New Zealand Outdoors

Trekking in New Zealand
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One of the great outdoor playgrounds of the world, New Zealand offers a multitude of choices for those who love to get out into nature, flex a few muscles, breathe fresh air and have a good time. Recreation possibilities range from the utterly tranquil to the thrillingly hair-raising, but the effects seem to be the same: a renewal of the wellsprings of energy and a sense of well being.

Trekking, strolling, rambling, walking, hiking or backpacking— New Zealanders call it tramping or trekking. By any name, it is a favorite national pastime. Good walks and hikes can be found all over the country, which is laced with a network of walkways and tracks.

Trekking is a year-round activity in New Zealand, although November to April are the most popular months. Characteristically, the North Island's walks pass through a more gentle landscape, while the South Island offers opportunities for more isolated and more rugged hiking. Both islands afford trekkers with astonishing changes of scenery. Some South Island tracks have four complete changes of weather in the space of a few days.

Besides vistas of stunning mountain peaks, lush rainforests, rushing streams, immense waterfalls, superb beech forests and wild coasts, trekkers have opportunities to see rare alpine flowers, ancient kauri trees and giant wetas-the dinosaurs of the insect world.

With no snakes to worry about, you hardly have to look down, which leaves you free to look for— and listen to— some of the most extraordinary birds in the world. Few will see the reclusive kiwi, but the mischievous kea, a native mountain parrot, has no fear of humans. Hide your jewelry when this cheeky bird is about!

New Zealand birds, such as the tui, weka, bellbird, takahe and kokako, have names as melodious as their songs. Other birds for which the country is famous are the endangered kakapo, the world's largest parrot; the kotuku, the great white herons at Okarito; the yellow-eyed penguins at Penguin Bay and Stewart Island; and, near Dunedin, the royal albatross, among the largest flying birds in the world with wing spans reaching 11 feet.

Treks for Everyone

Visitors may select treks that suit their level of fitness, from easy one-hour or day rambles to highly challenging climbs. The New Zealand Department of Conservation maintains more than 900 backcountry huts for sleeping and shelter, usually spaced four to five hours apart. They cost as little as NZ$14 per night.

You can choose to do what the New Zealanders call "going bush" and take off, carrying all your needs on your back, for remote back-country areas, where you won't see another soul for days. Or go on one of the popular guided treks, usually of three to six days' duration, where all your food and lodging needs are taken care of, and local guides and naturalists share their expertise. These guided treks can be booked before leaving for New Zealand. Customized itineraries can include extras like fishing, golf, boating or sightseeing.

The Most Popular Walks

The Milford Track, First opened in the 1890's, it has achieved a reputation for being"the finest walk in the world" and has thus become the most famous New Zealand walk. Over four days, trekkers experience grassy valleys, beech forests, the beautiful Mackinnon Pass, high waterfalls, wildlife and amazing views. Most rewarding of all is the spectacular sight of Milford Sound at the end.

The Routeburn Track, passes through both the Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks. A three-day trek through primeval beech forests, over alpine ridges and across grassy valleys, its views of snowcapped peaks and clear lakes are spectacular. It can be linked with another fine hike, the Greenstone Valley walk.

The Hollyford Track, is one of the few Fiordland tracks open in the winter. It consists of a three- or four-day trek along the Hollyford River (you can take a jet boat part of the way), through rainforested valleys, past Lake McKerrow to historic Martins Bay.

The Abel Tasman National Park Walk, A three or four-day walk along the gorgeous northwest coast of Tasman Bay, with its awesome seashore granite arches, coves, beautiful beaches and coastal forest. It is possible to do one-day walks here as well.

Reservations are required for all guided and some independent walks.


Although New Zealand has a mild climate, the weather can change very quickly at any time of the year in the high country. Before setting off into the forests and mountains, be sure you have a good topographical map, high-energy foods, warm clothing and rain gear.

Make sure someone knows your plans, and remember to let them know once you return. Leave details in intention books at the visitor center and in huts along the way. Before drinking water from rivers or other natural sources it is best to boil, chemically treat or filter it.

Be sure to buy the correct fuel for your camping stove."Spiritus" is known in New Zealand as methylated spirits. It is purple and burns slowly. Do not confuse methylated spirits with white spirits, which are clear and extremely flammable.

Enjoy your visit to the parks, and protect them for the future. Camp carefully, respect the land and leave no trace of your presence.

Thanks to the New Zealand Tourism Board for providing us with this information.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



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