Lake Waikaremoana Track. A very atmospheric walk around a remote lake.The Milford Track. Unique animal and vegetation as well as wonderful waterfalls on the way to Milford Sound.
The Milford Track.Unique animal and vegetation as well as wonderful waterfalls on the way to Milford Sound. It is located close to the Routeburn Track, which I would walk instead of the Milford if not possible to secure a space.
Top day hikes:
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I walked this as part of the Tongariro Northern Circuit. This is a spectacular walk through volcanic craters and lakes next to Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom) with steam coming up from underneath.
The Great Walks are all relatively easy walks, with no scrambling required, thus appealing to people of average fitness and average hiking experience. They have also been chosen to represent the variations in scenery and ecosystems offered. The drawback to these walks are that all camping and hut spaces must be booked in advance via the DOC (online or in person), meaning that some of the most popular tracks sell out months in advance, most notably the Milford Track. I succeeded in getting tickets to all of the below walks a couple of days before departure, except the Milford Track (I finally booked with a commercial agency) and the Routeburn Track (I walked it in one long day).
There are plenty other hikes just as beautiful as the well-marketed Great Walks, some of them significantly more difficult. Unfortunately, I have, as of now, only walked a few of them.
Below a brief characteristic of each walk linking to an in-depth post:
The Queen Charlotte Track spans 70 km from the historical Ship Cove (Captain Cook´s New Zealand base) to Anikawa on the Queen Charlotte Sound in the Marlborough Sounds area.
The Queen Charlotte Track is not classified as a Great Walk, thus campsites are somewhat easier to come by as advance reservation is not required. In addition, numerous tour companies provide luggage transfer by boat along the route and comfortable accommodation in hotels is available. Furthermore, the track itself is of only moderate difficulty: An undulating and furthermore well-maintained trail with no major ascents. As a consequence, the Queen Charlotte Track attracts a somewhat wider audience than many of the other walks and is indeed one of the most popular tracks in New Zealand.
The track moves through subtropical forests with views of the Queen Charlotte Sound and strictly speaking, compared to the diversity of many other New Zealand walks I did end up finding Queen Charlotte Track a bit monotonous. From a technical point of view several of the Great Walks are just as easy to walk (such as the nearby Abel Tasman Coastal Track and Heaphy Track) and both offer more scenic variation. However none of these offer the touristic services that the Queen Charlotte Track does.
Boats to Ship Cove/Anakiwa and other points on the track leave several times during the day from Picton Harbor, where outfitters offer all the needed services (including track pass) to walk the Queen Charlotte Track. Campsite tickets available at the nearby DOC office.
Day 1: Picton-Ship Cove-Camp Bay Campsite.
Day 2: Camp Bay Campsite-Cowshed Bay Campsite
Day 3: Cowshed Bay Campsite-Anakiwa-Picton
Together with the Avalanche Peak Track, the St Arnaud Range Track was listed as the top day walk of Lonely Planet´s South Island travel guide. Which is why I chose this as my first walk in Nelson Lakes National Park, having arrived at St Arnaud´s village after a 20+ hours drive, straight up from the torrential rains in Milford Sound.
The St Arnaud Range Track is a straight-forward 600 meter climb from the east side of Lake Rotoiti, up through forest to the ridgeline. A 5 hour return trip. The forest is pleasant enough, the view from the ridge is fine. However, compared to the spectacular Robert Ridge Route to Angelus Hut just at the other side of the Rotoiti lake, I am curious as to just exactly why this hike was nominated a Top Two South Island day hike? Not to mention the superb Mueller Hut Track and the world class hike up the Pacific coastline from Kohaihai to Heaphy Hut?
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.
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.