Lara’s Top New Zealand Destinations
Top 3 hiking spots in NZ
Taking a hike in nature is a great way to escape city life and refresh the mind. I love the peacefulness of nature and admiring the plants and wildlife when walking through the New Zealand bush. My three favourite hiking spots vary a lot in length and intensity, so there is something for everyone, whether you prefer a multi-day, one-day or shorter hike.
#3: Fairy Falls Track: Waitakere Ranges
20-45 minutes one-way, easy
This is an easy and quick bush walk, leading to a beautiful waterfall. We usually stop to see fairy falls when heading to Piha beach. I love the feeling of being surrounded by the ferns fronds, ponga trees, Manuka flowers and the cooling shade the New Zealand bush has to offer.
It’s a 20-45 minute walk to reach the waterfall, depending on how leisurely you would like to walk. You can swim at the base of the falls which is very refreshing, and there is also a track to climb to the top of the waterfall for a breathtaking view of the Waitakere ranges.
Top Tip: don’t forget your togs and towel, in case you feel like taking a dip at the falls
#2: Tongariro Alpine Crossing: Ohakune
6-8 hours, moderate to difficult
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the 10 Great Walks of New Zealand. What I love about this day hike is there is varied terrain which keeps it interesting throughout. There’s a tussocky section with small streams, a huge plain that makes you feel like you are on the moon or on Mars, a windy track among wildflowers, and then native bush at the end of the walk. The scenery and views along the way are spectacular. You’re rewarded with the view of the Emerald lakes when you reach the mid-point of the track. These are bright emerald green bubbling hot pools, to be viewed at a distance as they are seriously hot. A perfect view for your lunch-time stop.
I have done the crossing both in Winter and in Summer, and although I enjoyed the challenge of walking on the icy tracks with crampons and seeing the snow covered plains, the views were more visible in the Summer and the warmer temperature is nicer.
Please note: The Winter track is only for experienced mountaineers, and not recommended for those who do not have experience hiking at below zero temperatures.
The track requires moderate fitness levels and the correct gear, as it can get quite windy and very chilly up there! There is no water along the track, so be sure to carry enough with you for the day, and some loo roll, too. There are shuttle services that can pick you up from certain hotels in the area where you can park your car or motorhome for the day. No parking is permitted for longer than 4 hours at each end of the track.
Top tip: try to get there early (6/7am) to give yourself enough time to take multiple breaks during the day, to soak in nature’s beauty and get plenty of photos.
#1: The North-West Circuit: Stewart Island / Rakiura
9-11 days, difficult
For the full hiking experience, to get immersed in nature and make you forget about the city life completely, this hike is for the experienced adventurer and not for the faint hearted! Stewart Island is the southern-most island of New Zealand and has a population of around 400 people, and has three main tramping circuits. We chose the longest one to do – the North-West Circuit which is a 9-11 day hike.
There’s plenty of wildlife!
Each day we stayed at a different hut, which were around 6 hours walk from one to the next. There are rivers, beaches, and a lot of bush along the way. The beaches are secluded and untouched. Although the water is crystal clear, you might not want to jump in right away; since Stewart Island is so far south, the water is freezing cold!
A major highlight was seeing so much wildlife up close such as yellow eyed penguins, seals, and a multitude of New Zealand native birds. Other trampers we met spotted a kiwi! We met fishermen who caught both a shark and an octopus, before releasing them back into the water and I personally caught a 30cm parrot fish using a hand-line! My favourite part of the trip was witnessing the amazing sunrises and sunsets, seen from the huts which were mostly positioned next to the beach. Rakiura is the Maori name for Stewart Island, and translates to a very fitting “land of the glowing skies”.
You need to be quite fit for this hike; it is 125KM in total and is not easy, being very steep in places. There are no shops along the way so we had to be prepared. Huts are basic with no electricity, equipped with bunk beds and mattresses, rain water tanks, and sometimes a fireplace. So it was ten days of cold-water showers! It was great to live off the grid and read at night by candle light.
We carried in all our food for the ten days, cooking equipment, sleeping bags and a tent, and all our clothes, plus we carried all our rubbish out. My pack weighed in at around 16kg! You need to be prepared for all seasons, as it rains on the island 200-250 days per year and on some days we experienced sunshine, rain, hail and sunshine again all in the span of 10 minutes. Maybe bring a spare waterproof poncho. The worst part of the hike for me was wading through knee-deep mud and almost losing a shoe.
You can park your motorhome at the Bluff Ferry Terminal before catching the ferry over to Stewart Island, or alternatively you can fly in to Stewart Island from Invercargill.
Top tip: bring more chocolate than you think you will need – this is a necessity!
Also, the pub quiz Sunday Nights at the South Sea Hotel in Oban is very entertaining. Don’t talk while the host is talking or she might duct tape your mouth shut!
By Lara Derbyshire