New Zealand

Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP

Introduction to Tramping in New Zealand (South Island)

Firstly, most of my hiking has been around Queenstown, and I’m yet to even visit the North Island, but New Zealand’s South Island is just fantabulous, and is a must-visit destination for any keen hiker. The scenery varies from the steep glaciated peaks of the Southern Alps, with deep forested valleys and turquoise waterways, to the golden domed mountains of the arid interior, and the coastal scenery I’ve only touched upon (because I can’t not go to the mountains when in NZ). Read on for more info, or go straight to a list of the walks.

Mt Cook viewed from a point between Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut.
Mt Cook viewed from a point between Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut

Queenstown and Central Otago

When in NZ we’ve stayed mostly in Queenstown. For a good long walk I’m willing to drive up to 2.5 hours, and there’s a huge number of well maintained walks within that distance from Queenstown. This makes it a great base for hiking, or tramping as it’s called in New Zealand. Queenstown is a famous outdoor centre and attracts a large amount of visitors in the summer and winter peak seasons. But hiking’s not for everyone, and there are enough hikes on offer that you can sometimes complete a walk without meeting a single person, even in summer.

Queens Drive on the Remarkables, Queenstown
Queens Drive on the Remarkables, Queenstown

Queenstown

Queenstown is on the shores of the picturesque Lake Wakatipu, and is surrounded by peaks of around 2000 metres elevation, including the rather dramatic and aptly named Remarkables. There are plenty of walks nearby, including some that start near the centre of town, so that you could knock those over without even having transportation. (I’m thinking of Queenstown Hill, and the more strenuous ascent of Ben Lomond).

View roughly north from the summit of Ben Lomond (1748m), Queenstown
View roughly north from the summit of Ben Lomond (1748m), Queenstown

Mt Aspiring National Park & Glenorchy

Mt Aspiring National Park can be accessed from the town of Glenorchy, which is situated in a particularly attractive spot at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. It’s about a 45 minute drive from Queenstown, and I recommend the drive even if you don’t want to hike. The walks around here are almost all scenic and spectacular, often passing through beech forest, along tumbling frothy rivers, and providing views of many a snow capped mountain and a few glaciers to boot.

Near Harris Saddle on the Routeburn Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
Near Harris Saddle on the Routeburn Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

There are a number of famous multi-day walks accessible from Glenorchy, such as the Routeburn, Greenstone and Caples Tracks, but you can also do sections of these as day-walks of various lengths. I highly recommend getting down this way on any trip to Queenstown.

View from near Sugarloaf Pass, Mt Aspiring National Park
View from near Sugarloaf Pass, Mt Aspiring National Park

Wanaka

The attractive town of Wanaka, (on Lake Wanaka), also offers access to Mt Aspiring National Park and other areas of the Southern Alps, and hence to more spectacular walks of this ilk. It’s about a one hour fifteen minute drive north-east from Queenstown to Wanaka, and then a bit further to most of the walks (sometimes quite a bit).

Glacier Burn, accessed from the East Matukituki Valley.
Glacier Burn, accessed from the East Matukituki Valley.

Central Otago

Going further inland (east) into the Central Otago District, the environment becomes more arid. The mountains are generally domed and their slopes often covered with tussock grass, or else grazing land for sheep. (Note that some tracks are closed during lambing season, about 1st Oct to 10th Nov: best check those dates). The peaks and plateaus are frequently barren moonscapes. I tend to prefer pointy mountains, but these areas offer a fairly remote tramping experience that you won’t get on the likes of the Routeburn.

St Bathans Range (2098m) viewed from Lindis Peak (1226m)
St Bathans Range (2098m) viewed from Lindis Peak (1226m)

Other South Island

I’ve not seen nearly enough of the South Island, but Mt Cook/Aoraki and surrounds were just spectacular. And you don’t have to climb NZ’s highest mountain to become immersed in the scenery, (which is just as well because people die climbing that monster).

Sealy Tarns, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Sealy Tarns, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

There are both short and long day walks starting at or near Aoraki/Mt Cook Village that are well worth it, despite the crowds. Navigating these walks was straightforward so you’ll only need the brief notes you can get from the NZ DOC website. We stayed in the larger town of Twizel, which is a 50 minute drive away.

Hooker Valley, Hooker Lake & Mueller Glacier Lake from the Sealy Tarns Track, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Hooker Valley, Hooker Lake & Mueller Glacier Lake from the Sealy Tarns Track, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

Track Notes

We’ve mostly used track notes from Day Walks of New Zealand: Central Otago and Queenstown by Peter Dymock. It looks like in early 2018 it’s becoming a little hard to get online, but you might still get it in Queenstown and surrounds. I also found James Milne’s website helpful.

More generally, the Department of Conservation offices have lots of their own paper and online resources for hiking.  If you are a multi-day hiker / mountaineer, or are just hankering for a bit of NZ mountain porn, then you can’t go past Danilo Hegg’s blog Southern Alps Photography. I salivate on my computer every time I look at his blog.

Plateau near the summit of Mt Pisa (1963m), Central Otago
Plateau near the summit of Mt Pisa (1963m), Central Otago

Weather

The weather in Queenstown and particularly Central Otago can be quite dry, but Mt Aspiring National Park is wetter. And anywhere on the west coast is wet. Very wet.

The South Island has mild summers, and we’ve walked a lot in mid-summer, though it can be a bit too hot for comfort some days when exposed to the sun for long periods. Summer snow will fall on high ground from time to time. The bonus of walking during the summer months is having about 16 hours of daylight to play with.

Beech forest, NZ
Beech forest, NZ

The winters are coldish, but snow seldom settles on Queenstown in winter (it sits at just 300 m elevation). The alpine areas can be very cold and windy at any time of year, and the weather moves fast so be prepared. We’ve walked in early winter and found the conditions quite mild, but the beginning of the ski season had faltered so I think it was unseasonably warm. Nevertheless, there’s walking to be had in winter, and if you’re prepared for walking on snow then I imagine it can be quite spectacular.

Hawkdun Range, Maniototo, Central Otago
Hawkdun Range, Maniototo, Central Otago

And lastly, the sunsets are really nice. This is the view over Lake Wakatipu from the place were we stay.

Lake Wakatipu golden sunset, viewed from Kelvin Heights
Lake Wakatipu golden sunset, viewed from Kelvin Heights
Sunset over Lake Wakatipu, viewed from Kelvin Heights
Sunset over Lake Wakatipu, viewed from Kelvin Heights

The New Zealand Walks

You can browse through a list of the walks I’ve posted on so far:

Queenstown Day Trip

Firstly, those walks manageable in a day trip from Queenstown (up to 2.5 hours drive one way):

Around Queenstown

Ben Lomond Track, Queenstown

Climbing Ben Lomond (1748m) is a must do for any reasonably fit hiker visiting Queenstown. The route we take to the top starts on the edge of town, and at first passes through beech forest, then pine forest, and once above the treeline it’s tussock grass until the summit, where there are 360 degree views of the Southern Alps, the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu.

Queens Drive - Wye Creek Loop, The Remarkables

My pick of the best full day-hikes around Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure capital, with a few shorter options thrown in.

Brow Peak via Big Hill Saddle (winter), Arrowtown

The wrinkly mountains and valleys at the back of Arrowtown are a highlight of this walk up Brow Peak (1456m).

Brow Peak via Big Hill Saddle, Arrowtown

Brow Peak (1456m) near Arrowtown is an accessible mountain with fabulous views north over wrinkly golden brown mountains, and south over the Wakatipu Basin.

Crown Peak ascent, Otago NZ

Excellent winter scenery on the ascent up Crown Peak (1735m) from in Arrowtown, near Queenstown. 360 degree views from the summit are a highlight.

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Around Glenorchy

Caples Track to Mid Caples Hut return

Roughly 5 hours of level walking through the beautiful Caples Valley takes you to Mid Caples Hut and back on this first (or last) section of the multi-day Greenstone and Caples Track circuit.

Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy

A truly spectacular walk to a tussock basin below the Earnslaw Glacier. Highly recommended for fit walkers or those willing to spend a night there.

Sugarloaf Pass to pt. 1290m, Mt Aspiring National Park NZ

Experience some of New Zealand’s best scenery on these five classic day-hikes near Glenorchy, just 45 minutes drive from Queenstown.

Glacier Burn Track, near Glenorchy

A pleasant walk through attractive beech forest to good views of a glacial valley and up to the Humboldt Mountains near Mt Bonpland.

Glenorchy Walkway

An easy circuit walk through a wetland near the town of Glenorchy, at the very picturesque northern end of Lake Wakatipu.

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Central Otago District

Cairnmuir Hill Track

This walk starts in New Zealand’s driest area, and climbs onto Cairnmuir Hill at 1114m of elevation. There are extensive views of the moody Dunstan Mountains, and over the flatlands further south.

Cloudy Peak ascent, Otago NZ

A great sample of Central Otago’s unique scenery on this long and relatively unknown walk to the summit of Cloudy Peak (1526m), north-east of Cromwell.

Hawkdun Range pt 1857m from Shepherds Hut Ck

An excellent walk through tussock grass to the barren summit plateau of the Hawkdun Range (point 1857m), in the remote Maniototo region of Central Otago.

Kanuka Loop Track, Bendigo, Central Otago

This loop walk passes through the Bendigo area, an old mining district in Central Otago near Cromwell. The track undulates through native Kanuka forest and amongst rocky outcrops, and there are wide open views of the Pisa Range and Clutha Valley.

Leaning Rock via Lilico Spur

This long walk climbs through farmland to the Waikerikeri Conservation Area, and then through rugged tussock grass country to the barren summit of Leaning Rock (1647m), where there are many large tors.

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around Wanaka

Brewster Hut Track, then ridge north of Mt Armstrong

After a long climb through attractive beech forest you’ll be rewarded with classic South Island views of high mountains, including Mt Brewster & its glacier. Continue upwards from Brewster Hut towards Mt Armstrong for even more views.

Cameron Flat to Glacier Burn, East Matukituki Valley

The walk from Cameron’s Flat to the Glacier Burn crosses pasture and then enters beech forest, eventually stopping at the burn (stream) with views of Avalanche Glacier.

Rocky Mountain-Diamond Lake Circuit, near Wanaka

An easy to moderate walk passing by the picturesque Diamond Lake, and climbing up to the summit of Rocky Mountain (775m) for views of Lake Wanaka.

Roys Peak Track, Wanaka NZ

Fabulous views over Lake Wanaka are a highlight of this walk up Roys Peak. Just expect to be joined by a few hundred others in peak season!

Sawyer burn Hut Track

Great views of lake Hawea and surrounding peaks on this walk starting at Kidds Bush campground, not too far from Wanaka.

And now further afield…

Other South Island

Black Gully Loop, Blue Mountains, West Otago

This lesser known walk in New Zealand’s own Blue Mountains ascends through beech forest to a high point of 1019m at Tapanui Hill. The views of surrounding farmland are extensive, but the forest is probably the highlight.

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Hooker Valley Walk, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

Spectacular scenery for moderate effort on this classic walk in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. Take your camera!

Sealy Tarns & beyond to ~1740m, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

Really spectacular views the whole way on this steep alpine walk to Sealy Tarns and beyond, in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.

Tasman Glacier Lake Walk, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

A great short walk to the Tasman Glacier Lake foreshore, in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.