By Christine Martens
New Zealand is famous for its amazing scenery (featured in Lord of the Rings) and multitude of hiking trails. Hiking tracks in New Zealand fall into several different categories. There are Great Walks, Easy Tramping Tracks, Advanced Tramping Tracks, and Tramping Routes.
There are ten Great Walks in New Zealand, and these are the most famous hiking trails New Zealand has to offer. They have the most amenities and receive the most funding, so are very well maintained. During our trip, we covered four Great Walks, of which our favorite was the Routeburn Track.
The Routeburn Track can be walked in 1-4 days and is 32km in length. The trail climbs up to stunning views of the mountain ranges of the Southern Alps including the often snow-covered Darren Mountains towering over Hollyford Valley. In order to link the Routeburn Track with the Te Araroa Trail, we hiked the length of the Greenstone Track and spent the night at a campsite near Lake Howden Hut. From the exposed ridges along the Routeburn Track, we saw several cunning New Zealand alpine parrots, called Keas, flying overhead squawking at each other.
Another Great Walk we would recommend is the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. This track is within Abel Tasman National Park on the warm Tasman Bay with its famously blue waters and golden beaches; a perfect place to have rugged sandals like Astral’s Filipe or Rosa. People of any skill level can enjoy this coastline. Much of the Coast Track can be accessed by water taxi allowing for the opportunity to go for a one-directional day walk. You can also kayak the beautiful coastline, or go for a multi-day trip by walking the whole 60km.
We spent 5 days in Abel Tasman National Park walking a loop that included the Coastal Track, and another track called the Inland Track. The Inland Track is not part of the Great Walk and falls under the designation of “tramping track.” It is a fun way to experience the New Zealand “bush” (forest) for people who are up for an adventure through mud and over fallen trees. The adventure brings you into the heart of a subtropical fern forest with spectacular views and relative solitude compared to the Coastal Track.
Besides Great Walks, there are also many trails that are designated as easy tramping tracks, which are also well maintained tracks, but can still be quite strenuous.
One of our favorite easy tramping tracks suited for for day-hiking was the Te Whara (pronounced “tea fara”) Track located in New Zealand’s Northland Region near Whangarei Heads. Although it has a 456 meter climb to the ridge, the views of the coastline reward you for your hard work. The trail has a steady climb up a seemingly endless flight of stairs up to the volcanic remains of Mt Lion and Te Whara. Both summits provide 360 degree views with the view from Te Whara being our favorite. This hike takes around 3-7 hours depending on your fitness level to cover 7.5km in one direction.
For more advanced hikers and trampers, New Zealand has many advanced tramping tracks. Advanced tramping tracks are mostly unformed and are usually rough, but well marked with orange markers. One of the most memorable tramping tracks we hiked was the Motatapu Track in the Otago region. This track is remote and often unforested, offering splendid views of surrounding mountains. It is a very strenuous track, perhaps one of the most strenuous tracks we encountered on our journey, with steep climbs and descents as well as river crossings, which could be challenging after rain. Hiking north out of Arrowtown, the track travels past Macetown, a settlement which first formed in the 1860’s when gold was discovered in the Arrow River. Now it is only a ghost town, with a few structures remaining along with some informational plaques.
Lastly, New Zealand’s most rugged routes are designated “tramping routes.” These are unformed routes, although still marked. One example of a tramping route we thoroughly enjoyed was the Mingha Deception Route in Arthur’s Pass National Park. The Deception Route is infamous in NZ as it is a part of the Coast to Coast race. The Coast to Coast race covers 243km from the west coast of New Zealand to the east coast, and competitors bike, paddle and run across the country. During this race, top competitors are known to complete the Deception River Route (about 30km) in a mere 3 hours. Most people (like us) take 2 to 3 days to complete this hard but rewarding hike.
The trail leaving Arthurs Pass is an easy uphill walk along a boardwalk, but once you pass through Goat Pass everything changes. As soon as you leave Upper Deception Hut you’ll be descending the Deception Creek which is full of 4 to 5-foot cascades and boulders. There is no actual trail, and you are meant to scramble down the creek itself. It is important to have shoes with good grip since the rocks can be slick. We were happy with our Astral TR1 Junctions since they not only had great traction, they also are designed as water shoes. The small holes in the front of the shoe allowed water to drain immediately rather than having the water slosh around.
We hope this small glimpse into the multitude of tracks that New Zealand has to offer will inspire you to lace up your shoes and explore this beautiful country.