New Zealand

Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP

Introduction to Hiking (Tramping) in New Zealand (South Island)

Firstly, before 2020 most of my hiking had been around Queenstown, but now I’m living in Christchurch I’m steadily adding many walks in Canterbury to the blog. I’m yet to even tramp in 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. Read on for more info, or go straight to a list of the walks.

Mt Olivier - Mueller Hut - Sealy Tarns, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Sophia watches a handglider from a vantage point at 1740m of elevation above Sealy Tarns.

Queenstown and Central Otago

When holidaying 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 & Lake Alta, Remarkables
Queens Drive high up on the Remarkables.

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.

Routeburn Track NZ: Routeburn Flats to Harris Saddle and Conical Hill
I love youse all! Or so says Lake Harris. The lake is actually shaped a bit like South America, but from this particular angle, and with the right framing, you can feel the love.

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.

Sugarloaf Pass to pt. 1290m, Mt Aspiring National Park NZ
Mt Earnslaw / Pikirakatahi and a frozen tarn.

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. There are also good walks on the shores of Lakes Wanaka and Hawea. It’s about a one hour fifteen minute drive north-east from Queenstown to Wanaka, and then a bit further to the walks.

Sentinel Peak ascent, Lake Hawea
Sentinel Peak has one of the most attractive summits of any mountain I’ve climbed. Sophia down there crossing tussock to get to the base of the summit rocks. To climb up you can probably take the scree slope on the right and go around the back (though I’m not sure), but I know that the first chute (channel) on the left is a straightforward climb on scree. We took the second chute and it was a bit trickier with a couple of spots requiring some scrambling.

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, roughly Oct to mid Nov depending on the location: best check those dates). The peaks and plateaus are sometimes 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)

Canterbury

In early 2020 I moved Christchurch, and set about getting to know walks in this region. I had previously visited Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park and that is really spectacular. Closer to Christchurch there are excellent walks in the foothills of the Southern Alps, in the really excellent Arthur’s Pass National Park, and closer by in the Port Hills and Banks Peninsula.

Mt Olivier - Mueller Hut - Sealy Tarns, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Mt Sefton (3151m) from Sealy Tarns (about 1300m of elevation).

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.

Mt Olivier - Mueller Hut - Sealy Tarns, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Mueller Hut and Aoraki Mt Cook from Mt Olivier (1931m).

Many of the Canterbury Foothills are hardly hills, some of them rising above 2000m of elevation. There’s many a scree slope, lots of tussock grass, and some patches of attractive forest too. There’s also braided rivers, gorgeous gorges, and many of the walks border the flat as a pancake Canterbury Plains. Most walks are about 1-2 hours drive from Christchurch.

Red Hill via Porter River, Korowait/Torlesse Tussocklands Park
The view from Red Hill in Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park, Canterbury NZ.

Arthur’s Pass National Park, in the Southern Alps, has spectacular scenery similar to that around Glenorchy. It lacks a big lake, but the high peaks, deep valleys and beautiful forest are highly recommended, and I hope to do lots more walking there.

Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Crow Valley and Jellicoe Ridge, viewed from Avalanche Peak in Arthur’s Pass National Park. Fabulous scenery.

The Port Hills and Banks Peninsula are to the south-east of Christchurch, the Port Hills being on the city boundary. The scenery is pretty but tamer than the mountains to the west. It’s a mostly altered landscape, but the volcanic topography and coastal scenery are very nice, plus some of the walks are less than 30 minutes drive from Christchurch.

Ohinetahi Reserve Circuit, Governors Bay
Lyttelton Harbour

Fiordland

The spectacular scenery of Fiordland is immediately apparent on the drive to Milford Sound. If the drive and maybe a cruise on a fiord is not enough, you can sample more of this wonderous place on some very accessible day-walks from the Milford Road, some easy enough for non-hikers to do. The only downside to the accessible regions of Fiordland is their understandable popularity, and then there’s the extremely wet weather, and the often aggressive sandflies. But the region is magical, and I highly recommend a visit. It is also home to various multi-day walks, including the world famous Milford Track, and one end of the also famous Routeburn Track.

Gertrude Saddle & Barrier Knob, Fiordland
Looking towards Milford Sound (just visible) from Gertrude Saddle.

Westland/West Coast

Many locals in New Zealand recommended I visit the lush West Coast of the South Island, and it didn’t disappoint. Having said that, the typically wet weather restricted our options on our first trip there in 2020, but I saw enough on short walks to know I want to return in a better weather window. The unique forests are fabulous, and down south there is easy access to view two of NZ’s biggest glaciers. There are lots of walking options so this will be a region we’ll return to in the future.

Pororari River Track to Lookout, Paparoa National Park
A picturesque bend in the Pororari River.

Track Notes

When in Queenstown 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.  In 2020 I subscribed to Wilderness Magazine, and this has lots of great tramping ideas. 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 / Fiordland is wet. Very wet. It gets bloody windy in the Canterbury Foothills, and Arthur’s Pass is particularly known for its wild weather.

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 15-16 hours of daylight to play with.

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

The winters are coldish, but snow seldom settles at lower elevations in winter. 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 winter and found the conditions can be quite mild, but it depends a lot on the wind.

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
Standing on the summit of Ben Lomond on a clear enough day, you can blindly point your camera in any direction and come away with an epic landscape shot. There are 360 degree views of the Southern Alps, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables, and depending on the weather conditions these views might look very different, as the photos that follow will demonstrate. (more…)
Queens Drive - Wye Creek Loop, The Remarkables

Queenstown is truly a hiker’s paradise. There’s dramatic scenery in all directions, and the mountains are filled with well maintained hiking trails. And as a major adventure-tourism destination the area is well serviced and cosmopolitan.

Plenty of tourists visit the area, and yet it seems the majority of people choose not to go hiking. In fact, I’ve sometimes not seen a single other person on the best hikes in the area. So if you are willing to put in the effort, you can have New Zealand’s magical scenery mostly to yourself.

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Big Hill & Arrow Gorge Circuit, Arrowtown

This was another great walk out the back of Arrowtown near Queenstown. The route first climbs steadily from the edge of town to Big Hill Saddle, passing through a mix of vegetation including a pleasant stand of beech forest. Then it’s up and over Big Hill itself, with views of the region’s typically wrinkly, tussock grass covered topography that looks particularly attractive in winter lighting. (more…)

Bowen Peak via One Mile Track, Queenstown

If you’ve already climbed Ben Lomond, or just want a quieter summit experience, then I can highly recommend an ascent of its neighbour, Bowen Peak (1631m). Taking the One Mile Track starts you off in attractive native forest including beech, followed by pine forest, and finally you’re above the bushline to the summit. Once out of the trees there are ever improving views, with the best from the saddle to the summit. The two mountains offer a similar experience in terms of the scenery on offer, so the choice is yours. (more…)

Brow Peak - Bush Creek Circuit

This was my third time up Brow Peak, having ascended via Big Hill Saddle twice, and almost getting to the summit from Coronet Peak. (I ran out of time on Christmas Day, needing to get back for festivities with friends). This is a short ascent and good if you want the views without so much walking, however there are less views than walking the longish ridge from Big Hill. If it’s your first time up I recommend going this longer route. Nevertheless, excellent views await you at the summit, especially of the backcountry to the north, and this route offers a nice return circuit along picturesque Bush Creek. (more…)

Around Glenorchy

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

The sleepy village of Glenorchy sits in a dramatic landscape at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. It’s a spectacular 45 minute drive from Queenstown along the shore of the lake, and worth making the trip for the drive alone. The scenery on offer is amongst the best in New Zealand, and there are some really world-class hikes in the area, including the famous multi-day Routeburn Track.

Following are my favourite day-hikes around Glenorchy. There are majestic mountains, alpine lakes, glaciers, tumbling streams, and atmospheric beech forest. And you might be joined by some of New Zealand’s friendly bird life along the way.

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Caples Track to Mid Caples Hut return

This section of the multi-day Greenstone and Caples Track circuit makes for an excellent day walk, and one for those who are less keen on climbing. The level track wanders from near the western shore of Lake Wakatipu through the beautiful Caples Valley. There are high mountains in every direction, beech forest, grassy flats, groves of manuka, mountain streams and the Caples River to enjoy along the way. Mid Caples Hut makes for a good lunch spot and turnaround point. (more…)

Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy

You get up close and personal with Mt Earnslaw and its glacier on this mammoth walk, which took my wife and me almost 10 hours. The Earnslaw Burn Track follows the true left bank of the Earnslaw Burn through beech forest up to a tussock basin below the Earnslaw Glacier. Once out of the forest the views will be enough to knock your hiking socks off, and are amongst the best we’ve seen on any day hike. They include the Earnslaw Glacier and numerous waterfalls, big fallen rocks, and we caught sight of an avalanche too. (more…)

Glacier Burn Track, near Glenorchy

The Glacier Burn Track crosses the Glacier Burn early on, and then climbs up through attractive beech forest to good views of a glacial valley and up to the Humboldt Mountains near Mt Bonpland. (more…)

Glenorchy Walkway

Glenorchy Walkway is a flat and relatively short circuit walk through a wetland near the town of Glenorchy, at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. It’s a spectacular area, and this walk is a good option if you want to stretch your legs surrounded by many high mountains. The track is constructed the whole way, and entirely flat, so you don’t need any special gear. (more…)

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Central Otago District

Cairnmuir Hill Track

This walk is one half of a complete traverse of Cairnmuir Hill (1114m) in Central Otago, which would take you from near Bannockburn over to Clyde. It starts in New Zealand’s driest and most arid area, with just introduced thyme eking out an existence. As you steadily climb the country becomes more hospitable, with familiar tussock grass dominating the scenery, along with a few rocky outcrops. There are good views over the moody Dunstan Mountains, with their large tors and wrinkled dark slopes, and also glimpses of the aqua coloured Lake Dunstan in the valley below. (more…)

Cloudy Peak ascent, Otago NZ

Quintessential Central Otago scenery on this long walk to the summit of Cloudy Peak (1526m), not far from Cromwell. Once you begin the ascent onto higher ground there are great views of golden tussocked and wrinkly hills and valleys, contrasted with flat-as-a-pancake plains in the distance, and from the summit you have partial views of the attractive St Bathans Range. (more…)

Devils Creek Track to Mt Kinaki, Bendigo Conservation Area

Many day-walks in Central Otago are let down somewhat by a long walk in weedy farmland to get to a conservation area, and then before you know it, it’s time to return. On paper the walk up Devils Creek Track to Mt Kinaki (1309m) is just this kind of walk, although I thought the topography of Devils Creek held some promise. Well, I ended up enjoying this walk from start to finish. In perfect mid-autumn conditions the colours were just lovely, including the weeds, and the rocky slopes of the Dunstan Range were otherworldy. But it was Devils Creek itself that stole the show – a fabulously deep cut, arid and rocky valley that I think earns its devilish name. You also get views back towards Lake Dunstan and the 1963m Pisa Range. (more…)

Duffers Saddle to the Old Woman Range, Central Otago

I realised the other day that I hadn’t posted all of my NZ walks to date. This is the walk I missed: A longish but mostly flat walk to the tops of the Old Woman Range, an arid alpine plateau near Cromwell in Central Otago. There were many tors along the way, and views of nearby mountains. (more…)

Hawkdun Range pt 1857m from Shepherds Hut Ck

An excellent walk to the top of the Hawkdun Range (1857m) in the remote Maniototo region of Central Otago, famous for its isolated vistas of golden tussock grass and mountains. The walk starts in the Manuherikia Valley, and after a flat start rises steeply up to the long and barren summit plateau of the Hawkdun Range: about 1100m of ascent and descent. Not as dramatic as the Southern Alps, but very atmospheric, and we had the place to ourselves.  (more…)

around Wanaka

Breast Hill ascent, Lake Hawea

I first learnt of the track to Breast Hill (1578m) from an Instagram follower who used to live in Wanaka. It was his favourite day walk in the area, and I came across another blogger who rated it highly, so I had to give it a go. It is indeed an excellent walk, especially once you hit the ridge, and then again when you get out of sometimes smelly farmland and into Hawea Conservation Park.  There are great views of Lake Hawea the whole way, of golden tussock grass hills, and of the steep rugged slopes of Breast Hill itself, as well as various mountain peaks all around. (more…)

Brewster Glacier & Point 2023m, Mt Aspiring National Park

I had visited Brewster Hut twice before, and on one of those occasions I went beyond the hut for views east. For some reason though I had not seriously considered visiting Brewster Glacier and its terminal lake, though I know now that this is the main prize for day-walkers in the area. The proximity of the hut means quite a few others will join you, but we got some solitude by also visiting the unnamed peak at 2023m, between Mt Brewster (2516m) and Mt Armstrong (2174m). It’s a high quality walk from start to finish, with beautiful beech forest, lovely alpine flowers in summer, and spectacular and ever changing views for as long as you are above the bushline. (more…)

Cameron Flat to Glacier Burn, East Matukituki Valley

The East Matukituki Valley is about an hour’s drive from Wanaka, and is less well known than its neighbour, the West Matukituki Valley. The initial walk from Cameron’s Flat crosses featureless farmland, and doing this in full sun definitely took the gloss off this walk. Nevertheless, the views of the surrounding mountains are lovely, and the short section in beech forest to Glacier Burn is very picturesque. The views from the burn of Avalanche Glacier provide the money shot. (more…)

Corner Peak Route, Lake Hawea

Corner Peak (1683m) cuts a striking figure from the western shore of Lake Hawea, especially as you drive from the West Coast across The Neck, alongside Isthmus Peak. Multiple spurs rise 1300m very steeply out of the lake, but the way up is along a long ridge from the south. It feels quite adventurous, and is a hard slog, but the scenery is spectacular pretty much from start to end, so it’s well worth the effort. One of the best walks in this area, along with Sentinel Peak and Breast Hill.

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Crown Peak from Crown Range Road

This was our second time up Crown Peak (1735m), one of the mountains accessible from Arrowtown. However, this time we climbed it on a marked route starting on the Crown Range Road, on the Cardrona side of the mountain. This route is shorter, and offers a wilder walking experience than climbing the mountain on a vehicle track. Nevertheless, there was more variety of scenery on the walk up from Arrowtown. The 360 degree views from the summit are the same of course, and very nice. (more…)

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And now walks in Canterbury…

Canterbury

Christchurch Day Trip

These next walks are manageable as a day-trip from Christchurch…

Canterbury Foothills

Ben More Tops Circuit, Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park

I’d heard this circuit walk along the tops of Ben More, the high point of the Big Ben Range in Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park, was a good winter tramping option, with safe enough travel for those less experienced in snow. By time we did the walk in early spring there’s wasn’t much slow left, but enough to add to the aesthetics of the area. However I think the rugged scenery would look good in any season. (more…)

Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury

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.

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Big Ben via Dry Acheron Stream, Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park

We first walked the Dry Acheron Track intending to climb Big Ben (1416m), but on that day there was low cloud and we turned back. A few weeks later after snowfall we thought we’d return and finish the job. Snow and clear blue skies added some variety to the grey skies of our first visit, and intense NW winds some adventure when on the upper reaches of the mountain. There’s great views from the slopes of Big Ben, including a jumble of topography towards Lake Coleridge, and a rather striking Mount Hutt Range popping out of the Canterbury Plains. (more…)

Black Mountain, Te Kahui Kaupeka Conservation Park

I had wanted to visit this remote corner of Canterbury for some time, but I was put off for a while by the long distances required to get to what I thought to be the most interesting peaks. Nevertheless, after studying the topo map in more detail I saw that the views should be good from Black Mountain (1809m), and it certainly delivered. You get really spectacular views of barren 2500m peaks and glacial valleys to the west, and of the Rangitata River to the east, including the confluence with the Havelock and Clyde Rivers. (more…)

Castle Hill Peak and Foggy Peak, Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park

This classic Canterbury walk in Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park, an hour west of Christchurch, takes you to Castle Hill Peak (1998m), the high point of the Torlesse Range. The scenery is starkly beautiful, with large areas of scree intermixed with colourful scrub and tussock. There are extensive views over mountains, valleys, lakes and the Canterbury Plains. (more…)

Arthur’s Pass National Park

Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park

The excellent but somewhat notorious routes to the summit of Avalanche Peak attract many hikers of various abilities, and have killed 11 of them apparently. Nevertheless, both routes to the summit are marked, and the views are just fabulous, especially after a bit of snow. This was our first time in Arthur’s Pass National Park and it exceeded already high expectations, with pleasingly steep and rugged tracks up through beautiful beech forest, then epic views of mountains, ridges and valleys in all directions. The opportunity to make this a circuit walk adds to the appeal. (more…)

Bealey Spur Track to point 1545m, Arthur's Pass National Park

The classic and reasonably popular walk up the Bealey Spur Track offers excellent views over Arthur’s Pass National Park for less effort than climbing nearby mountains. There’s also no avalanche danger, so after significant spring snowfall we headed out there on a weekday to see some magical snowy scenes. And being on a weekday we had the place to ourselves. You can get great views of the braided Waimakariri River Valley from quite early on in the walk at roughly 980m of elevation. Most people continue through attractive beech forest and over plains of tussock grass to Bealey Top Hut, but for the full experience I recommend continuing past the hut to a minor peak at 1545m. (more…)

Bealey Spur Track to point 1545m, 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.

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Devils Punchbowl Walking Track

I first saw Devils Punchbowl Falls from afar on my way down the Scotts Track, from the summit of Avalanche Peak. They were an impressive sight and I thought I would have to visit them one day. It turns out the short track to the falls starts nearby the start/end of the Scotts Track, so we did it that same day. It’s a nice short but steep walk up through beech forest to a viewpoint below the falls. Maps show the falls to be 112m, although the DOC website claims they are 131m. They are big anyway, and worth seeing. (more…)

Goat Hill via Barrack Creek Route, Arthur's Pass

This somewhat adventurous climb up the Barrack Creek Route to Goat Hill (1656m) was our first walk on the West Coast side of Arthur’s Pass National Park. The views are really spectacular, and include Mt Rolleston and numerous other peaks, the Otira River, Deception Valley, and the attractive Barrack Creek Valley. Also, the vegetation is different enough to add interest for someone used to the plants back east. The route is quite rough in sections, both through the forest and up towards the summit, and requires some scrambling. If you are okay with this then it will only add to the adventure. All in all a very satisfying day tramp that we’ll be sure to repeat. And you’ll probably have the place to yourself.  (more…)

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North Canterbury

Faust & Mephistopheles, Lewis Pass

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.

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Faust & Mephistopheles, Lewis Pass

I had read good things about the climb up Faust (1710m) in the Lewis Pass region. Nevertheless, the pictures I’d seen online didn’t get me too excited. It was with moderate expectations then that we set off on a calm, cloudless day in autumn, intending to also visit the nearby peak of Mephistopheles (1736m). We were destined to have our expectations exceeded yet again. There are excellent views of countless peaks and glacial valleys, particularly from Mephistopheles, and the Faust Tarns were probably the most beautiful we’ve ever seen. Plus you’ll possibly have the place to yourself, as we did despite perfect Saturday weather. (more…)

Kaikoura Coast Track

The Kaikoura Coast Track was my first time doing a private walk, (one that you pay to do), and also my first overnighter. It’s really a combination of two day walks, with the organisers taking your stuff between ‘bach’ style accommodation – so it’s a pretty cruisy way to walk. The scenery on the first day included dark volcanic sands, sea cliffs and patches of native bush. The second day starts inland, and you walk over Skull Peak (489m) with 360 degree views over the area and more native bush as you walk back to the coast. (These views were unfortunately clouded in on the day we did it, so no pics). There’s also quite a bit of wildlife around: lots of seals, but you can sometimes see dolphins and whales. The less attractive sections include sometimes smelly paddocks and a couple of stretches of road, but all in all a nice and unique walking experience. (more…)

Lewis Tops Route, Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Canterbury NZ

The popular Lewis Tops walk had been on my hit list for some time. I’d walked the nearby Nina Valley Track when staying in Hanmer Springs in winter, but had been waiting for clear weather to get onto high ground for the first time in this region. It was very much worth the wait, with wonderful views in all directions once above the bushline. Before then there is an hour-long climb through attractive beech forest, and there are also a number of tarns on the tops that made for nice photographic subjects. (more…)

Dumblane and Mt Charon, Hanmer Range

We wanted a quieter walk to do on our first trip to the Hanmer Springs area, and this was a great choice. We met nobody else on a Sunday doing this long but very enjoyable walk to the summit of Mt Charon (1560m) via Dumblane (1303m) from Jacks Pass (870m). The very colourful heath vegetation was a real highlight, as were the views towards numerous other mountains, over the Hanmer Plains, and into a few valleys. Going as far as Mt Charon felt satisfyingly remote, but the much shorter trip to only Dumblane and back would also be a good option. (more…)

Banks Peninsula/ Port Hills

Godley Head Circuit, Christchurch NZ

Walking around Godley Head is a good option for those based in Christchurch who want a easy walk that can be done in half a day. It’s mostly through paddocks, and good accessibility makes it a fairly popular choice, so don’t expect much serenity. But there are a number of WWII heritage sites on the route, and the coastal scenery is quite nice, with a section of more natural looking vegetation on the Lyttelton Harbour side (south). And sea breezes will blow away the cobwebs 🙂 (more…)

Harry Ells Track & Sugarloaf Circuit, Port Hills

This is one combination of many possible walks in the Port Hills on the outskirts of Christchurch. This one takes you from the edge of town in Cashmere Hills to the Crater Rim through regenerating bush, then on the Sugarloaf Circuit with views over Governors Bay to the east, and the Canterbury Plains and Christchurch to the west. You could have food and coffee at one of the historic cafes at either end of the Harry Ell Track: Sign of the Takahe and Sign of the Kiwi. (more…)

Hinewai Reserve & Stony Bay Peak, Banks Peninsula

We recently watched a documentary on the advice of friends-Fools and Dreamers-about the establishment of Hinewai Reserve, and also its passionate and somewhat maverick manager, Hugh Wilson. With gale force winds forecast for the mountains on my day off we decided to make our first visit to Hinewai, near Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula. The circuit route we chose took in a variety of waterfalls and viewpoints, the highest being Stony Bay Peak at 806m, where there are views over Akaroa Harbour. (more…)

Mt Bradley from Gebbies Pass, Banks Peninsula

On our first ever walk in the Port Hills I spied the two highest points on the Banks Peninsula, Mt Herbert (920m) and Mt Bradley (855m). I knew you could climb Mt Herbert on a few different routes, but Mt Bradley looked to be the more interesting mountain, and I researched options to climb this. I settled on walking the Te Ara Pataka/Summit Walkway from Gebbies Pass, past Packhorse Hut, and then taking a short unmarked side track up onto Mt Bradley.  Despite being mostly a modified landscape, the varied vegetation was nevertheless interesting and the views extensive. Low cloud on Mt Herbert added to the experience on the day. (more…)

Mt Herbert from Diamond Harbour, Banks Peninsula

Te Ahu Patiki / Mt Herbert (919m) is the highest point on the Banks Peninsula. Although not that high, the views from on the way up and near the summit are very good, and you can climb it from sea level if you start to the north at Diamond Harbour. The walking experience is just mediocre, being mostly through slightly pooey farmland, but it’s not a hard walk, and I think worth it for the views. Those views include Mt Bradley (a good alternative walk from Gebbies Pass), Mt Evans, plus Lyttelton Harbour and the surrounding crater rim. (more…)

Further Afield in Canterbury

Aoraki Mt Cook & Mackenzie

Dromedary Hill Track, Lindis Conservation Area

During a stay in Twizel Aoraki Mt Cook National Park had fairly average weather for a couple of days, so I looked further afield for some day walks. The Dromedary Hill Track was one of these walks, and although it isn’t the most spectacular, we didn’t meet anybody all day, and the views from up high were very good. Initial walking is through paddocks, then it’s mostly tussock grass and other alpine and subalpine vegetation. I imagine it would make a good winter walk with some snow on the tops. (more…)

Greta Track and Ben Ohau, Ruataniwha Conservation Park

Despite following a vehicle track almost the whole way, the Greta Track still makes for a satisfying walk. It gets up the mountain quickly, with a short off-track diversion to visit the summit of Ben Ohau (1522m). The views of scenic Lake Ohau and surrounding peaks are excellent. Completing the circuit takes you at first through attractive tussock country, (although wilding pines are making inroads). The track eventually drops down to Gretas Stream, and follows this most of the way to the lake. (more…)

Hooker Valley Walk, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

One of New Zealand’s classic walks, the Hooker Valley Track takes you over the Hooker River and some of its tributaries on swingbridges as far as the glacial Hooker Lake. There’s dramatic alpine scenery all the way, and particularly good views of Aoraki/Mt Cook framed by mountains along the Hooker Valley, and then across Hooker Lake, which will be frozen in winter, and might have icebergs floating in it in spring/summer. And you can fit it easily into a half day. (more…)

Mt Olivier - Mueller Hut - Sealy Tarns, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

A really spectacular (and steep) alpine walk in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park to three possible end points. First are the attractive Sealy Tarns at 1300m, which make for a moderate day walk. Then for the energetic, or those equipped for an overnight stay, continue on up the hill to Mueller Hut, and on for 500-600m to the summit of Mt Olivier (1933m). There are views of Mt Sefton (3151m), NZ’s highest peak Aoraki Mt Cook (3724m), various glaciers and glacier lakes, and the Hooker River Valley 1000m below. Highly recommended. (more…)

Sebastopol via Red Tarns, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

It’s just a half day climb from Mt Cook Village to the summit of Sebastopol (1468m) in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, but the views are quite spectacular. The route first climbs on a constructed track to Red Tarns, which is already a good destination for those without the experience or desire to climb higher. (I’ve separated my photos to Red Tarns from the others below). From there the route follows an unmarked impact track past McNulty Tarns, and up steeply to pass through bluffs near the summit. There’s some scrambling required, but will be fine for those with suitable experience. For this extra effort you get 360 degree views encompassing high peaks, river flats and glacial lakes. And of course peak bagging gratification. (more…)

And finally, elsewhere on the South Island…

Fiordland

Gertrude Saddle & Barrier Knob, Fiordland

Gertrude Saddle (1410m)

You’d be hard pressed to find better views for only moderate effort than those at Gertrude Saddle.  The fabulous scenery starts on the drive in, and continues right to the saddle, where the best views still await you. I’d seen the pictures but it still knocked my socks off. There is some steep walking on bare rock to be done, but it’s not a long walk, and this accessibility makes it a quite popular. So you won’t get any feeling of isolated splendour unless you start very early, or perhaps very late. But the splendour is extra splendiferous, and makes this walk a must-do for any semi-fit person visiting Fiordland.

Barrier Knob (1879m)

For those wanting even more, the 1km and almost 500m vertical climb to Barrier Knob will make this one of the best day-walks you’ve ever done. The reward from this extra effort will be 360 degree views of the area, in particular the spectacular Lake Adelaide. In mid summer this last bit required climbing up steepish snow slopes, but we came equipped and found the going quite easy. Crossing the snow stopped a lot of the people who had begun to climb above Gertrude Saddle, and hence we had the summit to ourselves for over an hour on this cloudless day in peak holiday season. (more…)

Key Summit Track & Lake Howden, Fiordland National Park NZ

On our first walking trip to Fiordland I wanted to do a few of the well known day walks that take in some of the best scenery. The Key Summit Track can be fit easily into half a day, and has a very high views to effort ratio. It’s mainly a views walk, so one to save for a clear day, and in fact we had planned two days in Fiordland to coincide with rare cloudless skies. There’s spectacular views of the Darran, Ailsa and Serpentine mountain ranges, picturesque tarns and bogs, and views into the Lower Hollyford Valley. (more…)

Lake Marian Track, Fiordland National Park

I was excited to visit Lake Marian on our first walking trip to Fiordland, as I’d seen some pretty epic photos of it. I suppose I had high expectations, but that still doesn’t prepare you for the scale and beauty of the place – it really is wonderful. We had planned our visit to coincide with rare clear skies, but I think the area would look great in any weather with visibility. (An Instagram follower said so anyway). The lake is the highlight of course, but on the way up the wild and scenic Marian Creek will also capture your attention. (more…)

Routeburn Track NZ: Routeburn Flats to Harris Saddle and Conical Hill

The Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular multi-day walks, and one of its so called Great Walks. It passes through two of NZ’s most beautiful national parks, Mt Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park. There’s quintessential NZ scenery the whole way, including sparkling alpine lakes, lush beech forest and towering rocky peaks. And at roughly 33km one-way it is short enough for less experienced trampers to take on. (more…)

West Coast

Alex Knob and Lake Wombat, Westland Tai Poutini National Park

The Alex Knob (1303m) Track was top of my list of walks to do on our first visit to the West Coast of New Zealand. I’d read it provided better views of the Franz Josef Glacier compared to those further down in the valley that most tourists visit, and of course it was a peak to bag. Unfortunately the West Coast weather does not often cooperate, and those views of the glacier will have to wait. Luckily the walk provided very attractive forest scenery, with lush rainforest on the lower slopes, and then a unique collection of trees and plants higher up as we approached the bushline. We also visited Lake Wombat as a side trip on the way back, although this can be a short walk in its own right.

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Faust & Mephistopheles, Lewis Pass

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.

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Brewster Glacier & Point 2023m, Mt Aspiring National Park

I had visited Brewster Hut twice before, and on one of those occasions I went beyond the hut for views east. For some reason though I had not seriously considered visiting Brewster Glacier and its terminal lake, though I know now that this is the main prize for day-walkers in the area. The proximity of the hut means quite a few others will join you, but we got some solitude by also visiting the unnamed peak at 2023m, between Mt Brewster (2516m) and Mt Armstrong (2174m). It’s a high quality walk from start to finish, with beautiful beech forest, lovely alpine flowers in summer, and spectacular and ever changing views for as long as you are above the bushline. (more…)

Cape Foulwind Walkway, Westport

On our first visit to the New Zealand’s West Coast we planned first to drive over from Christchurch via the Lewis Pass and spend a night in Westport, then drive down the coast and spend some time there doing walks in glacier country. Nevertheless, we had a couple of hours spare in Westport and went out to see the coast and discovered the pleasant Cape Foulwind Walkway. A local school and the DOC have been re-vegetating this coastal strip with native plants since the 90’s, so  it is quite attractive in places. (more…)

/ coastal, Easy, New Zealand, views, West Coast, wildlife
Forest Walk & Sentinel Rock, Franz Josef Glacier, Westland Tai Pouhini National Park

On a typically wet and cloudy visit to Franz Josef Glacier we wanted to at least get a good look at the glacier before moving on to our next destination. We did get a look from Rata Lookout two days earlier on the Alex Knob Track, however with some clear weather on the morning we left we stopped to do two very short walks, both with glacier views: The Forest Walk to Glacier View (the first part of the Franz Valley Track), and the Sentinel Rock Walk, which is a short side trip up a hill. You get a decent look at the quickly receding Franz Joseph Glacier from the end of these tracks, however the highlight is probably the overall Franz Valley. (more…)

/ Easy, mountains, New Zealand, views, West Coast
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Other South Island

Black Gully Loop, Blue Mountains, West Otago

This walk is a reasonably short side-trip off Route 8 between Dunedin and Queenstown. It’s near nowhere in particular, so if you are passing by this way it’s a good opportunity to stop and do the walk. The loop track starts at Black Gully and ascends through very attractive beech forest to tussock grass on high ground. Views of the surrounding farmland are extensive, but for me the beech forest was the highlight. There are also some lush sections of gully forest towards the end. (more…)

/ Moderate, New Zealand, West Otago

And here’s an interactive map of the lot. Day walks are in purple, short walks in blue, and multi day walks in orange. Darker icons are ‘featured walks’ (generally better scenery). Click on the icons to view the walk details and access trip reports.