New Zealand is a mecca for hikers, and while I was there I made sure to try and see some of the country on foot as well as on wheels, wings or horselegs. It should be noted that I am more or less the opposite of an avid hiker – I didn’t even own a proper pair of walking boots before I came to New Zealand. Honestly, I still don’t – walked all of these hikes in a pair of sneakers, with varying degrees of success. I am therefore also rather proud that I actually did walk all of these, and I think it is a strong statement to anybody in doubt whether they could walk e.g. the Tongariro Crossing – if I could, so could you!
The shortest walk I took was about an hour and a half, while the longest required overnight camping. I am listing the hikes from North to South for your inspiration:
Waipu Cave Trail, North Island
This track is located north of Auckland on the North Island. The hike starts near a cave and goes up through the forest, and you emerge on the top of a hill with a lovely view of the green hills of North Island. Fairly easy walk, although it is a little strenuous going up the hill!
Tongariro Alpine Crossing, North Island
This was my absolute favourite. The walk takes you up and then down between two volcanoes – I could hardly walk when I reached the finish line, but the view and the experience of being on an active volcano in a place that you definitely could not have reached in a car was all worth it. My partner and I walked it in 6 hours 45 minutes, breaks included. We stayed at Plateau Lodge nearby who also arranged transport to and from the starting and stopping points (not a loop track). Word of advice for this walk – you will work up a sweat, so keep your breaks short so you don’t get cold! The wind only gets fiercer the higher up you get. We saw people walking in shorts and I don’t know how they could do it – it’s cold on the top even though it’s a beautiful warm day.
Mt. Cook, South Island
This walk takes about 3 hours return and takes you to a small lake with a nice view of Mount Cook. Same trip back and forth. Beautiful surroundings, quite a few crossings of high bridges over a rather wild river – and benches and a table to enjoy your lunch by the lake.
Lake Hayes near Queenstown, South Island
This is more of a leisurely stroll around the lake – there are some lovely views, and I almost didn’t get any further than the grassy, shadowy beach at one end of the lake – it was quite a hot day I had picked to walk, and the water was just so nice and cool! The walk took me about 2 hours with a good break at the beach.
Lake Sylvan near Paradise, South Island
This walk goes through mostly forest on a well kept track until you reach Lake Sylvan. There was really only one viewpoint to the lake – I couldn’t see it through the trees before it was right before me. Apart from the lake there are not really any views – I did enjoy being in the forest though, and the drive up there from Queenstown is breathtaking anyway. The walk took me about 1,5 hours.
Sawpit Gully near Arrowtown, South Island
This walk was advertised as somewhat harder than I thought it was – I encountered something like 3 senior couples on the way (which I overtook). I really liked the variety of landscape you came through, and it also rewarded you with some very nice views over Lake Hayes once you had reached the top. It took me 2,5 hours, and I would definitely recommend waterproof shoes – some parts of the tracks were all but mud or a small stream where you had to jump from stone to stone. This track along with the Tongariro are the ones I would definitely do again if I got the chance.
Earnslaw Burn, South Island
Saving the longest for last! We wanted to see the Earnslaw Burn glacier, and the walk is listed as 4-5 hours in the guides we could find, and as a walk that required back country knowledge. It is definitely a tough walk, at least if you’re carrying a heavy backpack and you are relatively inexperienced as a hiker, but we definitely got by without any extended back country knowledge – this was in the middle of summer with good weather and both me and my partner are in possession of adequate common sense. The walk goes through forest most of the way with hardly any views, although it does open up from time to time. The last part where you exit the forest and walk to the camp ground, and on to the front of the glacier itself is very beautiful. I didn’t think the track was the easiest to navigate – there were a lot of trees that had fallen across the track when we were there (early 2016), and we sometimes couldn’t immediately locate the next pointer arrow for directions. It took us 5 hours to walk to the campground, and then you would have to walk for another half or whole hour to get properly close to the glacier. The walk home is downhill so about 4 hours. We were absolutely spent when we were done.
Have you been hiking in New Zealand, or do you have any questions regarding these walks? Comment away!