Home / Articles / The Life List

Best in region

Image of the December 2017 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
December 2017 Issue

We’ve found the best tracks in every region – which means they’re near you, now.

A little-known Wanaka view

Isthmus Peak Track, Otago 

While Wanaka’s Roys Peak has become a parade of trampers, Isthmus Peak Track, 32km north of the town, offers the same majestic views but with fewer people.

A parking area is on the right, just before traversing The Neck between lakes  Wanaka and Hawea. Take care here as this is a hotspot for oblivious drivers, concentrating more on the scenery than the road.

The track is marked through farmland and forest with fences and stiles.

It’s a constant, steady climb through paddocks with cattle and stags. Merinos graze in the shadows of the schist cliffs.

On nearing the tops, keep right and traverse the tussock studded summit ridge to the marked peak. Big views stretch over lakes Hawea and Wanaka, with the characteristic profiles of glaciated valleys filled with deep blue glacier-fed meltwaters.

The track is closed at certain times of the year for livestock – check dates with DOC.

Access From SH6, north of Hawea Grade Moderate Time 5hr return.

– Marios Gavalas

Wooden bridges span Catchpool Stream on the Orongorongo Track. Photo: Laurie Winter

A Rimutaka ramble

Orongorongo Track, Rimutaka Forest Park, Wellington

The well graded, metalled track undulates gently alongside Catchpool Stream, crossing bridges and passing interpretation panels. New Zealand Company surveyors were the first Europeans to venture into the inhospitable country. In 1839, Charles Heaphy and Ernst Dieffenbach explored the Rimutaka Range in search of the huia. The first crossing of the range was made by Robert Stokes, a New Zealand Company surveyor, in 1841.

The verdant forest is full of character, and changes noticeably along the track’s course. The marked contrast between the light, airy beech forest and the dense tropical-like broadleaf is breathtaking. Standing amid the towering emergent podocarps or bathing in the dappled light from the beech forest, it is easy to understand why this is considered one of the most popular walks in the region.

Return via the same track, or for a more strenuous round trip, climb to the tops and walk the Cattle Ridge and Butcher tracks.

Access End of Catchpool Stream Road, off Coast Road Grade Easy-moderate Time 3hr return.

– MG

The stock tunnel forms a unique entrance to this wild beach. Photo: Antoine Chanel

A tunnel to the wild west

Waikawau Tunnel Beach Walk, King Country

The isolated and raw beach at Waikawau is a hidden gem of the King Country coast. A stock tunnel forms a unique entrance corridor to the black sands and deeply eroded cliffs of the beach. While walking through the tunnel, the echoes of the breaking waves announce the nearby sea.

Exiting the tunnel is like stepping into another world. Tufts of flax cling precariously to the sheer faces of the spectacular sandstone cliffs. The loose rock structure is etched with lines and hollows from wind and water weathering the crumbling strata.

The tunnel was constructed with picks and shovels by Jim Richard Scott, Charlie Christofferson and Bert Perrett, all employees of the Government Works Department. It was excavated wide enough for the widest horned beast and tall enough for the tallest horseman. The tunnel opened up the beach route for stock to reach the 4050ha Nukuhakari Station.

Access 33km from both Awakino and Marokopa Grade Easy Time 45min return.

– MG

Crossing the boisterous Mararoa River en route to Kiwi Burn Hut. Photo: Pat Barrett

Total seclusion

Kiwi Burn Hut, Snowdon Forest, Southland

Southland is a sometimes forgotten gem in the crown of New Zealand’s mountain landscapes, and aside from the well known places in Fiordland National Park, many outlying areas see much less activity. That’s why this easy overnight hike, or day trip, into a serene little valley is a welcome discovery. It also comes with a modest degree of adventure – an airy swingbridge crossing over the boisterous Mararoa River which drains the exquisite Mavora Lakes.

From the bridge, the trail is immersed in beech forest standing on high terraces above the river. A short distance up Kiwi Burn, the forest recedes and easy rolling red tussock country leads gently to the nicely sited Kiwi Burn Hut. The Kiwi Burn may not have the grandeur of Milford Sound – there are no high jagged peaks, glaciers, gorges or lakes – but there is a simple and profound peace to this place, enhanced by the total seclusion it emanates. Surrounded by high thickly forested hilltops and a corridor of waving tussock heads, Kiwi Burn offers peace and tranquillity for minimum effort.

Access From Mavora Lakes Rd, off SH94 Grade Easy Time 90min to the hut.

– Pat Barrett

The Rakaia Valley from Steepface Hill. Photo: Pat Barrett

A Canterbury vista

Steepface Hill, Canterbury

Steepface Hill is well-named: though not technically difficult, it presents a significant vertical challenge.

When accessed via the appropriately named Terrible Gully easement, the ascent looks intimidating, but by angling up the north-west slopes and keeping clear of minor bluffs and scrub, Pt1488 can be reached.

From here, the views are simply stupendous as the mighty Rakaia River creates a great swathe of blue, green and grey between the ranges surrounding Lake Coleridge, much in view from this vantage, and the distant ice-pocked faces of the Southern Alps.

The view expands as the summit pyramid is approached to encompass the great grey barrier of the Mt Hutt Range, contrasted with the green table-flat expanses of the Canterbury Plains.

The summit itself is barely a bump along the ridgeline leading onto a very distant Mt Hutt, yet that enormous view is powerfully present wherever you stand.

The climb entails 1500m of vertical ascent, but if you want a more gradual approach, you could tackle the peak from the south, via Redcliffe Saddle, though this would take much longer.

Like many outstanding climbs and hikes there is a caution. For Steepface Hill it is the wind. Don’t attempt to reach the upper mountain in strong nor’west winds. It is extremely exposed to this quarter and can be dangerous.

Access From Terrible Gully on Double Hill Run Road Grade Moderate-difficult Time 3-5hr to summit.

– PB

Tackling the ridge leading to Mt Patriarch. Photo: Ray Salisbury/Lighthouse Creative

Taste of the tops 

Mt Patriarch circuit, Kahurangi National Park

Located in the southern reaches of our second largest national park, a three-day circuit of Mt Patriarch provides a great workout that will take your breath away. Climbing this 1701m hill is a highlight.

Beginning at Rolling River, the Wangapeka Track provides an easy access corridor. After an hour, the benched track becomes a bit rough, scrambling over debris from a landslide. Skeletons of drowned trees punctuate an un-named lake. Beyond this natural dam, the gold digger’s trail continues along easy river flats. The river squeezes through granite gorges, emptying into deep green pools where whio/blue duck ferry-glide in the shadows.

Cross a swingbridge to access the track up Kiwi Stream. Traverse the valley headwall and stumble into Kiwi Saddle Hut.

The next day, tramp an easy-angled tussock ridge to a junction where you can drop your pack and follow a cairned route through an alpine rock garden. Climb a staircase of scree below a prominent rock tor and scramble to the summit of Mt Patriarch. This is an impressive three-headed peak which presides over the Wangapeka Valley. Allow two hours for this detour.

Back on track, the route ahead looks impossible, but the knife-edge ridge is quite passable. There is a light ground trail to follow and water must be carried.

From Point 1566, the Gibbs Route provides a potential exit point. Watch out for kea and falcon. Ahead, Mt Baldy rises from gloomy depths into an awesome sabre tooth pinnacle. Beyond, Mts Sodom and Gomorrah are hazy silhouettes in a fantastic vista of rugged topography. Descend delightful slopes of tussock and enjoy the elemental exposure and mountain solitude.

Sneak along narrow ledges around the base of two sharp outcrops, then climb scree chutes to regain the ridge. Follow poles to John Reid Hut, nestled at the bushline. (Allow 5-7 hours for this adventurous traverse.)

The six-bunker was built in 1963 and sports a majestic view of Mt Owen. Nelson Tramping Club plan to renovate the hut next year. There is reasonable camping and a creek nearby.

On the third day, the undulating Chummies Track offers straightforward travel, where several knobs make good viewpoints before the knee-jarring 1000m descent to the valley floor.

To regain the road, the Wangapeka River must be crossed – possible only at a moderate flow. A quick hitch-hike back to Rolling River completes an interesting and challenging circuit.

Access From Rolling River junction on Wangapeka River Road Grade Difficult Time Three days.

– Ray Salisbury


Griffin Creek Hut is a dry weather trip – for obvious reasons. Photo: Andrew Smith

Deep into Westland wilderness

Griffin Creek Hut, West Coast

Hanging valleys have a perennial attraction for trampers and perhaps never more-so when they are located in the great green wilderness of the West Coast of the South Island. Yet there is a cost to visiting such places and Griffin Creek Hut demands fitness, reasonable weather and some aptitude for following lightly marked, steep bush tracks.

The prize is a remote hut, tucked away in a forgotten corner of Westland where whio/blue duck are often encountered, podocarp forest reigns supreme and the Tara Tama Range and Razorback Ridge dominate the valley head.

This overnight trip begins at Harrington Creek, which is followed for 1km to where the track begins its steep climb to Pt974m. It then drops at a matching gradient into Griffin Creek which is easily followed upstream to the hut. This is truly a deep forest, deep wilderness experience which resonates from every face of the valley.

There is also an alternative way out over a bushy saddle to Rocky Creek Hut and back to SH73, but take care with route finding. If you are not adept at this, then just return the way you came in.

Access Off SH73 at Harrington Creek, 1km west of Griffin Creek Grade Difficult Time 4-5hr to hut.

– PB

A tough route to Mt Stokes rewards with the best views of the Marlborough Sounds. Photo: Daniel Rauber

Atop the Marlborough Sounds

Mt Stokes Track, Pelorus Sound

Mt Stokes (1203m) is the highest point in the Marlborough Sounds and is reached on a steep, rough and sometimes indistinct track.

The first 30 minutes is not bad going – relatively even and well-formed. When the real ascent starts, things get tougher – although there are orange triangles to help aid navigation, they are sporadic.

Mt Stokes cops the full brunt of Cook Strait winds and periodic storms ravage the forest. The place can look like a bomb site, with tree fall and other debris criss-crossing the trail. As altitude is gained, the silver beech becomes more stunted and draped with moss.

All of a sudden, the forest ends and with a short steep climb you pop out onto the summit herbfields and the viewpoint of the Marlborough Sounds. Keen botanists should keep an eye out for the rare alpine plant Celmisia macmahonii, a species thought to live here and nowhere else.

Access Approximately 80km from Picton, at the junction of Anakoha and Titirangi roads Grade Moderate Time 4hr return.

– MG

A suspension bridge over Waiorongomai Stream provides excitement on the Piako County Tramway Track. Photo: Aaron Torrey

A not-so golden past

Waiorongomai Valley, Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park, Thames

In 1880, Hone Werahiko discovered gold on the western slopes of Mt Te Aroha. After continued prospecting, there seemed to be substantial quantities of gold around Buck Reef.

In 1882, Jesiah Firth, one of New Zealand’s richest men at the time, and James Clarke formed the Te Aroha Battery Company and brought the 40-stamp Piako Battery to the Waiorongomai from Thames. They constructed two water races and spent £20,000 constructing one of the largest crushing plants in the country.

After the huge initial investments in infrastructure, further excavations didn’t live up to expectations. In 1908, most of the plant was removed following disappointing results and in 1912 the Firth and Clarke Battery burned down. Mines Inspector J.F. Downey described the history of mining on the Waiorongomai goldfield as ‘one long chapter of disaster’.

Today, many of the old tracks used by packhorses to deliver goods around the goldfield can still be used to explore the valley. Most are well-formed, wide and even. All tracks cross side streams with waterfalls which are usually passable without getting wet feet.

It is a steady climb up the valley following the Piako County Tramway, past the many artefacts of the gold mining heyday. Butlers Incline Track is the highlight. DOC has recently undertaken a huge restoration project, which now enriches the imagination with visions of the valley’s stories.

Access From Waiorongomai Road, 4km south of Te Aroha Grade Easy-moderate Time A day to explore the valley.

– MG

View of Whangaroa Harbour from Duke’s Nose. Photo: David Artioli/Creative Commons

A harbour highlight

Wairakau Stream Track, Northland

The Whangaroa Harbour is most famous for being the scene of the burning of the Boyd in 1809, when local Maori, angered at the captain’s treatment of chief Te Ara, attacked and killed most of the crew and passengers.

It’s a two-hour walk along Wairakau Stream Track to Lane Cove Hut, a 16-bunker that must be booked and that can also be reached by water taxi (www.whangaroawater.co.nz).

The two crossings of Wairakau Stream are in quick succession. Wet feet are unavoidable.

The track also crosses waterlogged areas, long grass on the valley floor, side streams and slips, some of which are sizeable and muddy.

There is a side track to Kairara Rock (Duke’s Nose) that used to be a highlight but is now closed while DOC awaits funding to install new chains to help walkers up the rockface. The track climbs steadily through forest for 25 minutes. The final few metres involve climbing the near-vertical rock face to the summit, but the matrix of stones embedded in the rock allows for good hand and foot holds – though without the chain to assist your ascent you must be capable of basic rock climbing to attempt this walk.

The landscape resembles a miniature fiord. Turquoise waters blend with mangrove forests at the base of the cliffs, from where the lush forest climbs the valley sides. The top of the bluffs have been weathered to form bulbous pedestals, ready to topple at any moment. Duke’s Nose is one such example. This is a unique Tolkienesque landscape.

Access SH10 to Kahoe Bridge, then Totara North Road and Campbell Road Grade Easy Time 5hr return.

– MG

Cape Palliser Lighthouse marks the start of the windy journey north to White Rock Beach. Photo: Copyright: jaykayl / 123RF Stock Photo Copyright: jaykayl / 123RF Stock Photo

Walking with the wind 

Cape Palliser to White Rock Coastal Walk, Wairarapa

Your companion on this walk will likely be the wind. When weather forecasters refer to exposed places, here is where they are talking about. The ferocity of the gusts gyrate the flax leaves and cause the cabbage trees to chatter, making you walk with a lean, like a drunkard with a skin full of strong cider.

The fierce waves often have trouble making it to shore as the spindrift peels off the crest and is taken on the wind into a violent dance.

The track follows a rough 4WD road for most of its length at the base of the Aorangi Range, skirting the coastline until reaching White Rock Beach. Keep to the track, as it is private property on both sides. The track initially passes a landscape of coastal rocky outcrops, flax bushes, cabbage trees, tea-tree and two enclosure plots of toroaro, an endangered, small leaved coastal plant.

Shortly before crossing the shallow and narrow Waitetuna Stream, there are the remains of Maori stone walls, running perpendicular to the shoreline, which were constructed as early as 1230AD.

Rounding the promontory, tea-tree, forced to grow low in submission to the wind, almost reaches the shore. The track ahead traverses the Ngapotiki Fan, a talus slope unconsolidated by vegetation. White Rock Beach and the gleaming quartz outcrop shimmer in the salt-laden wind.

Access From the end of Cape Palliser Road Grade Moderate Time 6hr return.

– MG

A relic from the login days. Photo: Peter Janssen

A Waitakere gem

Zion Hill Track-Pararaha Valley-Karekare Beach, Auckland

A glade of huge pohutukawa trees marks the start of the Zion Hill Track, which leads to the 272m summit along a steady, but not difficult, climb. There are numerous viewpoints over the dunes and beach at Karekare for those in need of a rest.

From the summit, the track drops into the Pararaha Valley through stands of young kauri, fine old kohekohe trees and dense groves of nikau palms. On the lower slopes, the track is overhung with kowhai, speckling the ground with yellow petals in the spring.

The Zion Hill Track meets the Buck Taylor Track and from there it’s a 10 minute walk to the wetlands of the Pararaha Valley. Easy to follow with good signage, the tracks are rough and muddy in parts, though the first section is currently being upgraded.

Over the past 70 years, the shifting sands at the mouth of the Manukau Harbour have built up a very wide beach stretching to Karekare. Between the beach and the steep coastal cliffs are extensive wetlands of deep ponds, raupo swamp and thick scrubland, home to common and endangered birds. New Zealand dotterel, bittern, fernbird, along with pukeko, ducks and geese all thrive in the sheltered dune ponds. The area has been designated a Scientific Reserve, the highest status of environmental protection, and is one of very few such reserves open to the public (dogs are strictly prohibited).

Boardwalks wind through the Pararaha swamp to the higher sand dunes near the beach. Just north of the valley and tucked in below the cliffs are the most significant remains of the old timber tramline, an old boiler engine and a short tunnel. This narrow tramline began from a wharf just inside the Manukau Heads and ran along the base of the cliffs to Karekare and was used to extract timber until it finally closed in 1886.

The line of towering cliffs marks the eastern lip of the gigantic Waitakere volcano. Erupting about 15 million years ago, the volcano was active for about six million years and at its greatest extent had a diameter of 50km.

From this point, it is an easy walk back to Karekare.

Access From Karekare Beach car park Grade Moderate Time 3hr.

– Peter Janssen