Note* Hiking is usually called tramping in NZ. But I couldn’t exactly name this post “My favourite New Zealand tramps”. These hikes are all located in the South Island.
I just did this hike in the last few weeks. The Rakiura Track is a 2-night / 3-day hike on Stewart Island (called Rakiura, in Māori). Apart from being a beautiful walk combining coastal and forest time, this is one of your best chances to see a wild kiwi. It’s a surreal experience hearing them calling in the darkness, and very exciting if you go for a quiet night-walk and meet one face-to-face. Make sure to pack a small amount of red sellotape and cover your torch, to protect their eyes. You can opt to do the 32 km loop in either direction. One of my highlights was the stands of tall tree ferns - they feel very Jurassic Park. The Department of Conservation (DoC) categorises the Rakiura Track as ‘Intermediate’. As someone with short legs and who takes tonnes of breaks, even I can say that this is an easy walk. There are huts (called Port William and North Arm) and campsites available, but as with all of the Great Walks, you need to book ahead of time.
NATURAL HOT POOLS! Are you sold yet? This walk is fantastic and soaking in the hot springs at the end, surrounded by epic mountains, is a dream. You begin the Copland Track south of Fox Glacier, on the South Island’s west coast. While there are plenty of meandering ups and downs, it’s not a steep hike by any means. You follow the Copland River upstream for 18 km, and return the same way on the second (final) day. The river is a gorgeous, glacial grey colour and there are some very cool rock formations that make for a great lunch spot. It’s mostly forested but there are some old landslides - you’ll need to clamber across quite a few rocks. At the end of the day you’ll find the hot pools 100 meters or so from Welcome Flat Hut.
If I had to pick my favourite tramping experience in New Zealand, it would be the Milford Track. It is 53.5 km (one-way) and takes most people three days. Day 1 begins with a boat ride from Te Anau Downs to the head of the track. You then follow the Clinton River Canyon until you reach Mintaro Hut for the night. I saw Kea at close range the next morning; they are the world’s only alpine parrot. I adore them, mainly because of how naughty they are. Take note of the colour and number on the Keas’ leg bands and look up which bird you met later using the Kea Database. On Day Two you climb to Mackinnon Pass. Once your mind is sufficiently blown by the panoramic views, you head for Dumpling Hut (hehe) via waterfalls and foresty goodness. On the last day you follow Arthur River to Sandfly Point. Keep an eye out for Morepork (native owl species) and long-fin eels. At the end, there’s a short boat ride which gives you a taste of the beautiful Milford Sound / Piopiotahi. And so ends one of the best walks of your life.
The Kepler was the first multi-day hike I ever did. I won’t lie, it was a rough start. I was sick and the first day is around 80% uphill. Having not been to the gym since time immemorial, Day One was a rude shock. That said, the views that meet you when you emerge above the tree-line are jaw-dropping. Golden tussock grass, the open sky, views to the mountains and the fjords below - it’s perfection. Luxmore Cave is certainly worth exploring on your first day. We stayed the night at Luxmore Hut and then set off to see some truly outstanding scenery in the morning. But after lunch, we had to retrace our steps to the head of the track. Unfortunately I wasn’t well enough to continue. I can’t wait to finish what I started, one day.
Optional: you can also add the Routeburn Track to this trip.This hike is so diverse, from golden grasslands to crystal clear rivers, mountain lakes to mystical beech forests. I began tramping from Greenstone carpark. The first hour or so is farmland, which blends gradually into wilderness as you track alongside the river. Mid-Caples Hut was the first night of accommodation. The early morning of Day Two was very frosty and ethereal. We crossed McKellar Saddle which was covered in a manageable layer of snow. The lakes at the top of the Pass are just magical. The second night was spent at McKellar Hut. Day Three has more mountains and sweeping plains in store for you. The scenery truly feels like something out of The Lord of the Rings. The third night of our hike was spent at Greenstone Hut. While in the forests, look out for New Zealand robins (pictured) - they can be very tame and might even sit on your hiking boot!
Here’s a fun ‘game’ to play on the Ball’s Hut walk (disclaimer: for this to work, your hiking companions must be as oblivious of their surroundings as I was). Once you have followed a 4WD track for about an hour or two, take note of the steep rocky wall along your right hand side. Feel free to construct a conversation similar to the one I had.
Me: “What do you think is over that rocky wall? I think it’s probably grass… an open plain thing.”
Oblivious companion #1: “I think it’s a river.”
Oblivious companion #2: * some other incorrect guess, possibly “boulder field.” *
We climbed up the steep rocky incline and our jaws dropped. Below us was the epic Tasman Glacier and a vast, pale green lake, with dramatic mountains as the backdrop. To be surprised by such mammoth beauty like that is pretty memorable. The rest of the walk is wonderful too, but be prepared for lots of rock-scrambling. The hut only has one bunk-bed, so check in with the local DoC office if it’s available, or just take a tent.
One of my New Year’s intentions for 2019 is to do six multi-day hikes. I’ll make sure to write another blog post about them. In the meantime, happy hiking!