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 paraglider 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.

Mt Crichton ascent, Queenstown
Lake Isobel looking very green.

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

Gibbston River Trail, Gibbston Valley, Otago
The Gibbston River Trail runs through the picturesque Gibbston Valley wine region next to the Kawarau River. It’s a mostly flat gravel track that can be walked or mountain-biked, and to be honest biking it would probably be more enjoyable. It offers nice views of the river in certain spots, which in sunny weather is an intense aqua colour as my pictures demonstrate. But the rest of the time it meanders through somewhat uninspiring vegetation that offers no protection from the sun, and so was a bit of a slog for us in summer. I recommend walking it in sunny winter weather. (In overcast weather the river won’t be such a nice colour.) (more…)
Jacks Point Track, Queenstown area

It snowed on the last day of our trip to Queenstown in late Autumn 2017, and so we took advantage of this relative novelty by doing the Jacks Point Track, which starts just behind the house where we stay. This walk provides excellent views over the remarkable Remarkables, as well as Lake Wakatipu, and various mountains on the other side of the lake, the most prominent of which is Cecil Peak. (more…)

Kelvin Peninsula Walk, near Queenstown

This relatively easy walk around the Kelvin Peninsula provides grandstand views of Lake Wakatipu, various peaks over the water, of Queenstown and Ben Lomond, and also the Remarkables. If golf is more your thing then the peninsula has a very picturesque golf course. (more…)

Queens Drive & Lake Alta, Remarkables

It’s a straightforward walk up to beautiful Lake Alta from the Remarkables ski field car park. And another short option is to climb to wide open views of Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown from Shadow Basin Lookout. If you are willing to do some boulder hopping and navigate one steep section, then you can combine the two into a circuit. You’d be hard pressed to get so much alpine scenery and epic views from any comparably sized walk in NZ.

(more…)

Lake Hayes Walkway, Arrowtown area

Despite numerous holidays in Queenstown over the years we had never done this short and pleasant walk around Lake Hayes: the Lake Hayes Walkway. There are more interesting tracks to do first I guess, but this was a good option to stretch our legs after lunch in Arrowtown one day when we needed to recover from other longer tramps. There’s a bit of variety, with small wetlands and a number of wetland birds in residence, as well as small stands of trees, some native scrub and exotic plants/trees. (more…)

Around Glenorchy

Mt McIntosh Loop Track, Whakaari Conservation Area

After enjoying the excellent hike to Mt Alaska in the Whakaari Conservation Area near Glenorchy, I had looked forward to returning and doing the Mt McIntosh Loop Track. Although this can be done as a loop by crossing over the Buckler Burn, we did it as an out and back tramp to the summit of Mt McIntosh (1701m) entirely on the northern side of the burn. Like the walk to Mt Alaska the views of surrounding peaks and valleys are excellent. A highlight for me were views of rugged Temple Peak (2089m), and views over the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. (more…)

Pigeon Island Summit Track, Lake Wakatipu

Pigeon Island is a small island at the Glenorchy end of Lake Wakatipu. You can only get there by boat/kayak, (unless you’re a really good swimmer!) There’s a handful of short tracks on the island, and when we visited we climbed to the island’s high point for good views over the grand peaks at that end of the lake. There are also plentiful weka there, an otherwise rare flightless bird confined to just a few islands in New Zealand. (more…)

Routeburn North Branch Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

The Routeburn 2-3 day walk is one of New Zealand’s most famous Great Walks, and the whole area is truly spectacular. I’d done day walks on this route as far as Harris Saddle and Conical Hill in the past, but had never considered the Routeburn North Branch because valley walks aren’t really my thing. To anticipate a longer than average introduction, I’m now a convert, or at least for the very best valley walks like this one. (more…)

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

One of New Zealand’s classic multi-day walks, the Routeburn Track can be walked from the Glenorchy end to Harris Saddle in a long day. The views are fabulous, and you can also fit in a short but steep side trip to the summit of Conical Hill (1515m) for even more fantastic views. It’s inevitably popular, but probably won’t be as busy as you think. It rates as possibly the best walk we’ve done to date, although with a well graded track and good facilities, it lacks the remoteness of some other great NZ day walks. (more…)

Routeburn Track to Routeburn Flats, Mt Aspiring National Park NZ

The Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand’s classic multi-day tramps. Walking through the Mt Aspiring portion of the walk as far as Routeburn Flats makes for an excellent day hike of moderate difficulty. The track follows the Routeburn through beech forest as it tumbles down from the flats, and there are views through the trees of the burn and high peaks along the way. When you get to the flats the scenery opens up to provide uninterrupted views of the Humboldt Mountains, and Flats Hut makes is a good spot for lunch before heading back the way you came. (more…)

Central Otago District

Leaning Rock via Lilico Spur

A fairly long walk to the summit of Leaning Rock (1647m), the latter half of which is off track in the Waikerikeri Conservation Area. Starting in farmland, the walk ascends up Lilico Spur to the edge of the conservation area. From there the scenery is predominantly tussock grass, rocky areas, and finally the barren summit moonscape replete with multiple tors of various shapes and sizes. The overall feeling is one of remoteness, (although there are major  communications installations on the summit). (more…)

Lindis Peak Track, Central Otago

Sophia and I had driven through the Lindis Valley on our way to Mt Cook at Christmas time in 2015. After doing most of the regular day walks around Queenstown, I decided to drive out this way again in winter 2016 for the walk up Lindis Peak, and it did not disappoint. There are 360 degree views of the surrounding Central Otago countryside, (and over the border into Canterbury), including the impressive St Bathans Range, and distant snowy peaks of the Southern Alps. (more…)

Mt Pisa via Tinwald Burn Ridge Track, Central Otago

The ascent of Mt Pisa is a pretty gruelling slog up 1600m of elevation over 12.5 km, but the otherworldly moonscape on top is impressive and worth the effort. Most of the climb is through farmland on a vehicle track, and when we did it there was a lot of animal dung around, so it wasn’t the most pleasant experience. Once out of the farmland and into the Pisa Conservation Area the terrain changes to a barren and rocky moonscape, and when on the plateau there’s a further 2km of mostly flat walking to rocks on the summit at 1963m of elevation. (more…)

Rock Peak from Crown Saddle, Otago

This walk from Crown Saddle (1070m) to Rock Peak (1490m) provides easy access to the tussock-grassed Pisa Conservation Area. It’s easy walking along a vehicle track, and there are views the whole way over the Crown Range, the Wakatipu Basin, including the back of the Remarkables, and the Gibbston Valley wine region. (more…)

around Wanaka

Red Rock via Shotover Saddle, Wanaka area

For some time I have contemplated doing the highly rated Cascade Saddle walk as a day trip from Raspberry Flats, but the length (~32km?) and reputed danger of descending the route has put me off a bit. I may still get to this classic walk, but in the summer of 2020 I settled instead for this lesser known but excellent day-walk through the West Matukituki Valley up to Shotover Saddle, and then on to Red Rock (1858m). You get spectacular views up and down the valley, of multiple peaks in Mt Aspiring National Park including Rob Roy and its glacier, and nearby Mt Tyndall. A great way to sample the spectacular Mt Aspiring Scenery on a day walk and without undue risk. (more…)

Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

The Rob Roy Glacier Track was one of the first walks we did in New Zealand, and provides access to excellent views of the Roy Roy Glacier. There are impressive waterfalls along the way, as well as picturesque scenes in the West Matukituki Valley. The drive in is also nice, so there’s lots to recommend this walk. 

Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
On the drive in.

Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
Matukituki River West Branch on the drive in.

Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

Nevertheless, friends who walked this with us in 2014 preferred the Routeburn Track to Flats Hut. But the views at the end of this walk are pretty spectacular, so I think it’s worth doing for those alone. It’s a fairly popular track so consider doing it on a weekday or out of season.  Track notes at the end.

Rob Roy Glacier Track: The Scenery

We did this walk in 2008, 2012 and 2014, so I’ve included pictures from each of those occasions. Don’t be confused by the apparent change of weather conditions.

Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
The trusty Landcruiser at the start. Apparently there have been thefts at this car park, so they recommend you take your valuables with you.

Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
Crossing the Matukituki River West Branch.
Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
Matukituki River West Branch
Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
Matukituki River West Branch

Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
We had friends with us in 2014.
Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
Sophia having a rest.
Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
West Matukituki Valley.

Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
Some sense of scale in this shot.
Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
A 261m drop on this waterfall.
Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
The 261m high waterfall unofficially named Bridal Veil Falls. (A lot of waterfalls have that name it seems).
Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
Bridal Veil Falls (in 2008).
Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
Rob Roy Glacier
Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
A close up of the glacier.
Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
Sophia backed by the glacier.

Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
Lots of waterfalls running off the glacier.
Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
This kea looks like it is posing for a portrait painting.
Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
Kea close up.

Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
I want what you’re having.
Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
Warm, lush colours.
Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
Different colours in 2008.
Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
On the way back.

Track Notes

Rob Roy Glacier Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
An obvious track the whole way.

The DOC website has basic information on the walk. It’s about an hour from Wanaka, and over 2 hours from Queenstown. There’s a few streams to ford on the drive in so they recommend a four wheel drive if there’s been heavy rain (or maybe snow melt?).

Rocky Mountain - Diamond Lake Circuit, Wanaka

The Rocky Mountain – Diamond Lake Circuit is a walk near Wanaka that offers excellent views for only moderate effort. It’s an easier-going alternative to the famous but much longer Roys Peak Track that starts down the road a bit closer to town. The views are less epic, however this is a more attractive walking experience all round, with sections of native bush and other vegetation.

You can do a circuit or figure of eight (I recommend an anti-clockwise circuit) taking in the picturesque Diamond Lake and the summit of Rocky Mountain (775m) for views over Lake Wanaka and towards various high peaks in Mt Aspiring National Park and around the lake. (more…)

Roys Peak Track, Wanaka

Roys Peak has become a favourite destination for Instagrammers, attracted by the prospect of epic views over Lake Wanaka. The views are really excellent, but as a hike it can be lack lustre, as at least half of it is through unattractive pasture, and it’s along a vehicle trail the whole way. Still, on a clear day it’s worth joining the crowds of walkers making their way either to the summit, or else to that particular spot about two thirds of the way up where you get a picture of yourself or your friend backed by the best bit of Lake Wanaka.  (more…)

Sawyer burn Hut Track

Although a very nice walk, this hike to Sawyer Burn Hut was most memorable for the chance encounter with a completely nude hiker. (Well, he was wearing hiking boots). Alas, it was a somewhat portly middle aged man, but he did make quite an impression. Presuming you won’t meet any such person, you can instead expect to remember nice beech forest, great views of lake Hawea, and views of high peaks towards the end of the track. (more…)

And now walks in Canterbury…

Canterbury

Christchurch Day Trip

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

Canterbury Foothills

Donald Hill via Turtons Saddle, Canterbury

This is a pleasant walk along a section of the Te Araroa up to Turtons Saddle, where there are views back towards the Rakaia River. If you have extra energy you can climb Donald Hill (1525m) for extended views over towards Lake Coleridge, and the confluence of the Rakaia and Wilberforce Rivers to the north. The scenery is best once you climb up onto the saddle, with many domed peaks lining a wide open valley. You can continue along the Te Araroa to a couple of huts if you wanted to make this an overnight trip. (more…)

Dry Acheron Track, Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park

We’d originally intended to walk this track for access to Big Ben Mountain*, but low cloud put us off climbing this. So we settled for finishing the Dry Acheron Track, which follows the Dry Acheron Stream from where it passes through a series of small gullies and other valley landforms, to where it emerges from a rugged valley in the Big Ben Range. I’d heard the area around the stream described as ‘handsome scrublands’, and I think this is an apt description. (more…)

Emily Hill & Lake Emily, Hakatere Conservation Park

A few kilometres easy walking along the Te Araroa Trail in Hakatere Conservation Park gives access to Lake Emily and neighbouring Emily Hill (963m). For views of the wide open spaces and lumpy topography of the Ashburton Lakes area, as well as the distant Arrowsmith Range, climb a couple of hundred vertical metres off track to the summit of the hill. (more…)

Godley Peak & Moorhouse Peak via Homestead Hill, Palmer Range

I rather like the idea of climbing 2000m high peaks in a day, and the route to Godley Peak (2087m) offers this experience, plus you can bag a second, Moorehouse Peak (2025m), for just another kilometre of walking. The patchwork of colourful pink scree and golden tussock of the surrounding slopes is very attractive if you like that sort of thing. There are views of the Rakaia Valley for almost the whole walk, and there are higher peaks in the Main Divide not too far away. (more…)

Hamilton Peak & Nervous Knob Circuit, Craigieburn Range

Another excellent walk in the Craigieburn Range, this one visiting Hamilton Peak (1922m) via Camp Saddle, then returning via Nervous Knob (1820m) and Broken River Ski Field. I liked the views from Hamilton Peak in particular, looking west over the Black and Grey Ranges, and east over the Castle Hill area. Doing a circuit adds variety and doesn’t add much to the overall time.  (more…)

Arthur’s Pass National Park

Mt Binser ascent, Arthur's Pass National Park

Mt Binser had been recommended by a mountaineering neighbour of ours as a walk with great views and a bit of bush bashing to add to a sense of adventure. My wife Sophia rated the views as possibly the best we’d seen since arriving in NZ seven months earlier, which was a big call considering the quality of walks we’d done in that time. The views were spectacular though, taking in two river valleys, including views right up the Waimakariri River, countless peaks in every direction, many of them now familiar to us from other walks, and the rugged bare slopes of Mt Binser itself. (more…)

Mt Cassidy - Blimit Traverse, Arthur's Pass

The Mt Cassidy – Blimit Traverse starts on the Cons Track and finishes on the Temple Basin Track and Arthur’s Pass Walking Track. But in between it is one of the more adventurous of the very accessible walks starting on the highway at Arthur’s Pass. I’ve got used to these walks being spectacular but I think this one probably took the views to a new level.

You get to bag two peaks, Mt Cassidy (1850m) and Blimit (1922m, apparently short for “Bloody Limit”), the latter being a longish scramble to probably the best views of the day. Returning via Temple Basin makes it a quite varied circuit. Apart from epic alpine vistas, there is very attractive beech forest on the way up the Cons Track, amongst the nicest I’ve seen in New Zealand. So for views and adventure in a medium to long day this route is hard to beat. (more…)

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass

Mt O’Malley (1703m) is the lesser known neighbour of Mt Aicken, but you don’t compromise on scenery by visiting this peak. You take the same Mt Aicken Track through beech forest to the bushline. From there you soon veer south-east,  travelling on tussock grass at first, but then moving into very rocky terrain. There are rocky ridges and basins to cross, with a very picturesque tarn one of the highlights of the walk. The views from the summit are spectacular and top off yet another excellent walk in Arthur’s Pass National Park. (more…)

Mt Pfeifer and Pfeifer Bivvy, Arthur's Pass

Billed as a lesser visited site, the increasingly popular Pfeifer Bivvy and Mt Pfeifer offer exceptional views deep into Arthur’s Pass National Park. Only the very fit would manage this in a day, so for most it will be quite a hard slog with full pack to stay in the hut or camp nearby. A side trip to summit Mt Pfeifer is well worth it. You’re likely to summit the mountain later in the day, or else early the next, and so the 360 degree views will be enhance by the angled light. Enjoy :-) (more…)

Mt Philistine from Otira Valley, Arthur's Pass

One of the more gnarly walks in Arthur’s Pass National Park, the climb to Mt Philistine (1967m) from Otira Valley provides an adventurous walking experience through rugged terrain. It was our first time to climb a glaciated mountain, and there are excellent views of the Rolleston Glacier on the mountain’s southern slopes, of nearby Mt Rolleston (2275m), and of many other peaks and valleys in Arthur’s Pass. (more…)

North Canterbury

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…)

Mt Clara via Fowlers Pass, St James Conservation Area

Although I’d read about the walk to Mt Clara (1945m) before, I decided to do it when the knowledgeable owner of Hanmer Backpackers (Tristan) recommended it to us. In winter conditions it turned out to be one of the better walks we’ve done. The conditions on the tops in winter were proper alpine, and the views north and east in particular were quite spectacular. And you get those views for much of the walk. It’s a long and remote enough tramp to be a bit adventurous, but short enough to fit comfortably into a long winter’s day. (more…)

Mt Fyffe & Gables End, Kaikoura

Kaikoura is a coastal town in the far north of Canterbury, and is famous as a place where tall mountains meet the sea. Those tall mountains are the Seaward Kaikoura Range, peaking at the summit of Manakau (2608m). Grandstand views of these mountains on one side, and the sea on the other, are available from Mt Fyffe (1602m) and nearby Gables End (1592m). Most people would stop at Mt Fyffe, but the relatively easy walking (with one steep bit) across the tops to Gable and then Gables End was the highlight of the day, and so if you have the energy I can recommend this extension. The views at Gables End are also very good. (more…)

Mt Isobel from Jacks Pass, Hanmer Forest Park

Mt Isobel (1319m) is said to be Canterbury’s most climbed mountain. One reason would be good accessibility, sitting as it does just on the edge of the popular resort town of Hanmer Springs. But it is a very nice mountain, with wide open views over mountains, valleys and the Hanmer Plains, forested lower slopes with colourful heath vegetation higher up, and some rugged rocky sections to boot. Walking from Jacks Pass is fairly short, and there are great views the whole way. (more…)

Mt Norma Route, Lewis Pass

I came across the Mt Norma Access Track on my way up Nina Valley, and as always got a bit excited at the prospect of another easily accessible mountain summit in the Lewis Pass area. I waited a long time for a good weather window to get up there, but it finally came in the middle of a very snowy winter, so the views of mountain peaks and valleys galore were extra beautiful. With so much snow this turned out to be a bit adventurous also, and probably the closest we’ve come to mountaineering.

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Banks Peninsula/ Port Hills

Urumau-Crater Rim Circuit, Lyttelton

This circuit walk in the Port Hills next to Christchurch takes in part of the Crater Rim Walkway above Lyttelton, the South Island’s major port. There are great views of Lytteton Harbour and the town itself, and a bit of a workout as you ascend onto the tops. This area is part of an old volcano, and you can see the shape of the crater in the surrounding hills. There are also views over Christchurch to the north, and out over the Canterbury Plains to the Southern Alps in the west. The vegetation is a bit mixed and not always that attractive, although there were nice sections of tussock grass up high.  (more…)

Further Afield in Canterbury

Aoraki Mt Cook & Mackenzie

Tasman Glacier Lake Walk, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

If you visit Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park there are a number of excellent short walks that you could do in the same day, or squeeze into the day you get there, or the day you leave. Visiting the Tasman Glacier Lake is one of these, and offers excellent views of the Tasman River Valley and of course the lake, all for under an hour’s walking. (more…)

Tekapo Mt John Walkway, Lake Tekapo

The Tekapo Mt John Walkway is an easy route that takes you to the observatory complex on the top of Ōtehīwai Mt John (1031m). You can continue as we did to make a loop walk, returning by the shore of Lake Tekapo. The views are very spacious: this roche moutonnee is surrounded by lakes and wide plains, and beyond these are numerous high peaks. (more…)

And finally, elsewhere on the South Island…

Fiordland

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West Coast

Klondyke Spur and Valley Tracks, Victoria Forest Park

On our first trip to the South Island West Coast we’d been denied views on our only long walk of the holiday due to the typical cloudy and wet weather. So with a good long weather window in late summer we headed west again, and our first of two excellent walks was this circuit up the Klondyke Spur Track and down the Klondyke Valley Track. The views were very good, but there was also a nice variety of forest and alpine vegetation, and a number of picturesque tarns in two alpine basins. A period  of off-track walking (linking the two tracks) adds to the adventure. (more…)

Mt Brown Hut & Summit, West Coast

Mt Brown Hut is considered one of the very best locations of any accessible backcountry hut in New Zealand. With a decent weather window one weekend it was time for me to embark on my first ever overnight tramp and check it out. The steep 1000m climb up through beautiful West Coast forest is hard work but rewarding. Once above the tree-line the epic views begin to unfold, with Lake Kaniere and the coast to the east, and numerous mountain ranges to the north south and west. We visited the nearby unnamed summit of Mt Brown (1210m) for extra views; that took about 1 1/4 hours return. The views were an obvious highlight, but the forest was unusually beautiful as well, so if you don’t get the views I think you’ll still enjoy the walk. 

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Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast

The ridge above Mt Fox offers grandstand views of the Fox Glacier and Southern Alps Kā Tiritiri o te Moanna, but only if you have the right weather. On this occasion we learned from past experience and chose to camp high on the mountain to give ourselves the best chance of views. These came the following morning, with just enough time to reach our planned vantage point at 1646m before the cloud rolled back in. Our reward for this planning and a lot of hard work were panoramic views of New Zealand’s highest mountains, on this occasion after unseasonable snowfall. One of the grandest vistas we’ve seen to date.

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Mt Griffin via Wilson Knob, West Coast

I don’t think there’s anywhere quite like the West Coast for rugged landscapes, lush vegetation, and entirely unpredictable weather! Not to mention gnarly terrain. We averaged about one kilometre per hour on this two-day trip to Mt Griffin over Wilson Knob, and we’re no slouches. But you will be rewarded by the very best West Coast landscapes, including rugged and heavily vegetated ridgelines stretching for miles, lumps of land looking like islands in a sea of cloud, and all kinds of handsome plants along the way.

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Mt Haast Route, Victoria Forest Park

The Mt Haast Route in Victoria Forest Park near Reefton promised to be a short but steep walk to good views from the summit of Mt Haast (1578m). But the views were better than I had anticipated, so much so that I would rate these views high up in my NZ walks to date. The scale of the surrounding glacial topography is not as big as some areas in New Zealand, but it’s very attractive scenery. There’s a real feeling of space up there, with countless peaks, ridges and glacial valleys in all directions. And the lush West Coast forests on lower slopes contrast nicely with the light coloured tussock grass and shrubs on the summits and high ridges. I barely notice the effort I’m expending when I’m enjoying a walk, and so it was on our way steeply down from the summit, despite tired knees from weeks of regular walking over the summer. Highly recommended. (more…)

Other South Island

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And here’s an interactive map of the lot. Click on the icons to view the walk details and access trip reports.