Hiking ‘Best-Of’ Compilations

Here’s my pick of the best walks in some of the most scenic regions of South-Eastern Australia and New Zealand’s South Island.

Chain Hills Circuit, Lindis Valley
Best Day-walks in Central Otago

Central Otago, or just Central to locals, is New Zealand’s frontier land. Famous for wide open spaces with rolling hills of golden tussock grass, its gold mining and rural history, and for extremes of temperature. The topography is a lot less defined than the Southern Alps to the west, but Central Otago has a stark and barren aesthetic of its own. And being away from the popular centres of Queenstown and Wānaka, we seldom see other walkers on our tramps.

Faust & Mephistopheles, Lewis Pass
Best Day-Tramps around Hanmer Springs, Lewis Pass & Reefton

There are mountains galore to the north and west of the resort town of Hanmer Springs, with two quite contrasting landscapes on offer. Directly to the north of town are dry and sometimes barren landscapes characterised by colourful heath plants, tussock and scree. There are a few tracks to choose from, but many more choose-your-own adventures, as the country is pretty open. Further west towards Lewis Pass and on to Reefton is a wetter landscape of forested valleys and grassy, sometimes rugged peaks. The tarns are often a highlight of these walks.

Bealey Spur Track to point 1545m, Arthur's Pass National Park
Best Day-Hikes in Arthur’s Pass National Park

I haven’t done a single bad walk in Arthur’s Pass National Park, so when it comes to a best-of list it’s basically just a list of walks I’ve done. There’s quintessential New Zealand scenery on all of these tramps: a mix of high and often snow capped peaks, deep braided river valleys, rugged cliffs, and lush native forest. It’s pristine wilderness that is very accessible from Christchurch – a picturesque drive of roughly 1.5-2 hours.

Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
Best Day-Tramps in the Canterbury Foothills

Flanked by the Southern Alps to the west, and flat as a pancake Canterbury Plains to the east, the Canterbury Foothills are a smorgasbord of mountains, plains, braided rivers and glacial lakes. Many of the peaks are starkly beautiful patchworks of tussock grass and scree, some with stands of native forest on their lower slopes.

There are many well maintained tracks in the area, but much of the country is pretty open, so experienced trampers can extend their options considerably. You can get to pretty much anywhere in the Canterbury Foothills from Christchurch in a day-trip: driving times are between 50 minutes and a little over 2 hours for the furthest walks.

Mt Potts Circuit, Canterbury
Canterbury 2000m High Peaks You Can Climb in a Day

There’s nothing more satisfying for me than climbing a mountain to epic views, then making it down in time for a nice dinner and indoor plumbing. (Yes I’m a princess). Here in Canterbury New Zealand there are many opportunities for such walks. But for an added sense of achievement and adventure, I like to stretch myself and climb a 2000m high peak from the bottom. There are limited opportunities for summitting a 2000m peak in a day due to the often long distances involved, however I’ve managed a few since coming to live in Canterbury, and always have one or two on the to-do list.

Mt Shrimpton Track to Tarns, McKerrow Range
Best Day-Tramps / Hikes Near Wanaka NZ

Wanaka has a reputation for being the lower-key sibling of Queenstown, and there is much to recommend the area. Many excellent day-walks are one of these things. I had only done a few until quite recently, but on my last two trips down that way I fit in a few others that were real classics. So now I feel ready to compile a best-of list, although I’m sure there are others to add.

The walks on this list can broadly be split into two groups – those around Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, and those in Mt Aspiring National Park. The land around the lakes is generally lacking forest cover, whereas the national park is a bit lusher. There are some tall glaciated peaks in Mt Aspiring National Park as well, so the scale is grander.

Pororari River Track to Lookout, Paparoa National Park
Ten NZ West Coast Short Walks

On our first trip to New Zealand’s picturesque South Island West Coast we met with the area’s infamously wet weather. But during gaps in the weather we fit in quite a few short walks, something we wouldn’t usually do. These turned out to be an excellent way to sample a wide variety of the area’s famed scenery. All of my selection could be done over 3 days on a road trip between Canterbury and Otago (eg, between Christchurch and Wanaka/ Queenstown) travelling via the Lewis Pass / Route 7 and Haast Pass / Route 6. 

Panorama from The Castle, Morton National Park, NSW
Best Summit Day-Hikes in South-East Australia

There’s nothing more satisfying to me than climbing a mountain from the bottom in a day. It’s my favourite form of hiking, combining the best views with a sense of achievement. It seems I’m built for short but steep hikes. The steeper they are the more of an adrenaline fuelled high I get, and rugged mountainous landscapes add to this natural high. And by completing the walk in a day I can then return to the comforts of civilisation, such as indoor plumbing.

The Hump Track, Mt Buffalo NP
6 Great Bushwalks in Victoria, Australia

Until Christmas 2017 I hadn’t walked anywhere in Victoria, perhaps thinking it wouldn’t be so different from NSW. I was pleasantly surprised on that first trip, so much so that we stopped by Victoria on two subsequent trips to Tasmania. The walks we’ve done have been of a high quality, and included experiences that can’t be had in NSW.

These include climbing almost 2000m high mountains from the bottom in a day, such as Mt Bogong (1986m) and Mt Feathertop (1920m). Nearby Mt Buffalo (1723m) and the further flung Grampians Range are unique and rugged landscapes that have numerous walking tracks. And the small but prominent Cathedral Range in Central Victoria offers another unique walking experience.

Mt Stilwell Track, Kosciuszko National Park NSW
10 of the Best Day-hikes in Kosciuszko National Park

Kosciuszko National Park contains mainland Australia’s highest ground. The area looms large in the Australian imagination, an exotic landscape tied to the frontier spirit through epic poems like The Man From Snow River.

The highest ground of the Main Range contains all of the nation’s ten highest peaks, and lies in the southern section of the park. It’s a unique alpine landscape of grasslands, herb fields, and delicate sections of bogs, fens, and stony fjeldmark vegetation. The peaks are generally not very prominent, that is, unless you venture over to the Western Ranges, and my first pick of the walks takes in those vistas. There are glacial lakes, and Blue Lake is a real highlight visited on three of my top ten walks. At lower elevations there are iconic snow gums, one of Australia’s most distinctive and hardy eucalyptus trees.

Mt Twynam, Little Twynam, Blue Lake, & Hedley Tarn, Kosciuszko National Park
Snow gums near Charlotte Pass.

The northern section of Kosciuszko National Park is not so elevated, and perhaps lacks the glamour of the alpine region. Nevertheless, we discovered some excellent short walks taking in spectacular and atmospheric gorges and waterfalls, so it’s definitely worth a visit.