Category Archives: new zealand great walks

Angelus Hut Circular Track

Angelus Hut Circular Track, Nelson Lakes National Park, New Zealand:

The first day: From Mt Robert Car Park outside St Arnaud up to Angelus Hut via the Speargrass Track camping at the Speargrass Hut.
The second day: Ascent to the Angelus Hut and return via the Robert Ridge Route.

Curiously, the real difficulty of this circular hike was not walking the Robert Ridge Route (a straight-forward non-exposed ridge walk) but the hike along the Speargrass Track, marked as an easier exit track. It definitely was not when I was there. Several sections of the trail had been washed away, route finding was very difficult, and a stream had to be waded several times as well as traversing a rather exposed muddy section. Even on the initial section up to Speargrass campsite, a rather large river had to be waded. In summary, the Speargrass Track unexpectedly turned out to be the single most difficult walk I did in New Zealand. Once at the Angelus Basin (and hut) the trip back down via the Robert Ridge was straightforward, the initial section being the steepest, with great views all around.

Robert Ridge Route
                                        Robert Ridge Route

Highlights: The Angelus Basin; walking on the Robert Ridge.

Difficulty: 4 for the Robert Ridge track. 5 for the track, with route finding issues, large streams and a couple of exposed sections.

Information, bookings (Angelus Hut and campsite must be booked in advance in high season) and maps: DOC (Department of Conservation).

The complete photogallery of the Angelus Hut Track is available on flickr.

The Milford Track

Robin New Zealand
Scratching the earth lures the New Zealand robin to                                        approach looking for insects

Repeatedly being mentioned as one of the top walks in the world, the main challenge of the Milford Track, one of the nine Great Walks of New Zealand is securing a spot!  Only about 120 individual hikers (in three huts, no camping allowed) are allowed on the trail at any time,  and these spaces sell out almost a year in advance.

According to New Zealand laws, wild camping is allowed 500 meters away from the track, the main intention of the law being to give locals opportunity to fish etc. Since the Milford Track is essentially a valley walk,  it is quite difficult, though not entirely impossible to walk 500 meter off track. I discussed this with the Te Anau DOC office and they confirmed it, however they did not recommend it, and frankly, neither do I for the following main reasons: The ecosystem is fragile, massive numbers of people visit the Fiordland and many of those whom this concept may appeal to are not overly experienced.

Mackinnon Pass, Milford Track
Mackinnon Pass, Milford Track

Since this walk was one of the main reasons I came to New Zealand, my only option was to book the hike through Ultimate Hikes, which is not cheap, but includes guides, meals, accommodation in luxury huts along the way etc. My first, and until now, only experience with an organized hike booked two days in advance, immediately after returning from the Kepler Track.

Somewhat to my surprise, considering I am a very individual walker, the arrangements were very flexible and it was a top experience: The guides were extremely knowledgeable about the fauna and animal life, and a flexible system with a guide in front and another one in the back made sure everyone could walk on their own pace. Sandflys? Not a huge problem when sleeping in luxury lodges..

Is this the most spectacular multi-day hike in New Zealand then not to mention the world? It is very special indeed, the birds, the ecosystem, the views over the McKinnon Pass. However, in glorious weather, I may place  the nearby Routeburn Track slightly ahead.

Milford Track
Milford Track

The birds encountered on the route, especially the flightless birds unique to New Zealand; The Sutherland falls; Crossing the MacKinnon Pass; Learning how to get a robin to approach you by scratching the earth with your boot

Difficulty: 3

Information, bookings (all accomodation incl. tent spaces must be booked in advance) and maps: DOC (Department of Conservation).  Ultimate Hikes (guided trip). 10 things to know before walking the Milford Track.

The Kepler Track

The Kepler Track is probably the one of the New Zealand Great Walks with the easiest access, right out of Te Anau.

Essentially, I walked the Kepler Track in two days, starting out  from Kepler car park in the late afternoon after returning back from the Routeburn Track, and camped at the Broad Bay campsite 5 km into the walk.  As there are no camping spaces around the Luxmore hut, the next day is necessarily a long one: +1400 meter (very gradual) ascent past the Luxmore  hut, continuing over a long ridge (the highlight of the walk), followed by a long descent to the Iris Burn campsite. A total of 24 km and 10 hours of walking.
The next and final day then offered a  mellow 22 km through forest to the Rainbow Reach the crossing the Waiau river (one of the Ànduin locations in The Lord of the Rings).

In all honesty, though the Kepler Track it is a fine walk, it does not, in my opinion equal the nearby Milford and Routeburn tracks: While the highlight of the Kepler Track is a fine ridge walk overlooking fiords and with great views, it does not offer the unique New Zealand wildlife and fauna encountered on both Milford and Routeburn Tracks.

The ridge walk.

Difficulty: 3

Itinerary, Kepler Track, camping, Februaru 2015:
Kepler car park-Iris Burn Campsite- Rainbow Reach car park.

Information, bookings (all accommodation incl. tent spaces must be booked in advance) and maps: DOC (Department of Conservation).

Below, the Department of Conservation official video of the Kepler Track:

The Routeburn Track

As with The Milford Track, the main challenge of The Routeburn Track for individual walkers is securing a spot in the Lake MacKenzie Campsite/Hut located 20 km into this 38 km walk.

However, contrary to the Milford Track, Routeburn Track offers  possibility of legally camping on the Greenstone Saddle, 33 km into the track, no booking requried. Thus, failing to having secured a spot at Lake MacKenzie, I then essentially walked the Routeburn in one day:

Starting at 11 am (after a failed bus pickup in Queenstown); walking past the golden meadows and crystal clear rivers up to the Routeburn Falls Hut (1:00 pm); onto Lake Harris and Harris Saddle (3:30 pm); down to Lake MacKenzie (6 pm) through the ancient lakeside forest; past the Earland Falls (8 pm); and finally, completely exhausted, the Greenstone Saddle (9.45 pm) minutes before complete darkness.  The second day was an easy 5 km walk up to Key Summit and then down to The Divide and the bus back to Te Anau.
In this glorious weather, and after having walked all the other mainland Great Walks, I find the Routeburn to be the greatest of all New Zealand Great Walks.

Lake Harris on the Routeburn Track
                        Lake Harris on the Routeburn Track

MacKenzie Lake and the surrounding forest; The Earland Falls; Lake Harris and Harris Saddle; The bluest, clearest rivers and golden meadows.

Difficulty: 3. 4 if walking in one day!

Information, bookings (all accomodation incl. tent spaces must be booked in advance) and maps: DOC (Department of Conservation).

Tongariro Northern Circuit

Camping at Oturere Hut
Camping at Oturere Hut below Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom) 

The Tongariro Northern Circuit is a  three-day circuit in the Tongariro National Park, one of the Great Walks of New Zealand, of which the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is part the first day when starting from Mangantepopo car park. There is no doubt that the first days walk, essentially the Tongariro Alpine Crossing ascending to the Red Crater next to Mt Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom), then descending next to emerald-blue lakes while steam emerges from the ground is spectacular and the highlight of the Circuit. The remainder of the circuit continues through the barren, desert-like landshape circling Mount Ngauruhoe. An optional sidetrip, which I, due to a flat tire, arrived too late in day to take is the summit climb of Ngauruhoe.

The Red Crater; The emerald lakes; walking through lava-sculpted landshapes.

Tongariro Northern Circuit
           Tongariro Northern Circuit, ascent to the Red Crater

Difficulty: 3

Itinerary, Tongariro Northern Circuit, camping, January 2016:
Mangantepopo car park-Oturere Hut-Whakapapa village-Mangantepopo car park.

Information, bookings (all accomodation incl. tent spaces must be booked in advance) and maps: DOC (Department of Conservation).

The complete photogallery of the Tongariro Northern Circuit (January 2016) is available on flickr.