New Zealand is known for its wild beaches, snowy peaks, luscious forests and of course – Lord of the Rings. It is also known for its incredible hiking or, as they call it in New Zealand – tramping. The country has a dense network of well-developed trails and huts, incredible hiking information and rescue systems. Hundreds of thousands of nature lovers go there each year to experience the surreal wilderness and beauty of the precious New Zealand. In this article I will cover the major aspects of New Zealand hiking, what to expect from different areas and seasons, and will overview some of the more popular destinations.
Tramping system of New Zealand
New Zealand has one of the best infrastructures of hiking in the world. The Department of Conservation (DOC) and its army of volunteers make sure the trails and huts are well-maintained. There are more than two thousands of huts across the country that vary from massive palaces, fitting several hundred to minimalist shelters that fit not more than 1-2 people. Generally, the more popular and accessible the track is, the larger and better maintained the huts are. Some of the extremely popular huts need booking several months in advance and cost ¬40NZD, but majority of them rarely get visitors and you can stay there for a nominal fee.
Almost all the huts in NZ backcountry are equipped with bunks + mattresses and drinking water. Some of the larger huts will also have cooking facilities. Generally it’s sufficient to travel with just a sleeping bag and your cooking set-up.
Information about all accessible trails can be found on the DOC website or in any of the DOC or visitor centres. People working in these places will be able to advise you what routes to take depending on your experience and gear, inform you on any weather changes and track updates. You will also be able to leave your intentions with them – a search and rescue system that helps to find people that get in trouble in the wilderness.
Types of trails
In New Zealand tramping, there are two main types of trails – tramping tracks and tramping routes. Tracks are usually extremely well marked, with orange flags and poles showing you the way. Tramping tracks are a good choice if you are a beginner hiker and do not have good navigation skills. Routes generally require navigation skills and are poorly or not marked at all. Routes are only suitable for fit and experienced people.
The most scenic and most accessible hiking trails in New Zealand are so called the great walks. These are some of the most scenic places you can ever find in New Zealand. However, if you’re looking for wilderness solitude, this might be not what you are looking for. Due to their incredible fame and popularity, there is a constant flow of people. You also have to book at least several months in advance to get a spot in one of the huts and it is not allowed to camp on the trail. This is not the case in any of the other trails in New Zealand, and is unique to the great walks. Great walks are an excellent choice for beginners though.
Most popular hiking locations in New Zealand
Some of the most famous tramping areas in New Zealand are the following.
- Tongariro National Park is located in the central Northern Island, next to the massive lake of Taupo. It consists of three volcanoes, the so called Central Volcanoes: Mount Tongariro, Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe. The form a stunning lunar-like landscape with their incredible colours, craters and lava fields.
- Mount Cook National Park – home of the tallest peak of New Zealand – Mt Cook is spectacular with its massive ice-fields and snowy peaks. There are several day hike options and some exciting adventures for experienced alpine hikers.
- Mount Aspiring National Park – home of another incredible peak – Mount Aspiring is incredible with its diversity. It combines green fields, precious rivers, forests and the majestic alpine – the rock and snow fields. There a number multi-and single day hikes to be explored.
- Fiordland. Imagine steep granite walls raising tall from deep fiord waters. Waterfalls, dense vegetation and copious rains are just some of the descriptors of this unique land. You can either challenge yourself on some of their incredible routes or take on of incredibly inspiring cruises into one of their “sounds” – fiords.
- Arthur’s pass. Have you heard of Kea? They are considered to be one of the smartest animals on the planet. Cheeky and cunning, these alpine parrots will find ways to trick you, flying away with either your sandwich or your camera. Arthur’s pass is notorious for its weather, but if you get lucky, it is one of the most unique regions in the entire New Zealand.
The best time for Tramping in New Zealand is between mid-December and mid-February, with the conditions tolerable between mid-November and mid-March. If you come there in New Zealand winter, you will be met with deep snow and avalanche hazard. If you’re coming to New Zealand in winter, consider skiing or road tripping. If you are hiking in spring – October/November, consult with the Department of Conservation people, if there still might be snow on the mountain passes. If that is the case, make sure you have appropriate gear, like crampons, hiking poles and maybe even an ice axe.
Some of the famous hiking trails
Kepler track – deep in Fiordland, you will find tussock-covered ridgelines spanning until the horizon and peaceful lakes.
Milford track – glacier-carved valleys, ancient rainforests, cascading waterfalls and a complete New Zealand hiking bliss will meet you on the hiking route.
Routeburn – Legendary Routeburn track offers it all – stunning forests, precious mountain peaks and river flats.
Tongariro crossing – Have you seen Lord of the Rings? Do you remember Mt Doom? Well if you want to see the real life Mt Doom – Mount Ngauruhoe, you do the Tongariro crossing. The area is very unique in its geology and vegetation. You will see all the possible colours and rock sculptures in this volcanic plain.
New Zealand is a country of incredible variety and each of these different areas will provide stunning contrasts. It is enough to just travel for a hundred or two hundred miles and you are in a completely different scenery. You can go from sandy beaches to rainforests to alpine meadows and glaciated peaks in a hundred kilometres. New Zealand is one of the places, where you can ski in the morning and surf in the afternoon. I suggest you allow yourself to be immersed in each of these contrasts and it will change the way you see this planet.