As all you “Lord of the Rings” fans know, the movies were filmed on location in New Zealand. Starting very soon, I expect that we’ll be seeing a lot more in the media about New Zealand, as the upcoming release of the “Hobbit” is December 14, 2012. The second release is December 2013. These movies will show the world again the wonderful landscapes of New Zealand and will generate strong interest in traveling to this beautiful country. It’s never too early to start planning…
One huge area of interest is to partake of an active vacation. One of the major ways to do this in NZ is to take a walking or hiking holiday – “tramping” as it is known there. With 14 national parks in a country about the size of Colorado and with a population of 4 million you can easily find yourself far away from any hustle and bustle.
The crown jewels of New Zealand hiking are called the Great Walks, and of these nine, six are found on the South island. Some of the best trails and alpine routes are found in Fiordland and Mount Aspiring national parks, best accessed from Queenstown. The Milford Track is perhaps the most famous hike in the country and is a four day 54km back country trip. It extends from the northern end of Lake Te Anau to Sandfly point near Milford Sound. Renowned for its glacially carved valleys, alpine flowers and waterfalls, the highlight of the route is the destination, Milford Sound.
If you want to hike in New Zealand and don’t want to travel with all your back country gear, then a guided hiking trip such as the Milford Routeburn or, my favorite, the Hollyford Track are great options.
These suit people who are looking for a short getaway of 3-7 days. This is ideal for most travelers to get a taste and still have time to explore the rest of the country. Each day’s walk is followed by a delicious meal, comfortable accommodations and often a hot shower!
Routeburn Track is a 32km track that connects Mt Aspiring and Fiordland parks via the Harris Saddle. Beautiful forests of beech trees, hanging valleys, waterfalls and snowy passes make for an unforgettable hike.
Hollyford Track is one of New Zealand’s greatest walks, representing the country’s wilderness at its most undisturbed and inspiring. It includes the best features of New Zealand, walking from the mountains to the sea, suitable for a wide range of fitness levels. The scenery is geologically spectacular, snow capped mountains, glaciers, rainforests, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, reefs and sand dunes.
Besides the three mentioned above, the Abel Tasman Track offers 3 days of walking the coastal track and then two free days at a beachfront lodge to explore, canoe, swim or hike inland to explore part of the Park missed by hiking just along the coast. Heaphy Track also in the North part of the South Island connects Golden Bay with the West coast township of Karamea and can take 6 days. The Heaphy is renowned for it flora and there are many rare and endemic species along the track.
Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds is unique for its stunning coastal view, historical landmarks and wonderful variety of native bush and wildlife. It is a track of contrasts, walking from shoreline to ridges, glimpsing the hidden coves bays and inlets of the Marlborough Sounds. Comfortable resort style accommodations can be enjoyed at night.
While the south Island may be better known for its hikes, there are still many great options on the North Island. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is ranked amongst the top ten day hikes in the world.
The Tongariro Hiking Tour is a 3.5 day/3 night walk featuring some of New Zealand’s finest, such as the Tongariro Crossing and Mt Ruapehu Crater lake. The accommodation is lodge style and overlooks the dramatic volcanic landscapes.
Options to combine hiking with a variety of other activities are readily available and might include cycling, kayaking, caving, viewing wildlife and glacier hiking. Heli hiking is also very popular and can get you into the mountains in only half a day.