had to exist somewhere long before I discovered it really does.
Rising dramatically from the Oceanness of the vast South Pacific.
Bound by oath not to surrender any of its treasures easily and keep you forever under its spell.

My favourite place in the whole world.

     New Zealand, or Aotearoa as Maori people call their land, lies about three hours flight east from Australia across the Tasman Sea, just at the doorstep of the immense South Pacific. Separated by a narrow channel of the Cook Strait it comprises two lands, that of the North and South Island. New Zealand was part of Zealandia that gradually submerged after breaking away from the Gondwanan supercontinent 85 million years ago. Because of its remoteness, it was one of the last lands to be settled by humans and one of the last places of pure wilderness to be preserved alive till these days. About one third of New Zealand's sparsely populated land has been set aside in national parks and reserved for exploration which is only limited by one's imagination, courage and procrastinations of wild spirit.
     With thousands of miles of unexplored Southern Alps, steep mountain ranges that have submerged into the sea creating spectacular mosaic of fjords and sounds, with stunning glaciers and dramatic volcanic regions, with mild maritime climate and practically no dangerous animals whatsoever, New Zealand has to be one of the world’s best hiking paradises.

On-Track Hiking

Routeburn Track
     Although opportunities to access New Zealand's uninhabited unique wilderness, to discover virgin glacier-carved valleys or to traverse unknown mountain passes are limitless, there are nine destinations that pass through some of the best scenery in the country and have been designated Great Walks by the Department of Conservation. Well within a comfort zone of any hiker, the Great Walks are generally easy to follow, providing opportunities from independent tramping with simple accommodation in basic huts to luxury options of guided walks with staying at well maintained lodges along the track.

     That being said, all of the Great Walks can also be enjoyed as an "off track" experience, in which the purity of the surrounding wilderness won't be spoiled with crowds of daywalkers, by following a few simple rules: Not many people know that according to the DOC regulations camping is allowed 500m off any track in New Zealand, so staying away from crowded huts or camping near places where others usually arrive at lunch times will protect your experience of New Zealand's wilderness as it should always be: pure, remote, tranquil, simply stunning. By taking alternative routes, exploring the side trips, planning uncommon itineraries and hiking out of the main season which runs from November to March you also will utterly transform your experience of the these most popular tracks.

The following tracks have been designed Great Walks by the DOC, New Zealand:

  • Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk: The Lake Waikaremoana track located in Te Urewera National Park is a 46 kilometre 3 to 4 day tramping track which follows the shore of the lake for most of its length. The walk traverses a range of terrain with many types of vegetation from the montane beech forest of the Panekire Bluffs to dense rainforest. A moderate walk, with magnificent scenery and plenty of opportunity for swimming.
  • Tongariro Northern Circuit: The Tongariro Northern Circuit is a 43.1 km, 3-4 day track around the active volcanoes Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe. From tranquil lakes to desert-like plateau, this multi-day walk showcases the spectacular volcanic terrain of the world heritage Tongariro National Park. You'll see unique and stunning landscapes including active volcanic craters, brilliant blue lakes, steaming geothermal areas, and glacial valleys. Read more...
  • Whanganui Journey: The 145 kilometre river journey from Taumarunui to Pipiriki takes an average 5 days to complete by canoe. Lowland forest surrounds the river in its middle and lower reaches - the heart of Whanganui National Park.
  • Abel Tasman Coast Track: The Abel Tasman Coast Track, located in Abel Tasman National Park on South Island’s northern shores, extends for 54.4 km. The track takes an average of three to five days to complete and can be walked from either end. Visitors can walk into the park from the roadend carparks, catch water taxis to beaches along the track or kayak along the coast. Read more...
  • Heaphy Track: The Heaphy Track is the longest of the 9 Great Walks at 78.4 km. It takes 4 - 6 days to walk. Located in the Kahurangi National Park at the north-west corner of the South Island, the nearest towns that cater for trampers and mountain bikers are Nelson, Takaka, Westport and Karamea.
  • Milford Track: Known as 'The finest walk in the world' the Milford Track is a 53.5 km walk over 4 days in beautiful Fiordland National Park. You'll be awed by natural wonders while walking in a spectacular, wild and beautiful part of New Zealand. There are sheer ice-carved valleys from a mountain pass, refreshing mountain rivers, peaceful forests and cascading waterfalls. Read more...
  • Routeburn Track: Experience a walk of a lifetime on the Routeburn Track - a 32 km, 2-4 day track weaving through beech-forested valleys and alongside clear green rivers, glistening alpine lakes and breathtaking views of landscapes of Mt Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park. Read more...
  • Kepler Track: The Kepler Track is a 60 km, 3-4 day loop track taking you from the gentle, beech-forested shores of lakes Te Anau and Manapouri to the tussocky alpine tops and grand Mt Luxmore. Your reward for the hill climb is a long section above bushline with marvellous panoramic views of the Kepler Mountains on one side, and lakes, rivers and hanging valleys on the other. 
  • Rakirua Track: Just a 20 minute flight from Invercargill or an hour by ferry from Bluff, Stewart Island/Rakiura is home to New Zealand’s most southerly and newest national park, Rakiura National Park, and the Rakiura Track. Although the Rakiura Track is a 30 km tramping track, suitable for anyone with moderate fitness, the entire circuit is actually 37 km in total, including road walking. It takes three days, provides a good introduction to the scenery of Stewart Island and is suitable for tramping all year round.

Off-Track Hiking

     The following multiday walks are rather difficult, but extremely rewarding in the sense that they bring you the wilderness as it should always be: adventurous, uncrowded and just spectacular. The following examples are just a small selection of many other walks and tramping routes described by the Department of Conservation.

South Island

Descent from Mackinnon Pass, Milford Track
   Over thousands of years, the process of subduction has seen parts of the New Zealand landscape become submerged. The Marlborough Sounds and Fiordland are examples of high mountain ranges that have ‘sunk’ into the sea, creating spectacular sounds and fiords. These areas provide some of New Zealand most picturesque scenery, with steep lush hills plunging down to the deep still bays below. Besides these world famous fiords such as busy Milford Sound or less known Doubtful Sound, South Island offers you spectacular glaciers, rugged mountains, vast plains and rolling hillsides, magical subtropical forests and miles of coastline with gorgeous sandy beaches.
     The Southern Alps is a mountain range extending along much of the length of New Zealand's South Island, reaching its greatest elevations near the island's western side. Large part of the range is an inaccessible wilderness retaining its natural vegetation. A large proportion of the range is well protected as part of various national parks, notably the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, Mount Aspiring National Park, and Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. There are 18 peaks over 3,000 metres, the highest of which is Aoraki/Mount Cook at 3,754 metres. New Zealand’s Southern Alps have a number of glaciers, the largest being Tasman glacier, which you can view by taking a short walk from Mount Cook village. New Zealand’s most famous glaciers are the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier on the South Island’s West Coast.

  1. Dusky track: fantastic tramping track through Fiordland National Park linking Lake Haouroko with Lake Manapouri. This 84km (8-10 days) route crosses three major valley systems and is for experienced walkers only. You can expect a challenging walk, rough terrain, countless river crossings and miles of knee deep mud. According to the Department of Conservation the Dusky Track is not suitable for camping, we would still recommend taking your own tent which allows your itinerary to be more flexible.
  2. Hollyford Track:  low altitude track which follows the Hollyford River from Darran Mountains in Fiordland National Park to the ocean coast at Martins Bay. For those who want to combine the Milford track and the Hollyford track into one adventure, you can book a charter flight from Milford Sound into Martins Bay and walk the Hollyford Track in the opposite direction.
  3. George Sound Route: This is a challenging but rewarding tramping route that links stunning Lake Hankinson, Lake Thomson and Lake Katherine with Lake Te Anau on the inland side, and George Sound on the coast. The route traverses two major valley systems and crosses one mountain range, and is only recommended for experienced, well equipped groups.
  4. Hump Ridge Track: The Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track is a 55km, 3 day loop walk that takes trampers along the south coast of New Zealand, up to the sub-alpine zone of the Hump Ridge, and over historic viaducts (bridges) in the heart of native forest. The highlight is a loop track at the top of the Hump Ridge range which winds around soaring limestone tors and offers panoramic views of south-west Fiordland, the Southern Ocean, and Stewart Island.
  5. Pyke - Big Bay Route: This challenging tramping route (88 km) is a real adventure for those with a high level of skill and experience. The route traverses parts of Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks, and Pyke Forest, which are included in the Te Wähipounamu - South West New Zealand World Heritage Area.

  1. Mavora - Greenstone Walkway: This is a 50km 4 day tramping trip, linking the Mavora Lakes Camping Area with the Greenstone Track. 
  2. North West Circuit Stewart Island/Rakiura: For experienced trampers, the multi-day North West Circuit is a wonderful adventure round Stewart Island/Rakiura's northern coast. Sweeping beaches, rocky headlands and stunning scenery are the rewards for the fit and well-equipped. Rakeahua Valley and Doughboy Bay can be added to the North West Circuit.
  3. Southern Circuit Stewart Island/Rakiura: Stewart Island/Rakiura's Southern Circuit Track is a remote, challenging tramping experience and requires a high level of fitness and good route-finding skills. The Southern Circuit track incorporates part of the North West Circuit track and features a side trip to the rocky summit of Mt Rakeahua. The track can be accessed on foot from Halfmoon Bay via North Arm hut or by boat across Paterson Inlet to the Freshwater River.
  1. Cascade Saddle Route: The Cascade Saddle Route is a popular 1-2 days alpine pass trip during the summer months for suitably experienced trampers. The Cascade Saddle is situated in South Island's Otago region, between the West Matukituki and the Dart Valleys.
  2. Dingle Burn Track: The Dingle Burn Peninsula tramping track is a 41km access track that winds along the bluffs, and then alongside Lake Hawea, leads to the Turihuka Conservation Area, where a sign points to the start of the Dingle Burn Track.
  3. Gillespie Pass Circuit: This is an excellent 58 km, 3-4 day circuit, with spectacular mountain scenery, alpine vegetation and river valleys filled with silver beech. Suitable outside the winter months for relatively experienced parties, this circuit can be walked in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. Parties with river crossing experience may wish to cross the Makarora River, otherwise jetboat transport is available to cross the Makarora River into either the Young or Wilkin valleys. In addition, the new Blue-Young Link Track offers a swing-bridge crossing of the Makarora River and access to the Young Valley.
  4. Rees-Dart Track: The Rees-Dart Track is a 4-5 day tramping circuit which follows the Rees River and the Dart River, through leasehold farmland and the southern part of Mount Aspiring National Park. It is a moderately demanding tramp, and most days average 6-8 hours of walking. Spectacular mountain scenery, forest and alpine vegetation, rivers and the Dart Glacier are all significant features of the walk. A side trip to Crucible Lake is exceptional. 
  1. Arahura & Styx valleys tracks: Styx Road End to Grassy Flat Hut (2-4 days) is a very rough track with a river crossing section that can only be negotiated at normal to low flow. The alternative via the Arahura Track has a major slip south of Snowball Creek. Both the Arahura and Styx Rivers can be kayaked although both can reach technical grade 5 with some white water.
  2. Castle Rocks Route: Castle Rocks Hut, built in 1974, sits above the lower Franz Josef Glacier Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere, on the true left of the valley and affords magnificent views of the lower glacier and the high mountain peaks above the glacier. The hut is not easy to reach, as it requires a high level of skill and experience in glacier travel and there is no marked route on the ice. Travelling to Castle Rocks Hut requires traversing the lower section of the Franz Josef Glacier Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere. Ensure that you have the correct equipment and experience to safely undertake this trip.
  3. Karangarua and Douglas valleys routes: The Karangarua and Douglas valleys are located at the southern end of Westland Tai Poutini National Park and provide challenging opportunities for hunters, trampers and mountaineers. The terrain is rugged and hard, but highly rewarding for those who are suitably experienced and equipped to venture into these valleys. Be prepared: these routes are difficult and the weather and conditions can change rapidly. With over 5 metres of rain annually you need to be ready to sit it out and wait if necessary.
  4. Lewis Pass - Waiau Pass - Blue Lake route: This 4 - 5 days (52.5 km) tramping tract begins in the Lewis Pass area, from the Tarn Nature Walk.
  1. Arthur's Pass: Carrington Hut - Waimakariri Col - Otira route: The unmarked route over Waimakariri Col to Rolleston River is a rugged two- to three-day alpine tramp. The upper Waimakariri valley and the Rolleston valley are rugged and involve steep, bouldery descents and steep sidling through scrub, scree and across avalanche chutes. This unmarked route passes through several known avalanche paths and Waimakariri Falls Hut lies within three potential avalanche paths. You have to be sufficiently equipped and experienced with choosing a safe path through avalanche terrain. The area around Waimakariri Falls Hut has spectacular waterfalls, rock faces and superb views. In summer, alpine flowers bloom in the basins. 
  2. Ball Pass Crossing: Ball Pass Crossing is a demanding two to three-day alpine route, crossing the Mount Cook Range between the Hooker and Tasman Valleys. The route provides spectacular views of Aoraki/Mt Cook, Mt Sefton, the Copland Pass and the Hooker and Tasman Glaciers. The recommended route is to start at the White Horse Hill camping area and travel up the East Hooker, over Ball Pass and down the Ball Ridge to the Tasman Valley and Ball Hut.
  3. St James Walkway: Located partly within the Lewis Pass National Reserve and meandering through St James Conservation Area and Lake Sumner Forest Park, the St James Walkway combines diverse scenery, wildlife and vegetation.
  1. Douglas Range Route: The Douglas Range Route links the Aorere and Cobb valleys in Golden Bay. The route is unmarked and is suitable for trampers with a high degree of fitness and off-track experience. You should allow at least five days and, if possible, one or two extra days to complete this trip.
  2. The Leslie-Karamea is classified as a tramping track and is one of the region’s premier semi-wilderness experiences, situated in the middle of Kahurangi National Park. It is marked but not benched, and quite rough in places. Many of the streams along the track are not bridged and flood-prone.  It takes 3-4 day and links the earthquake-torn Karamea Valley, between Flora car park and the Wangapeka Track.
  3. Travers-Sabine Circuit: The 80 km Travers-Sabine Circuit reaches deep into the heart of the mountains of Nelson Lakes National Park. Tranquil beech forests, fields of waving tussocks, 2000 metre-high mountains and clear rushing streams are highlights of the journey. The circuit requires 4-7 days to complete and involves a crossing of Travers Saddle, an alpine pass subject to freezing conditions at any time of year. Most of the track is classified as a tramping track.
  4. Wangapeka Track: The Wangapeka Track traverses Kahurangi National Park from the Waimea Basin in the east to the West Coast near Karamea in the west. It crosses two saddles of over 1000 m and travels through beautiful beech-forested valleys of the Wangapeka, Karamea, Taipo and Little Wanganui rivers.
  1. Molesworth routes: Explore the vast mountain vistas and valleys in three stunning conservation areas while tramping two multi-day routes in the Molesworth area. The 5-6 day East West Route links the Kahutara River in Clarence (Ka Whata Tu o Rakihouia) Conservation Park with the Sedgemere Lakes area in the Molesworth Recreation Reserve. The 4-5 day Leatham Molesworth Route starts at Bottom Gordon Hut in the Leatham Conservation Area. This route travels via Severn and Saxton Huts in the Molesworth Recreation Reserve, around to Top Gordon Hut and back to Bottom Gordon Hut. These unmarked routes are suitable for trampers who have a high degree of off-track experience and fitness. Most sections in the routes are unmarked and follow natural features such as streams, rivers and ridges.
  2. Queen Charlotte Track: Deep in the heart of the Marlborough Sounds, South Island, New Zealand, the Queen Charlotte Track stretches 71 km from the legendary Ship Cove to Anakiwa. The track is easier tramping track standard and is suitable for both walkers and mountain bike riders, taking 3-5 days to complete walking.

North Island

Emerald Lakes, Tongariro Crossing
     The North Island of New Zealand has a spine of mountain ranges running through the middle, with rolling farmland on both sides. The central North Island is dominated by the Volcanic Plateau, the highly active Taupo volcanic zone. The North Island's highest mountain is Mount Ruapehu (2,797 metres). The plateau also hosts the country's largest lake, Lake Taupo. Due to this subterranean activity, New Zealand's North Island is home to some spectacular geothermal areas and relaxing hot springs. Rotorua is the main hub for geothermal attractions, with plenty of mud pools, geysers, and hot springs in its active thermal areas. In the Far North and on most of the East Coast of the North Island you’ll find long sandy beaches. The North Island’s west coast has dark sandy beaches, with sand heavy in iron.


  1. Tararua Northern Crossing: One of four classic tramps in the Tararuas, the Northern Crossing links the Ohau and Waingawa catchments. Depending on weather conditions it can take between three to five days to complete. It is recommended for experienced trampers only, and requires good navigation and map reading skills.
  2. Tararua Southern Crossing: The Southern Crossing is one of the four classic tramps of the Tararua Range. The crossing of the alpine tops section from Table Top to Mount Alpha (1361 m) involves about 6-8 hours of travel, with superb views to the south of Wellington Harbour, the Marlborough Sounds and the Kaikoura Mountains. The track down from Alpha Hut to the Kaitoke carpark leads through the saddle of Hell’s Gate, over Omega, and through the stunted silver beech along the Marchant Ridge. A winter Southern Crossing in good snow conditions can be one of the best tramping opportunities in the park.

  1. Holdsworth - Kaitoke Tramp: The classic Holdsworth - Kaitoke Tramp follows the Waiohine and Tauherenikau rivers for 36 km between Holdsworth and Kaitoke. The maximum altitude gained is 740 m on the Gentle Annie Track. Huts and shelter en route allow the choice of a two or three day journey. Tracks are marked and turnoffs are signposted. Underfoot conditions vary from dry well-formed tracks to mud and river boulders. Moderate experience and fitness is necessary.
  2. Ruahine Corner to Kawhatau Base Track: To make this four day tramping option possible, parties need to arrange helicopter transport to Ruahine Corner Hut. A vehicle needs to be left at Kawhatau Base for transport on completion of the tramp.

  1. Kawhatau Base to Crow Hut Loop Track: Access to this 4 day tramping track is now by walking up the Kawhatau River from the Rangitane Road bridge across the Kawhatau River. Beware this route may not be accessible during times of high river flow.
  2. Matemateāonga Track: This 42km 3-5 days tramping track begins at Kohi Saddle in regenerating bush but reaches thick bush as the track ascends a spur to the crest of the Matemateāonga Range.

  1. Around the Mountain Circuit: Mt Taranaki’s Around the Mountain Circuit (AMC) offers experienced trampers a challenging multi day route through spectacular bush and alpine environments. The route is best tramped during the summer months. Rivers and streams on the AMC are not always bridged and can flood at any time of year. In winter conditions upper tracks on the mountain may be snow and ice covered – ice axe and crampons are likely to be required. 
  2. Pouakai Circuit: The Pouakai Circuit is an awe-inspiring chapter in the New Zealand landscape and geology story. The 25km 2-3 days circuit traverses lowland rain forest, sub-alpine and alpine vegetation zones, and crosses the unique Ahukawakawa wetland and the headwaters of the Stony (Hangatahua) River.

  1. Mount Ruapehu Crater climb: On Mount Ruapehu, an active volcano that last erupted in September 2007, amazing volcanic terrain combines with permanent snow and glaciers to provide for a rare and beautiful climb. One of the highlights is a climb to the Ruapehu crater from where you can gaze down into the geothermal waters of the crater lake. On your way up and down take time to enjoy the truly spectacular views.
  2. Mount Ngauruhoe summit climb: The 2500 year old near perfect cone of Mt Ngauruhoe (2287m) is one of New Zealand's most active volcanoes. It takes 3 hr (6km) return from South Crater; 6-7 hr (19km) return from Mangatepopo parking area. It found recent fame as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings film.


  1. Te Paki Coastal Track: This stunning 3-4 days (53km) coastal track traverses a variety of beautiful and unique landforms, and offers spectacular views of the cape region. The track follows the coastline of Te Paki, and runs from Kapowairua / Spirits Bay on the East Coast, past Cape Reinga, Cape Maria van Dieman and Te Paki Stream on the West Coast. From there, you can continue along 90 Mile Beach all the way to Ahipara. The track is made up of interlinking track sections, which lead you across dunes, idyllic beaches, dramatic headlands, swamps filled with birdlife and pasture.  Along the way, you have access to areas of historic and archaeological interest in the Te Paki Farm Park. You can attempt the whole track or choose just one or several track sections that suit your time available, fitness level and areas of interest.
  2. Warawara Forest Track: This 22-km tramping track offers the backcountry adventurer a great tramping experience in one of Northland’s wilderness areas. The track runs through the Warawara Forest ending at Pawarenga in the north or Mitimiti in the south-west. To walk this track comfortably it is recommended you set aside two days to complete, camping overnight in the forest. From Mitimiti, the track begins very steeply and quickly climbs up through manuka/kanuka shrub, leading into broadleaf forest until you reach the summit. You will pass through stunning kauri forest, and you can get beautiful vistas over the forest out to the coast from many places along the track. The climb up to the summit is steep. A moderate degree of fitness is required to attempt this track. Along the track, you come across an historical kauri slab hut approximately 2 hours in. Situated 900 m west of the highpoint Umawera, at an altitude of about 350 m asl, the hut you see today lets you step back in time to life in the Warawaras during the 1940’s, before chainsaws and four-wheel drives.

  1. Manuoha to Waikareiti Track: This 32km is a spectacular and challenging walk suited to reasonably experienced trampers. It takes a minimum of three days to complete and can be walked in either direction.
  2. Whirinaki Track: Whirinaki Track (2-5 days) is the highest standard track in the park. It is a relatively easy trip suitable for people of low to moderate fitness. Walkers can travel north to south from Whirinaki Carpark,south to north from Plateau Carpark, take in the Mangamate loop, or for the more adventurous out towards Te Hoe.

  1. Lake Okataina tramping tracks
  2. The North-South TrackThe North-South Track takes at least five days (82km) of serious tramping. This walk involves both tramping tracks and routes, which can be rugged, unmaintained and unmarked. There are some huts which can be used during this tramp but camping is also necessary along the way. The walk can be shortened by exiting the Forest Park at a side track. 

  1. Cathedral Cove Walk: This recreation reserve boasts some of New Zealand’s most spectacular coastal scenery. A walking track gives access to Gemstone Bay, Stingray Bay and the beautiful sandy beaches at Cathedral Cove separated by a rock arch. Although this track is well graded (and rather busy), there are some hill slopes so allow plenty of time for the walk, wear appropriate footwear, and take food and water with you.
  2. Muriwai walk: This stunning coastal walk leaves the car park and heads along a benched farm track along the ridge towards Wharekaiatua Pa. You will see views across to Great Barrier and the Hauraki Gulf. Follow along the track until you get to Muriwai estuary (note this is easier to cross at low tide) and continue along the beach until you get to the boat ramp at Port Jackson campsite. Walk through the campsite and head back up Fletcher Bay Road to the Hilltop car park or turn around and return via the Muriwai walk.


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