Extreme New Zealand
From midair adventures to deep dives, New Zealand (NZ) is pure adrenaline. Inspired by NZ’s rugged landscape, even the meekest travellers muster the courage to dangle on a bungy rope, skydive above mountains or thunder down river rapids. New Zealand pioneered thrills like bungy jumping and jetboating, and locals' daredevil attitude is infectious. There's nowhere better than NZ to see what you're made of...
On the Land
Caving (aka spelunking) opportunities abound in NZ’s honeycombed karst (limestone) regions. You’ll find local clubs and organised tours around Auckland, Waitomo, Whangarei, Charleston and Karamea. Golden Bay also has some mammoth caves. Waitomo is home to 'black-water rafting': like white-water rafting but inside a pitch-black cave!
For comprehensive information including details of specific areas and clubs, see the website of the New Zealand Speleological Society (www.caves.org.nz).
Horse treks in NZ offer a chance to explore some remarkable landscapes – from farms to forests and along rivers and beaches. Rides range from one-hour jaunts (from around $60) to week-long, fully supported treks.
On the North Island, Taupo, the Coromandel Peninsula, Waitomo, Pakiri, Ninety Mile Beach, Rotorua, the Bay of Plenty and East Cape are top places for an equine encounter. There are plenty of options in the South Island, too, ranging from beachy trips in Golden Bay and adventures around mountain foothills near Mt Cook, Lake Tekapo, Queenstown and Glenorchy – as a bonus, you can canter through several Lord of the Rings filming locations. Spectacular treks are offered from Punakaiki into Paparoa National Park. For info and operator listings, check out True NZ Horse Trekking (www.truenz.co.nz/horsetrekking).
Mountain Biking & Cycle Touring
Jaw-dropping mountains interlaced with farm tracks and old railway lines...it would be hard to design better mountain-biking terrain than NZ. The New Zealand Cycle Trail (www.nzcycletrail.com), some 2500km of tracks, helped mountain biking grow from a weekend sport to a national craze. Its popularity among outdoors enthusiasts of a certain age (and the potential for gear one-upmanship) has led mountain biking to be dubbed 'the new golf'. But no age group is immune, and the variety of trails in NZ brings a choice of gentle pootles in meadows to multiday cycle tours, half-day downhill-thrill rides to challenging week-long MTB adventures.
Mountain-bike parks – most with various trail grades and skills areas (and handy bike hire, usually) – are great for trying mountain biking NZ style. The most famous is Rotorua’s Redwoods Whakarewarewa Forest, but among legions of others are Wellington's Makara Peak, Auckland's Woodhill Forest and Queenstown's downhill park, fed by the Skyline Gondola.
Classic trails include the 42 Traverse around Tongariro National Park, the Rameka on Takaka Hill and the trails around Christchurch's Port Hills – but this is just the tip of the iceberg. An increasing number of DOC hiking trails are being converted to dual use – such as the tricky but epic Heaphy Track and challenging, history-rich Old Ghost Road – but mountain biking is often restricted to low season due to hiker numbers. Track damage is also an issue, so check with DOC before starting out.
Your clue that there's some great biking around is the presence of bike-hire outfits. Bowl on up and pick their brains. Most likely cycle-obsessed themselves, they'll soon point you in the direction of a ride appropriate to your level. The go-to book is Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides (from bookshops, bike shops and www.kennett.co.nz).
If cycle touring is more your pace, check out the Pedallers’ Paradise booklets by Nigel Rushton (www.paradise-press.co.nz). Changeable weather and road conditions mean that cycle touring is less of a craze but there are remarkable road journeys, such as the Southern Scenic Route in the deep south.
NZ has a proud mountaineering history − this was, after all, the home of Sir Edmund Hillary (1919–2008), who, along with Tenzing Norgay, were the first two mountaineers confirmed to summit Mt Everest. When he came back down, Sir Ed famously uttered to friend George Lowe, ‘Well, George, we knocked the bastard off!’
The Southern Alps are studded with amazing climbs. The Aoraki/Mt Cook region is outstanding; but there are other zones extending throughout the spine of the South Island from the Kaikoura Ranges and the Nelson Lakes peaks all the way through to the hotbeds of Mt Aspiring National Park and Fiordland. Be warned, though: this is rugged and often remote stuff, and climber deaths are a regular occurrence. Even confident climbers are strongly advised to seek out a local guide, whatever the route.
The Christchurch-based New Zealand Alpine Club (www.alpineclub.org.nz) has background, news and useful links, and produces the annual NZAC Alpine Journal and the quarterly The Climber magazine. It also has details on upcoming climbing courses.
Time to chalk up your fingers and don some natty little rubber shoes. On the North Island, popular rock-climbing areas include Whanganui Bay, Kinloch, Kawakawa Bay and Motuoapa near Lake Taupo; Mangatepopo Valley and Whakapapa Gorge on the Central Plateau; Humphries Castle and Warwick Castle on Mt Taranaki; and Piarere and popular Wharepapa South in the Waikato.
On the South Island, try the Port Hills area above Christchurch or Castle Hill on the road to Arthur’s Pass. West of Nelson, the marble and limestone mountains of Golden Bay and Takaka Hill provide prime climbing. Other options are Long Beach (north of Dunedin), and Mihiwaka and Lovers Leap on the Otago Peninsula.
Raining? You'll find indoor climbing walls all around the country, including at Rotorua, Whangarei, Auckland, Tauranga, Taupo, Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton.
Climb New Zealand (www.climb.co.nz) has the low-down on the gnarliest overhangs around NZ, plus access and instruction info. Needless to say, instruction is a must for all but the most-seasoned climbing pros.
In the Air
Bungy jumping was made famous by Kiwi AJ Hackett’s 1987 plunge from the Eiffel Tower, after which he teamed up with champion NZ skier Henry van Asch to turn the endeavour into an accessible pursuit for anyone.
Today their original home base of Queenstown is a spiderweb of bungy cords, including the AJ Hackett’s triad: the 134m Nevis Bungy (the highest in NZ); the 43m Kawarau Bungy (the original); and the Ledge Bungy (at the highest altitude – diving off a 400m-high platform). There's another scenic jump at Thrillseekers Canyon near Hanmer Springs. On the North Island, head to Taihape, Rotorua or Auckland, although the most scenic jump is over the Waikato River in Taupo. Huge rope swings offer variation on the theme; head to Queenstown's Shotover Canyon or Nevis Swing for that swooshy buzz.
Paragliding & Hang Gliding
A surprisingly gentle but still thrilling way to take to the skies, paragliding involves setting sail from a hillside or clifftop under a parachute-like wing. Hang gliding is similar but with a smaller, rigid wing. Most flights are conducted in tandem with a master pilot, although it's also possible to get lessons to go it alone. To give it a whirl, try a tandem flight in Queenstown, Wanaka, Nelson, Motueka, Hawke’s Bay, Christchurch or Auckland. The New Zealand Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (www.nzhgpa.org.nz) rules the roost.
With some of the most scenic jump zones in the world, NZ is a fantastic place to take a leap. First-time skydivers can knock off this bucket-list item with a tandem jump, strapped to a qualified instructor, experiencing up to 75 seconds of free fall before the chute opens. The thrill is worth every dollar, from $249 for a 9000ft jump to $559 for NZ's highest free-fall jump (a nerve-jangling 19,000ft, on offer in Franz Josef). Extra costs apply for a DVD or photographs capturing your mid-air terror/delight. Check out the New Zealand Parachute Federation (www.nzpf.org) for more info.
On the Water
Big swells, golden sand, uncrowded beaches...are you scrambling for a surf board yet? NZ's surf scene is world class, and the long coastline means there's heaps of variety for beginners and experienced surfers: point breaks, reefs, rocky shelves, hollow sandy beach breaks, and islands with swells from all points of the compass. If you’re willing to travel off the beaten track, you can score waves all to yourself. A number of hostels and holiday parks double as surf schools and gear-rental outfits, making it easy to roll straight from bed to beach.
Regardless of the season, you'll need a wet suit and some weather research. Water temperatures and climate vary greatly from north to south. In summer on the North Island you can get away with a spring suit and boardies; on the South Island, a 2mm–3mm steamer. In winter on the North Island use a 2mm–3mm steamer, and on the South Island a 3mm–5mm with extras like a hood and booties. Be rip tide aware: don't fight strong currents that sweep you away from the shore and swim parallel to the beach to get beyond the rip's reach before making your way back to land.
Surfing New Zealand (www.surfingnz.co.nz) has a list of approved surf schools where you can learn to catch waves, along with a calendar of competitions and events where you can go slack-jawed at the pros.
The jetboat was invented in NZ by an engineer from Fairlie – Bill Hamilton (1899–1978) – who wanted a boat that could navigate shallow, local rivers. He credited his eventual success to Archimedes, but as most jetboat drivers will inevitably tell you, Kiwi Bill is the hero of the jetboat story.
River jetboat tours can be found throughout NZ, and while much is made of the hair-raising 360-degree spins that see passengers drenched and grinning from ear to ear, they are really just a sideshow. Just as Bill would have it, jetboat journeys take you deep into wilderness you could otherwise never see, and as such they offer one of NZ's most rewarding tour experiences. In Haast and Whataroa, jetboat tours plunge visitors into pristine wilderness, aflutter with birds.
Big-ticket trips such as Queenstown's Shotover, Kawarau and Dart all live up to the hype. But the quieter achievers will blow your skirt up just as high. Check out the Buller and Wilkin in Mt Aspiring National Park, and the Whanganui – one of the most magical A-to-B jetboat trips of them all.
Parasailing & Kiteboarding
Parasailing (dangling from a modified parachute over the water, while being pulled along by a speedboat) is perhaps the easiest way for humans to achieve assisted flight. There are operators in the Bay of Islands, Bay of Plenty, Taupo, Wanaka and Queenstown.
Kiteboarding (aka kitesurfing), where a mini parachute drags you across the ocean on a mini surfboard, can be attempted at Paihia, Tauranga, Mt Maunganui, Raglan, Wellington and Nelson. Karikari Peninsula near Cape Reinga on NZ’s northern tip is a kiteboarding mecca.
Though it's less adrenaline-soaked, stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) is increasingly popular across NZ. The gentle waters of the Bay of Islands, Tauranga and Gisborne are ideal places for beginners.
Sea kayaking offers a wonderful perspective of the coastline and gets you close to marine wildlife you may otherwise never see. Meanwhile tandem kayaks, aka 'divorce boats', present a different kind of challenge.
There are ample places to get paddling. Hotspots include Waiheke and Great Barrier Islands, the Bay of Islands and Coromandel Peninsula, Marlborough Sounds (from Picton) and Abel Tasman National Park. Kaikoura is exceptional for wildlife spotting, and Fiordland for jaw-dropping scenery. Wellington is noteworthy for offering the chance to paddle a traditional Māori waka (canoe). The Kiwi Association of Sea Kayakers (www.kask.org.nz) gives a good primer on paddling techniques, plus resources for kayakers with a disability.
Scuba Diving & Snorkelling
New Zealand is just as enchanting under the waves, with warm waters in the north, interesting sea life all over and some impressive shipwrecks. The flag-bearer is the Poor Knights Islands, where subtropical currents carry and encourage a vibrant mix of sea life. Also swimming with marine life is the wreck of the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior, which slumbers beneath the Cavalli Islands (reached from Matauri Bay).
Other notable sites for scuba and snorkelling include the Bay of Islands, Hauraki Gulf, Goat Island and Gisborne's Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve. In the Marlborough Sounds, the MS Mikhail Lermontov is one of the world's largest diveable cruise-ship wrecks. In Fiordland, experienced divers can head for Dusky Sound, Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, which have clear conditions and the occasional friendly fur seal or dolphin. Snorkellers should check out the reefs of Taputeranga Marine Reserve (Wellington) and wildlife-rich Waiheke Island.
Expect to pay anywhere from $160 for a short, introductory, pool-based scuba course, and around $600 for a four-day, PADI-approved, ocean-dive course. One-off organised boat- and land-based dives start at around $170.
New Zealand Underwater Association (www.nzunderwater.org.nz) Clean seas and diving-safety advocates whose website has safety info, diving tips, gear maintenance advice and more.
Dive New Zealand (www.divenewzealand.com) New Zealand's only dedicated dive magazine, plus safety info and listings of dive clubs and shops.
White-Water Rafting, Kayaking & Canoeing
Epic mountain ranges and associated rainfall mean there's no shortage of great rivers to raft, nor any shortage of operators ready to get you into the rapids. Rivers are graded from I to VI (VI meaning they can't be safely rafted), with operators often running a couple of different trips to suit ability and age (rougher stretches are usually limited to rafters aged 13 or above).
Queenstown's Shotover and Kawarau Rivers are deservedly popular, but the Rangitata (Geraldine), Buller (Murchison) and the Arnold and Waiho rate just as highly. For a multiday epic, check out the Landsborough. The central North Island dishes up plenty, including the popular Tongariro, Rangitikei, Mohaka and Wairoa. There are also the Kaituna Cascades near Rotorua, the highlight of which is the 7m drop at Okere Falls.
Kayaking and canoeing are rampant, particularly on friendly lake waters, although there are still plenty of places to paddle the rapids, including some relatively easy stuff on the Whanganui 'Great Walk'.
New Zealand Rafting Association (www.nz-rafting.co.nz) River conservation nonprofit; river gradings and listings of rafting operators.
New Zealand Kayak (www.kayaknz.co.nz) Community-based kayaking magazine.
Sidebar: Best Extreme New Zealand
- Best Skydive Drop Zones
Fox & Franz Josef Glaciers
Bay of Islands
- Top White-Water Rafting Trips
Tongariro River, Taupo
Kaituna River, Rotorua
Shotover Canyon, Queenstown
Rangitikei River, Taihape
Buller Gorge, Murchison
- Top Mountain-Biking Tracks
Redwoods Whakarewarewa Forest, Rotorua
Old Ghost Road, Westport
Queen Charlotte Track, Marlborough
West Coast Wilderness Trail, Hokitika
Alps 2 Ocean, South Canterbury
Feature: Surfing in New Zealand
Raglan, Waikato New Zealand’s most famous surf break with a buzzing boarder community and superb surf beaches extending south. Almost a pilgrimage spot for overseas surfers.
Surf Highway, Taranaki Take your pick from consistent Fitzroy Beach, big 'n' busy Stent Rd, experts-only Green Meadows Point (Opunake) and the heavy waves of Ohawe Beach (Hawera), all along the ‘Surf Highway’ (Hwy 45).
Whangamata, Coromandel Exceptional surf breaks and gear hire and surf schools aplenty.
Bay of Plenty Mt Maunganui is an all-year all-rounder, suitable for most levels and hugely popular in summer, and Matakana Island has brisk waves that suit intermediate surfers.
Gisborne, East Coast Consistent surf and some of NZ's mildest weather. The town's Midway Beach has waves with clout, while pros are fond of Sponge Bay (be careful, there are hidden rocky hazards).
Wellington Region Head to popular Lyall Bay, exposed but not too challenging Castlepoint, or (if you're a pro) Tora Point.
Marlborough & Nelson Wear a thick wet suit in the Kaikoura Peninsula, where you'll share waves with dolphins, or head to the epic surf at Mangamaunu and Hapuku's Meatworks (intermediates and up).
Canterbury Popular Taylors Mistake has some of Christchurch's best surf and North Brighton suits a range of skill levels.
Dunedin, Otago Dunedin is a good base for surfing on the South Island. Head to St Clair Beach for offshore worthy of the international surf competitions held here.
West Coast Relatively sheltered Punakaiki Beach is a good mixed-level destination while Tauranga Bay (Westport) is best for experienced surfers.
Southland Colac Bay (near Riverton) is an easy, breezy surf spot while Porridge Point (Pahia) is one for the pros.
Feature: Nga Haerenga
The New Zealand Cycle Trail (www.nzcycletrail.com) – known in Māori as Nga Haerenga, 'the journeys' – is a 22-strong series of off-road trails known as Great Rides. Spread from north to south they are of diverse length, terrain and difficulty, with many following history-rich old railway lines and pioneer trails, while others are freshly cut, flowing and big fun. Almost all penetrate remarkable landscapes.
There are plenty of options for beginner to intermediate cyclists, with several hardcore exceptions including the Old Ghost Road, which is growing to international renown. The majority are also well supported by handy bike hire, shuttles, and dining and accommodation options, making them a mighty desirable way to explore NZ.
Hiking in New Zealand
Hiking (aka bushwalking or tramping, as Kiwis call it) is almost a national religion in New Zealand. It's a rewarding way to delve into the country's abundant natural beauty and feast your eyes on mountain vistas, hidden waterfalls and (if you're lucky) rare wildlife. There are thousands of kilometres of tracks here − including the Department of Conservation (DOC) 'Great Walks' − plus an excellent network of huts and campgrounds.
When to Go
Mid-December–late January Beaut weather but crowded in places. Tramping high season is typically during school summer holidays, starting a couple of weeks before Christmas − plan around them if you can.
January–March Summer weather lingers into March: wait until February if possible, when tracks are (marginally) less crowded. Most non-alpine tracks can be walked enjoyably from late October to April, but snow can hang around into summer.
May–September Winter is not the time to be out in the wild, especially in the South Island or at altitude in the North Island − some tracks close in winter because of avalanche danger and have reduced facilities and services.
What to Bring
Primary considerations: your feet and your back. Break in your footwear and practise walking with your tramping gear and rucksack before setting out.
- Suitable footwear Check that your footwear is suitable for the type of trip you have planned – you can ask at outdoor stores around NZ.
- Backpack and liner You'll be carrying your backpack for most of the trip, so make sure it's a comfy fit and roomy enough for your gear (without being too heavy). It's well worth buying a waterproof pack liner to keep its contents dry.
- All-weather layers Warm clothing, wet-weather gear and sun protection are essential wherever and whenever you hike. Fleece, merino or polypropylene layers are useful, and don't forget sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat (whatever the season). New Zealand's weather is changeable, so expect to remove and add layers throughout the day.
- Insect repellent Spray to keep sandflies away (although covering up is best).
- Food prep If you’re camping or staying in huts without cooking facilities (check with DOC), bring a camping stove. Don’t forget your scroggin (trail mix) − a mixture of dried fruit and nuts (and sometimes chocolate) for munching en route.
Before heading into the bush, get up-to-date information from the appropriate source − usually the DOC, Mountain Safety Council or regional i-SITE visitor information centres.
DOC (www.doc.govt.nz) Track descriptions, alerts, and exhaustive flora and fauna information for all parts of the conservation estate. DOC offices supply leaflets (mostly $2 or less) detailing hundreds of NZ walking tracks.
Mountain Safety Council (www.mountainsafety.org.nz) Plenty of info and safety advice, and a handy trip-planning tool that pulls together your route with relevant safety warnings, weather forecasts and a suggested packing list.
Met Service (www.metservice.com) NZ's national weather forecaster issues weather warnings and has forecasts specific to outdoor areas.
New Zealand Tramper (www.tramper.co.nz) Articles, photos, lively forums and excellent track and hut information.
Te Araroa (www.teararoa.org.nz) The official website for NZ's 3000km trail from Cape Reinga to Bluff.
Freewalks (www.freewalks.nz) Descriptions, maps and photos of long and short tramps all over NZ.
Tramping New Zealand (www.trampingnz.com) Region-by-region track info with diary-style trip reports.
The NZ Topo50 topographical map series produced by Land Information New Zealand (LINZ; www.linz.govt.nz) is the most commonly used. Bookshops don’t often have a good selection of these maps but many outdoor stores stock them. The LINZ website has a list of retailers, and DOC offices often sell the latest maps for local tracks. Download free maps in image format from the LINZ website (search for 'Map Chooser'). NZ Topo Map (www.topomap.co.nz) has an interactive topographic map, useful for planning.
- Lonely Planet’s Hiking & Tramping in New Zealand describes over 50 walks of various lengths and degrees of difficulty.
- 202 Great Walks: The Best Day Walks in New Zealand by Mark Pickering is a handy guide to short, family-friendly excursions.
- A Walking Guide to New Zealand's Long Trail: Te Araroa by Geoff Chapple is the definitive book for NZ's continuous trail that runs the length of the country.
- Tramping by Shaun Barnett and Chris Maclean is a meticulously researched history of NZ's favourite outdoor pastime.
- A Bunk for the Night by Shaun Barnett, Rob Brown and Geoff Spearpoint takes a different angle − a guide to NZ's impressive network of backcountry huts.
- Bird's Eye Guides from Potton & Burton Publishing have fab topographical maps, and there are countless books covering tramps and short urban walks around NZ − scan the bookshops.
Tracks in NZ are classified according to various features, including level of difficulty. The widely used track classification system is as follows:
Easy Access Short Walk (Easiest) Even track up to an hour long with wheelchair and stroller access. No steps or steep bits.
Short Walk (Easy) Even track up to an hour long, constructed to ‘walking shoe’ standard (ie walking boots not required). Suitable for all ages and fitness levels.
Walking Track (Easy) Well-formed walks from a few minutes to a full day; walking shoes or boots recommended. Suitable for most ages and fitness levels. Mostly even, possible muddy and steep areas.
Great Walk or Easier Tramping Track (Intermediate) Well formed; major water crossings have bridges and track junctions have signs. Light hiking boots and reasonable fitness required.
Tramping Track (Advanced) Requires skill and experience; hiking boots essential. Suits moderate to high fitness levels. Water crossings may not have bridges, track will be unformed and possibly steep.
Route (Expert) Requires a high degree of skill and experience, plus navigation and outdoor survival skills. Sturdy hiking boots essential. Well-equipped, very fit trampers only.
The Great Walks
New Zealand’s most popular tracks are its official ‘Great Walks’, one of which is actually a river canoe trip. A 10th Great Walk joins the party in 2019. Natural beauty abounds, but at peak times prepare yourself for crowds, especially over summer.
New Zealand's Great Walks are described in Lonely Planet’s Hiking & Tramping in New Zealand, and are detailed in pamphlets provided by DOC visitor centres and online at www.greatwalks.co.nz.
NZ's 'Great Walks'
Abel Tasman Coast Track *
Easy to intermediate
NZ’s most popular walk (or sea kayak); beaches and bays in Abel Tasman National Park (South Island)
Heaphy Track *
Forests, beaches and karst landscapes in Kahurangi National Park (South Island)
Kepler Track **
Lakes, rivers, gorges, glacial valleys and beech forest in Fiordland National Park (South Island)
Lake Waikaremoana Track *
Easy to intermediate
Lake views, bush-clad ridges and swimming in Te Urewera (North Island)
Milford Track **
Easy to intermediate
Rainforest, sheer valleys and peaks, and 580m-high Sutherland Falls in Fiordland National Park (South Island)
Paparoa Track and Pike29 Memorial Track *
Opens in 2019. Limestone cliffs, mining history and majestic sunsets amid the Paparoa Range (South Island)
Rakiura Track *
Bird life (kiwi!), beaches and lush bush on remote Stewart Island (Rakiura; off the South Island)
Routeburn Track **
Eye-popping alpine scenery around Mt Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks (South Island)
Tongariro Northern Circuit **
Intermediate to advanced
Through the active volcanic landscape of Tongariro National Park (North Island)
Whanganui Journey **
87km or 145km
3 or 5 days
Canoe or kayak down a mysterious river in Whanganui National Park (North Island)
* Bookings required year-round
** Bookings required peak season only (October to April)
Tickets & Bookings
To tramp these tracks you’ll need to book online or at DOC visitor centres and some i-SITES before setting out. These track-specific tickets cover you for hut accommodation (from $22 to $70 per adult per night, depending on the track) and/or camping ($6 to $20 per adult per night). You can camp only at designated camping grounds; note there’s no camping on the Milford Track.
In the off-peak season (May to September) you can use Backcountry Hut Passes or pay-as-you-go Hut Tickets on all Great Walks except for the Lake Waikaremoana Track, Heaphy Track, Abel Tasman Coast Track and Rakiura Track (advance bookings required year-round). Kids under 17 years stay in huts and camp for free on all Great Walks (bookings still required).
You can book at DOC visitor centres by phoning 0800 694 732 or 03-249 8514, using the online booking system on www.greatwalks.co.nz, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Book as far in advance as possible, especially if you're planning on walking during summer.
From short and sweet to multiday tramps, there are a lot more walks in NZ than the Great ones!
A day or less:
Tongariro Alpine Crossing (one day) A tricky 19km tramp through surreal Tongariro National Park.
Rangitoto Island Summit (four to five hours) It’s a 25-minute ferry ride (or two-hour kayak) from Auckland to the 600-year-old volcano of Rangitoto, best seen from its crater summit after a two-hour loop around the island.
Pinnacles Track (two to four hours) An easyish 4km bushwalk to Aorangi Forest Park's rock stalagmites, which played a starring role in The Return of the King.
Two days or more:
Aotea Track (two to three days) This 25km track follows routes laid down by loggers who came to Great Barrier Island in a quest for kauri trees, leaving historic relics in their wake.
Pouakai Circuit (two to three days) A 25km loop passing lowland rainforest, cliffs and subalpine forest, tussock and swamp at the foot of Mt Taranaki in Egmont National Park.
Mt Holdsworth–Jumbo Circuit (three days) A 24km, medium-to-hard clamber through beech forest to the alpine tops of Tararua Forest Park, close to Masterton.
Te Paki Coastal Track (three to four days) A 48km easy beach tramp (camping only) along the rugged Northland coastline.
A day or less:
Mueller Hut Route (four hours ascent) Yes, it involves a hardcore 1040m climb up the Sealy Range near Aoraki/Mt Cook, but the rewards are geological wonders, fascinating plant life and an amazing hut.
Mt Robert Circuit (five hours return) Spy indigo Lake Rotoiti along this special, moderately challenging 9km circuit through ancient rocks and alpine herbs in Nelson Lakes National Park.
Two or three days:
Lake Angelus Track (two days) On this tough 22km-return hike in Nelson Lakes National Park, a startling alpine ridge leads to a 1650m-altitude DOC hut beside a pristine cirque lake.
Welcome Flat (two days) Follow the Karangarua River in the shadow of some of NZ's loftiest peaks, reward yourself with a soak in natural hot pools, and sleep in popular Welcome Flat Hut. It's 18km each way.
Banks Track (two to three days) A crowd-free 29km walk over hills, through forest and along the cliffs of Banks Peninsula.
Hump Ridge Track (three days) An excellent 61km alpine and coastal circuit beginning and ending at Te Waewae Bay, 20km from Tuatapere.
Three days or more:
Queen Charlotte Track (three to five days) A 70km, moderate one-way walk in the Marlborough Sounds, affording great watery views. Top-notch accommodation and water transport available.
Hollyford Track (four to five days) A 56km low-level tramping track in Fiordland follows in the optimistic footsteps of pioneers. Apple trees mark the site of Jamestown, too isolated to grow into a settlement.
Rees-Dart Track (four to five days) A 70km hard tramping loop in Mt Aspiring National Park, through glacier-fed valleys and over an alpine pass.
St James Walkway (five days) This moderately tough tramping track passes through a significant conservation area, home to some 430 species of flora. It's 66km one way.
In addition to Great Walk huts, DOC maintains more than 950 Backcountry Huts in NZ’s national and forest parks. Hut categories are as follows:
Basic Huts Very basic enclosed shelters with little or no facilities. Free.
Standard Huts No cooking equipment and sometimes no heating, but mattresses, water supply and toilets. Fees are $5 per adult per night.
Serviced Huts Mattress-equipped bunks or sleeping platforms, water supply, heating, toilets and sometimes cooking facilities. Fees are $15 per adult per night.
Note that bookings are required for some huts (see the website for listings): book online at https://booking.doc.govt.nz or at DOC visitor centres. Kids aged 11 to 17 stay for half price; kids aged 10 and under stay free. For comprehensive hut details see www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-stay.
If you do a lot of tramping, a six-month Backcountry Hut Pass ($92 per adult) might be a good idea; otherwise use pay-as-you-go Backcountry Hut Tickets ($5; you'll need to use three of these for a Serviced Hut). Date your tickets and put them in the boxes provided at huts. Accommodation is on a first-come, first-served basis. In the low season (May to September), Backcountry Hut Tickets and Passes can also be used to procure a bunk or campsite on some Great Walks.
Standard Backcountry Campsites are often nearby the huts, and usually have toilets and fresh water, and possibly picnic tables, fireplaces and/or cooking shelters. Prices vary from free to $8 per person per night.
Aside from Great Walk campsites, DOC also manages more than 200 ‘Conservation Campsites’ with categories as follows:
Basic Campsites Basic toilets and fresh water; free on a first-come, first-served basis.
Standard and Backcountry Campsites Toilets and water supply, and perhaps barbecues and picnic tables; $6 to $8 on a first-come, first-served basis. Standard campsites have boat or vehicle access.
Scenic Campsites High-use sites with toilets and tap water, and sometimes barbecues, fireplaces, cooking shelters, cold showers, picnic tables and rubbish bins. Fees from $13 per night.
Serviced Campsites Full facilities: flush toilets, tap water, hot showers and picnic tables. They may also have barbecues, a kitchen and a laundry; from $18 per night.
Note that bookings are necessary for all Serviced Campsites, plus some Scenic and Standard Campsites in peak season (October to April). Book online (https://booking.doc.govt.nz) or at DOC visitor centres.
DOC publishes free brochures with descriptions, and instructions to find every campsite (even GPS coordinates). Pick up copies from DOC visitor centres before you hit the road, or download them from their website.
Freedom campers, note that you'll be slapped with a $200 fine if you camp anywhere there isn't a camping sign.
If you’re new to tramping or just want a more comfortable experience than the DIY alternative, several companies can escort you through the wilds, usually staying in comfortable huts (showers!), with meals cooked and equipment carried for you.
Places on the North Island where you can sign up for a guided walk include Mt Taranaki, Lake Waikaremoana and Tongariro National Park. On the South Island try the Abel Tasman Coast Track, Queen Charlotte Track, Heaphy Track, Old Ghost Road, Routeburn Track, Milford Track or Hollyford Track. Prices for multiday guided walks start at around $1200, and rise to $2000 and beyond for more deluxe experiences.
Getting To & From Trailheads
Getting to and from trailheads isn't always straightforward, except for popular trails serviced by public and dedicated trampers’ transport. And these (eg Abel Tasman Coast Track) are also the most crowded.
When it comes to one-way trails, having a vehicle only helps with getting to one end of the track (you still have to collect your car afterwards). If you aren't lucky enough to have a local friend to pick you up/drop you off, there are a good number of operators that can bus, boat or fly trampers to/from their desired trailhead (advance booking essential). You can also charter a private vehicle to drop you at one end, then pick you up at the other (unless you're walking back to your vehicle). If you intend to leave a vehicle at a trailhead, don’t leave anything valuable inside − theft from cars in isolated areas is a significant problem. There may be preferable parking options at towns near the trailhead, like Te Anau's Safer Parking.
Sidebar: Top NZ Hikes
- Top Five Multiday Hikes
Lake Waikaremoana Track, Te Urewera
Abel Tasman Coast Track, Abel Tasman National Park
Heaphy Track, Kahurangi National Park
Routeburn Track, Fiordland/Mt Aspiring National Parks
Milford Track, Fiordland National Park
- Top Five Day Hikes
Mt Robert Circuit, Nelson Lakes National Park
Key Summit, Fiordland National Park
Taranaki Falls and Tama Lakes, Tongariro National Park
Ben Lomond Walkway, Queenstown
Te Whara Track, Whangarei, Northland
- Top Five Wildlife Spotting
Snails, bats, weka, kiwi Heaphy Track, Kahurangi National Park
Seals Cape Foulwind Walkway, West Coast
Tuatara and penguins Tiritiri Matangi Island, Hauraki Gulf
Kiwi Rakiura Track, Stewart Island
Bird life St Arnaud Range Track, Nelson Lakes National Park
- Best Hikes for Beginners
Coromandel Coastal Walkway, Coromandel Peninsula
Wainui Falls Track, Golden Bay, Abel Tasman National Park
Rob Roy Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
Mt Manaia Track, Whangarei, Northland
Rangitoto Summit Track, Auckland
Feature: Tracks Less Trodden
The popular trails are deservedly so, but there are plenty of stunning tramps if you're seeking solitude – and DOC offices will be more than delighted to direct you to less-beaten trails. On the North Island, try the moderate five-hour Tarawera Trail to a hot-water beach, or the lofty 12-hour Mt Holdsworth–Jumbo Circuit in Tararua Forest Park. On the South Island there's the very tough, four-to-seven-day Travers-Sabine Circuit in Nelson Lakes National Park.
Feature: Te Araroa
Epic! Te Araroa (www.teararoa.org.nz) is a 3000km tramping trail from Cape Reinga in NZ’s north to Bluff in the south (or the other way around). The route links up existing tracks with new sections. Built over almost 20 years, mostly by volunteers, it's one of the longest hikes in the world: check the website for maps and track notes, plus blogs and videos from hardy types who have completed the end-to-end epic.
Feature: Responsible Tramping
If you went straight from the cradle into a pair of hiking boots, some of these tramping tips will seem ridiculously obvious; others you mightn’t have considered. Online, Leave No Trace (www.lnt.org) is a great resource for low-impact hiking and camping, and Freedom Camping (http://freedomcamping.org) has tips on freedom camping etiquette and responsible camping. When in doubt, ask DOC or i-SITE staff.
- Time your tramp to avoid peak season: less people = less stress on the environment and fewer snorers in the huts.
- Carry out all your rubbish. Burying rubbish disturbs soil and vegetation, encouraging erosion, and animals will dig it up anyway.
- Don’t use detergents, shampoo or toothpaste in or near lakes and waterways (even if they're biodegradable).
- Use lightweight kerosene, alcohol or Shellite (white gas) stoves for cooking; avoid disposable butane gas canisters.
- Where there’s a toilet, use it. Where there isn’t one, dig a hole and bury your by-product (at least 15cm deep, 100m from any waterway).
You mightn’t have considered:
- Wash your dishes at hut or campsite facilities, or at least 50m from watercourses; use a scourer, sand or snow instead of detergent.
- If you really need to scrub your bod, use biodegradable soap and a bucket, at least 50m from any watercourse. Spread the waste water around widely to help the soil filter it.
- If open fires are allowed, use only dead, fallen wood in existing fireplaces. Leave any extra wood for the next happy camper.
- Keep food-storage bags out of reach of scavengers by stashing them in your pack.
- Feeding wildlife (such as inquisitive mountain kea) can lead to unbalanced populations, diseases and animals becoming dependent on handouts. Keep your dried apricots to yourself.
- If tracks pass through muddy patches, just plough straight on through − skirting around the outside increases the size of the quagmire.
Feature: Track Safety
Thousands of people tramp across NZ without incident, but too many folks meet their maker in the mountains. Many trails are only for fit, well-equipped trampers with plenty of experience − if you don't fit that description, don’t attempt them. DOC visitor centres (www.doc.govt.nz) offer great advice on trips to suit all levels of experience, so just ask.
New Zealand’s constantly changing weather requires trampers to prepare for all conditions. High-altitude walks are subject to snow and ice, even in summer, and rivers can rise rapidly: always check weather and track conditions before setting off, and be prepared to change your plans or sit out bad weather.
Refer to the Mountain Safety Council (www.mountainsafety.org.nz) for safety tips and a trip-planning tool that incorporates weather forecasts and DOC alerts; you can also share your trip plans with friends. Log your walk intentions online with Adventure Smart (www.adventuresmart.org.nz), and tell a friend or local.
Skiing & Snowboarding in New Zealand
New Zealand is a premier southern-hemisphere destination for snow bunnies, where wintry pursuits span all levels: family-friendly ski areas, cross-country (Nordic) skiing, daredevil snowboarding terrain and pulse-quickening heliskiing. The NZ ski season varies between areas but it's generally mid-June through September, though it can run as late as mid-October.
Where To Go
The variety of locations and conditions makes it difficult to rate NZ's ski fields in any particular order. Some people like to be near Queenstown’s party scene or Mt Ruapehu's volcanic landscapes; others prefer the quality high-altitude runs on Mt Hutt, uncrowded Rainbow or less-stressed club skiing areas. Club areas are publicly accessible and usually less crowded and cheaper than commercial fields, even though nonmembers pay a higher fee.
New Zealand’s commercial ski areas aren’t generally set up as ‘resorts’ with chalets, lodges or hotels. Rather, accommodation and après-ski carousing are often in surrounding towns, connected with the slopes via daily shuttles. It's a bonus if you want to sample a few different ski areas, as you can base yourself in one town and day trip to a few different resorts. Many club areas have lodges where you can stay, subject to availability.
Visitor information centres in NZ, and Tourism New Zealand (www.newzealand.com) internationally, have info on the various ski areas and can make bookings and organise packages. Lift passes usually cost $65 to $120 per adult per day (half price for kids) but more for major resorts. Lesson-and-lift packages are available at most areas. Ski and snowboard equipment rental starts at around $50 a day (cheaper for multiday hire). Private/group lessons start at around $120/60 per hour (adult/child).
www.snow.co.nz Reports, webcams and ski info across the country.
www.nzski.com Reports, employment, passes and webcams for Mt Hutt, Coronet Peak and the Remarkables.
www.skiandride.nz Good all-round online portal for South Island ski areas with road conditions, school holiday dates and other practical info.
www.chillout.co.nz Portal to info on 13 ski areas and sales of ski passes that access them all. The 'Chill Travel Pass' areas are Awakino, Broken River, Cheeseman, Craigieburn, Fox Peak, Hanmer Springs, Mt Dobson, Mt Lyford, Mt Olympus, Rainbow and Temple Basin (plus a couple of days on Treble Cone and Porters).
www.mtruapehu.com Reports, passes, courses and webcams for Mt Ruapehu's Whakapapa and Turoa ski areas.
Tongariro National Park
Whakapapa & Turoa On either side of Mt Ruapehu, these well-run twin resorts comprise NZ’s largest ski area, though it comes at a cost of more exposed terrain (watch those weather reports). Whakapapa has 65 trails spread across 1050 hectares, plus cross-country skiing, a terrain park and NZ's highest cafe! Drive from Whakapapa Village (6km; free parking) or shuttle bus in from National Park Village, Taupo, Turangi or Whakapapa Village. Smaller Turoa has a beginners lift, snowboarding, downhill and cross-country skiing, and over 722m of vertical descent from the High Noon Express chairlift. There's free parking or shuttle-bus transport from Ohakune, 17km away, which has the North Island's liveliest après-ski scene.
Tukino Club-operated Tukino is on Mt Ruapehu's east, 46km south from Turangi. It’s quite remote, 14km down a gravel road from the sealed Desert Rd (SH1), and you need a 4WD vehicle to get in (unless you book onto a shuttle). It's uncrowded, and has runs to suit most levels.
Manganui Offers volcano-slope, club-run skiing on the eastern slopes of spectacular Mt Taranaki in Egmont National Park, 22km from Stratford, 55km from New Plymouth (and a 25-minute walk from the car park). Taranaki is a surf-mad province so expect the slopes to be dominated by snowboarders. Limited lodge accommodation up the mountain.
Queenstown & Wanaka
Coronet Peak At the Queenstown region’s oldest commercial ski field, snow-making systems and treeless slopes provide excellent skiing and snowboarding for all levels, with plenty of family-friendly options. There's night skiing on Fridays and Saturdays (and on Wednesdays in July). Shuttles run from Queenstown, 16km away.
The Remarkables Visually remarkable, this ski field is also near Queenstown (24km away) − shuttle buses run during ski season. It has a good smattering of intermediate, advanced and beginner runs. Kids' club offered for five- to 15-year-old snow bunnies, and childcare options for younger pups.
Treble Cone The highest and largest of the southern lakes ski areas is in a spectacular location 26km from Wanaka, with steep slopes suitable for intermediate to advanced skiers (a rather professional vibe). There are also half-pipes and a terrain park for boarders.
Cardrona Around 34km from Wanaka, with several high-capacity chairlifts, beginners tows and the southern hemisphere's biggest park and pipe playground for the freestylers. Buses run from Wanaka and Queenstown during ski season. A friendly scene with good services for skiers with disabilities, plus an on-mountain crèche for under-fives.
Snow Farm New Zealand New Zealand’s only commercial Nordic (cross-country) ski area is 33km from Wanaka on the Pisa Range, high above the Cardrona Valley. There are 55km of groomed trails, huts with facilities and thousands of hectares of open snow.
Mt Dobson The 3km-wide basin here, 26km from Fairlie, has a terrain park and famously dry powder. There's a huge learners' area and plenty for intermediates (and up high, dry powder and challenging terrain to suit more experienced snowheads). On a clear day you can see Aoraki/Mt Cook and the Pacific Ocean from the summit.
Roundhill A small field with wide, gentle slopes, perfect for beginners and intermediates, with a trump card of NZ's largest vertical drop (783m). It's 32km from Lake Tekapo village.
Ohau This commercial ski area with a secluded feel is on Mt Sutton, 42km from Twizel. There are intermediate and advanced runs, excellent snowboarding, two terrain parks and sociable Lake Ohau Lodge, overlooking glorious views.
Fox Peak An affordable, uncrowded club ski area 40km from Fairlie in the Two Thumb Range. Expect rope tows, good cross-country skiing and dorm-style accommodation.
Mt Hutt One of the highest ski areas in the southern hemisphere, as well as one of NZ’s best. It’s close to Methven; Christchurch is 118km to the east – ski shuttles service both towns. Road access is steep − be extremely cautious in lousy weather. The ski area is exposed to the mercy of the elements (leading locals to dub it 'Mt Shut') but the season is long. Plenty of beginner, intermediate and advanced slopes, with chairlifts, heliskiing and wide-open faces that are good for learning to snowboard. Kids aged under 10 ski free.
Porters The closest commercial ski area to Christchurch (96km away on the Arthur’s Pass road). The 'Big Mama' run boasts a 680m drop, but there are wider, gentler slopes, too. There’s also a terrain park, good cross-country runs along the ridge, and lodge accommodation.
Temple Basin A club field with a cult following, 4km from the Arthur’s Pass township. It’s a 50-minute walk uphill from the car park to the ski-area lodges. There’s floodlit skiing at night and excellent backcountry runs for snowboarders. Diehard snowheads only.
Craigieburn Valley Centred on Hamilton Peak, Craigieburn Valley is no-frills backcountry heaven, 40km from Arthur’s Pass. It’s one of NZ’s most challenging club areas, with upper intermediate and advanced runs (no beginners). Accommodation in please-do-a-chore lodges.
Broken River Not far from Craigieburn Valley, this club field is a 15- to 20-minute walk from the car park and has a real sense of isolation. Reliable snow, laid-back vibe and sheltered enough to minimise bad-weather closures. Catered or self-catered lodge accommodation available.
Cheeseman A club area in the Craigieburn Range, this smallish family-friendly operation is around 100km from Christchurch. Based on Mt Cockayne, it’s a wide, sheltered basin with drive-to-the-snow road access. Lodge accommodation available.
Mt Olympus Difficult to find (but worth the search), 2096m Mt Olympus is 58km from Methven and 12km from Lake Ida. This club area has intermediate and advanced runs, and there are solid cross-country trails to other areas. Access is sometimes 4WD-only, depending on conditions. Lodge accommodation available.
Northern South Island
Hanmer Springs A friendly commercial field based on Mt St Patrick, 17km from Hanmer Springs township (linked by shuttles), with mostly intermediate and advanced runs.
Mt Lyford Around 60km from both Hanmer Springs and Kaikoura, and 4km from Mt Lyford village, this is more of a ‘resort’ than most NZ ski fields, with accommodation and eating options. There’s a good mix of runs and a terrain park.
Rainbow Borders Nelson Lakes National Park (100km from Nelson, a similar distance from Blenheim), with varied terrain, minimal crowds and good cross-country skiing. Chains are often required. St Arnaud is the closest town (32km).
Awakino A small player in North Otago, but worth a visit for intermediate skiers. Oamaru is 45km away; Omarama is 66km inland. Weekend lodge-and-ski packages available.
Sidebar: Best Skiing & Snowboarding
- Best for Beginners or with Kids
Mt Hutt, Central Canterbury
The Remarkables, Queenstown
Mt Dobson, South Canterbury
Roundhill, South Canterbury
Coronet Peak, Queenstown
- Best Snowboarding
Mt Hutt, Central Canterbury
Treble Cone, Wanaka
Ohau, South Canterbury
Whakapapa & Turoa, Tongariro National Park
- Best Après-Ski Watering Holes
Powderhorn Chateau, Ohakune
Cardrona Hotel, Cardrona
Rhino's Ski Shack, Queenstown
New Zealand’s remote heights are tailor-made for heliskiing, with operators covering a wide off-piste area along the pristine slopes of the Southern Alps, including extreme skiing for the hardcore. Costs range from around $900 to $1450 for three to eight runs. Heliskiing is available at Coronet Peak, Treble Cone, Cardrona, Mt Hutt, Ohau and Hanmer Springs; independent operators include the following: