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In the shadow of greatness

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October 2018 Issue

At some point, you’re going to want to throw off the training wheels in search of a more adventurous backcountry experience. These 10 walks offer the next step beyond the greats.

1. Around the Mountain Circuit, Egmont National Park

Circling what could be considered New Zealand’s most scenic volcano, this loop will give you a new perspective and appreciation of this monolithic peak. 

Going from thick forest to stunted, moss-covered goblin forest and up into the scarred alpine terrain higher up Mt Taranaki, the 52km track traverses a range of environments. 

Despite its symmetrical appearance, Taranaki’s different faces also prove remarkably different, from the scoured south and western side to Fanthams Peak, clinging like a mini-me to its south-eastern flank, and the smoother terrain of the northside. 

The six huts on the track also offer great viewpoints of the mountain and views across the Taranaki plains and coastline.

Predator control projects have brought about a resurgence in birdlife in the park – the government and local councils plan to spend $47m making the entire region predator-free by 2023.

For those with more time, or looking for more of a challenge, there are excellent side trips to Pouakai Range or Syme Hut on Fanthams Peak – the best-sited hut on the mountain, or take a day to climb the 2518m summit.

Being the only prominent peak in the region, Taranaki also takes the brunt of the weather, so it pays to be flexible. But the track has numerous well-spaced exit points if the weather packs in.

 

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The sand dunes off Ruggedy Beach on the North West Circuit. Photo: Danilo Hegg

2. North West Circuit, Stewart Island

Circumnavigating the top of Stewart Island, the North West Circuit is a challenging 10-day expedition, giving you more of the beaches, forest and birdlife that the island is renowned for.

The 125km loop features 13 huts and three campsites, including the only two huts on the Great Walk.

The circuit follows the Rakiura Track to Port William Hut on the first day, then continues up the coastline, alternating between forest, rocky headlands and golden sand beaches. After reaching the vast Mason Bay Beach, the track heads inland through vast sand dunes and marshy terrain before rejoining the east coast of the island.

After nine days in the backcountry, the track then rejoins the Rakiura Great Walk at North Arm Hut, and follows the well-formed track back to Oban.

Crucible Lake is a must-do side trip on the Gillespie Pass Circuit. Photo: Simon Thompson

3. Gillespie Pass Circuit, Mt Aspiring National Park

The circuit heads into the heart of the Southern Alps, where rainforest meets the dry tussock lands of Central Otago and braided rivers and beech forest contrast with jagged mountains.

Just an hour’s drive from Wanaka on the road to Haast, the circuit is one of the more accessible multi-day alpine tramps in the Southern Alps.

The 58km loop takes three-to-four days, with the crux of the tramp being Gillespie Pass. Climbing from Young Hut (740m), up to 1629m, before descending 1000m to Siberia Hut, it’s a challenging day, even in fine weather.

From Siberia, many people spend an extra day climbing to Crucible Lake, which fills a basin surrounded by a cirque of rock rising to 2360m. The lake is often filled with icebergs and is a highlight of the trip.

The Rees-Dart trail begins through high country farmland in Rees Valley. Photo: Tomas Sobek Photography

4. Rees-Dart Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

Following two scenic river valleys and surrounded by glaciated peaks, the Rees-Dart Track is great in everything but name.

The four-to-five day walk essentially forms a loop around Mt Earnslaw (2830m) and the Forbes Mountains.

Starting just north of Glenorchy, the track follows the wide Rees Valley before it narrows and the track climbs to Rees Saddle (1471m). The trail then descends to Dart Hut beside its namesake river. From the hut, there are excellent options for day walks to the Dart or Whitbourn glaciers, or Cascade Saddle, which features views into the Matukituki Valley and to Mt Aspiring.

The track then follows the Dart Valley through beech forest and river flats before reaching a substantial lake created by a landslide which blocked the river in 2014 and closed the track for three years.

The track then opens out into a braided river valley and finishes near Paradise, not far from the Routeburn Track.

The Hollyford Valley is classic Fiordland. Photo: Pseudopanax/CreativeCommons

5. Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

Running below the precipitous Darran Mountains and taking in two secluded lakes before reaching the golden sand of Martins Bay, the Hollyford Track has no shortage of spectacular scenery.

The 56km track is also relatively flat – it has a high point of just 160m – making it one of the few Fiordland tramps which can be walked year-round.

It starts near Key Summit and the western end of the Routeburn Track, and takes four to five days with six backcountry huts.

The one downside is that the walk is one-way, requiring a helicopter or aeroplane flight from Martin’s Bay, or backtracking to the Hollyford Road-end (this may explain why it hasn’t reached ‘great’ status). However, the Hollyford can be turned into a challenging 10-day loop, by continuing on to Big Bay and returning via the Pyke Big Bay Route.

Rising to the tussock tops, the Old Ghost Road has excellent views. Photo: Richard Rossiter

6. The Old Ghost Road, West Coast

Following an old gold miners’ route, the tramping and mountain biking track traverses through native forest, tussock tops and river valleys, making for a classic West Coast experience.

The 85km track takes four to five days to walk, or two or three days to mountain bike and includes six huts. It was developed by a community trust and opened in 2015.

Starting from the gold mining ghost town of Lyell, the trail heads into thick beech forest, following a well-graded former miners’ track, traversing steep hillsides. Gold was discovered in the region in 1862 and the trail features the remnants of mining settlements, such as rusting shovels and rail bogies.

It climbs to a high point at Mt Montgomery (1332m) and traverses the open tops of the Lyell Range with excellent views, before descending to the Stern and then Goat Creek valleys.

The track finishes with the impressive Mokihinui Gorge, which ends at Seddonville.

7. Travers-Sabine Circuit, Nelson Lakes National Park

The Travers-Sabine has long been a must-do for trampers, featuring some of the best scenery of Nelson Lakes National Park: forested valleys, rugged peaks and crystal-clear lakes.

The track starts and ends at Lake Rotoiti, circumnavigating the impressive Travers Range (2278m) via the Travers and Sabine valleys before reaching Lake Rotoroa, the largest lake in the national park.

The 80km tramp takes four-to-seven days. The crux of the trip is Travers Saddle, a challenging 1787m pass which is followed by a steep 1100m descent to West Sabine Hut.

But the track is also very popular and with seven evenly-spaced huts, you can pace yourself, making for a less daunting prospect.

For the more experienced, there is a generous number of side-trips to alpine valleys, like the picturesque Lake Angelus and its namesake hut 1650m up the Travers Range, or Blue Lake, regarded as the clearest lake in the world.

The rugged north-west face of Mt Ruapehu on the Round the Mountain Track. Photo: George Driver

8. Round the Mountain Track, Tongariro National Park

A desert, forests, moonscape-like volcanic terrain and 360-degree views from the highest mountain in the North Island makes the Round the Mountain Track the complete Ruapehu experience.

More remote and challenging than the Northern Circuit, the 66km track also has more variety than the Great Walk, and you’ll appreciate not having to jostle with the crowds on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

The track undulates between varied forest, long sections above the bushline in the scoured volcanic terrain that characterises Ruapehu, and across the arid Rangipo Desert.

The five regularly spaced huts break the daunting walk down into manageable chunks.

In good weather, the summit can be climbed as an additional day trip from Whakapapa ski field.

For an extra challenge, try it in winter, when the landscape is transformed beneath a winter coat of snow.

9. Tararua Southern Crossing, Tararua Range

The Southern Crossing has long been regarded as one of the greats of New Zealand tramping.

The 34km route was created in the early 1900s and has been a favourite of Wellington trampers for about 100 years.

After climbing through the forest, much of the track is on the tussock tops of the Tararua Range.

Renowned for rapidly changing weather, on a good day the tramp has views to the South Island’s Kaikoura Ranges and Marlborough Sounds, and you’d hope so, with 2912m of total ascent.

Starting from Otaki Forks, the track climbs through regenerating scrub and forest to the historic Field Hut before broaching the bushline. It continues through tussock land before reaching Kime Hut at 1400m. The next highlight is Mt Hector (1529m), which features views as far as Mt Taranaki and the seemingly endless forested valleys of the Tararuas.

The track then traverses narrow ridges, known as The Beehives, to reach Alpha Hut on the bushline, before descending to the Hells Gate Saddle and traversing the forested Marchant Ridge to the trail end.

There are no shortage of stunning coastal views on the Te Paki Coastal Track. Photo: Mark Watson

10. Te Paki Coastal TrackCape Reinga

Hopping between golden-sand beaches in the ‘winterless’ north, the Te Paki Coastal Track is like a quieter version of the Abel Tasman Coast Track.

Following the coastline around the northern tip of New Zealand, the 48km walk takes three or four days. There are no huts on the route, but four excellent beachside campsites.

The walk undulates between long stretches of beach walking and traverses above rocky headlands through coastal scrub and finishes by weaving through incredible sand dunes off Ninety Mile Beach.

Highlights include the 10km walk along the beach at Spirits Bay and the secluded Pandora Campsite on Whangakea Beach and the meeting of the seas at Cape Reinga, where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean collide.

Experiencing both the east and west coast beaches in one walk also means you get great sunrises and sunsets.