Tag Archives: new zealand top hikes

Tarawera Trail

Rumours say the Tarawera Trail, when extended, could be the next addition to the Great Walks of New Zealand. Currently it is a one-way 15 km walk between Te Wairoa carpark (a 15 min drive from Rotorua) and Hot Water Beach, where a water taxi may be booked for the return journey to Tarawera Landing, a final 5 km from Te Wairoa car park.

The Hot Water Beach Campsite must be booked. What I did not know however, is that Hot Water Beach campsite is a favourite holiday spot for locals, who often book their favourite spot a year in advance and then put up huge tents for several weeks next to the lake, having barbecues in the evening. When I was there, the campsite was full and  I was the only tourist.
The area around Rotorua is full of history as well as geothermal activity, and Lake Tarawera is of major cultural significance. The Pink and White Terraces, the Eight wonder of the World, were destroyed in the 1886 eruption of the nearby Mount Tarawera, which also shaped Lake Tarawera to its present shape.

Tarawera Trail
                                          On the Tarawera Trail

As the name may suggest, there is plenty of geothermal activity on Hot Water Beach, where eggs may be boiled directly on the beach and small streams of boiling water empty directly in the lake. The walk from Wairoa car park is an easy 15 km walk through jungle on a well-marked, well-prepared path.

Highlights: The geothermal activity of Hot Water Beach.

Difficulty: 2.

Information, bookings (Hot Water Beach must be booked in advance) and maps: DOC (Department of Conservation). Booking for Hot Water Beach Campsite via whakarewarewa.com

The complete photogallery of the Tarawera Trail (January 2016) is available on flickr.

Mount Taranaki Summit Track

Mount Taranaki crater
Mount Taranaki crater

Being the only mountain in the South-Western part of New Zealand´s North Island, Mount Taranaki truly stands out and the climb to the summit may just be the finest day hike in New Zealand.  A tough day out however, I took 9 hours to reach the summit of Mount Taranaki, a 1600 meters ascent from the North Egmont Visitor Centre. After an initial 500 meters ascent on gravel road (aptly named The Puffer) followed by steps,  the tough part begins with a very steep and very exhausting scree slope. A rocky ridge is reached, which then leads to the  snowfilled crater and finally, after a steep 50 meters ascent out of the crater, the summit is reached.
Needless to say, in fine weather the views are spectacular, with a blanket of clouds aggregating just below the crater, reaching all the way to mountains of the Tongariro National Park. This is only a climb to be attempted in good weather.

Climbing Mount Taranaki
Climbing Mount Taranaki

Highlights: Crossing the snowfilled crater; The views from the summit

Difficulty: 4-5. The ascent, especially on the scree is quite steep. Though no scrambling is required it is a very steep and exhausting climb.

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

The complete photogallery of the Mount Taranaki Summit Climb (January 2016) is available on flickr.

Mueller Hut Route

The Mueller Hut Route, Aoraki/Mout Cook National Park:

The Mueller Hut is reached after 1000 meters straight ascent from the valley floor near White Horse Hill Campsite/Car Park in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. The initial 500 meters ascent is on carved steps, the remainder on rocks and scree and though steep, it is not as steep as the Mount Taranaki summit climb and no scrambling is required to reach the hut. 30 minutes before the Mueller Hut a windy ridge with spectacular views of the nearby Mt Sefton as well as several hanging glaciers is reached and these views are the highlight of this day. The route is well-marked and route finding should not be an issue in fine weather. I did not stay at the Mueller hut, but returned to White Horse Hill Campsite, where, in the meantime, my tent had blown away and the poles were broken…

Mueller Hut Route, Aoraki / Mount Cook
Mueller Hut Route, Aoraki / Mount Cook

Highlights: Once the top ridge is reached, the views of Mt Sefton and the surrounding hanging glaciers are glorious.

Difficulty: 4. The ascent is quite steep, though no scrambling sections.

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

The complete photogallery of the Mueller Hut Track as well as the Hooker Valley hike 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

Highlights:
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.

Avalanche Peak

Avalanche Peak Track:

  • Two well-marked pole routes to the summit, 1100 meters ascent directly from Arthur´s Pass Village.
  • I took the slightly steeper Avalanche Peak Track up and  the Scott´s track down, thus completing the circuit in 5 h 15 minutes.
  • Cloudy until the bushline, a glorious view of surrounding peaks opened up once the last tree had been passed.
  • Together with the Mount Taranaki Summit Track and the Mueller Hut Track, this is one of the great hikes of New Zealand.
  • Note that the South Island mountain parrot, the Kea around the campsite at Arthur´s pass are quite aggressive (rather: curious): While I got away with a couple of small holes in my tent (being asleep inside it), my neighbors tent was ruined.
  • Kea may also be seen flying around Avalanche Peak.
Avalanche Peak
                         The summit ridge – Avalanche Peak

Highlights: Climbing the ridge to the Avalanche Peak summit above the bush line.

Difficulty: 4. The ascent is quite steep, though no scrambling sections. The ridge is not, in my opinion, exposed.

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

The complete photogallery of the Avalanche Peak Trek is available on flickr.