We live in a country filled with best views, piled one on another. Every time you need a break in the hills there is a best view somewhere. There’s no golden rule as to what makes a view stunning – often it is the magic of the light, the season, how open our eyes are to seeing what there is to see.
1. Cape Reinga, Te Paki Recreation Reserve, Northland
Golden beaches, craggy headlands, toitoi and flax plumes are a feature of this fine destination
From Cape Maria van Diemen, the wide, warm sands of Te Werahi Beach lead north to hilly Cape Reinga, where the lighthouse is visible on the ridgeline. To get to Cape Maria van Diemen either follow the DOC track from the Cape Reinga car park down to the beach and follow it south on the Te Araroa Trail, or head in on DOC tracks from the highway further south at Te Werahi Gate.
I first saw this view after a night out at Twilight Beach a little to the south. We had watched the sun set in the sea, slept out and wandered up to Cape Maria van Diemen next morning like true vagabonds. Wonderful sand beaches and headlands appeared everywhere, with sheltered little bays to snorkel in. It was idyllic, and the views of rugged coastline spectacular.
Grade Easy Time 3hr from Cape Reinga to Cape Maria van Diemen
2. Mt Heale Hut, Great Barrier Island/Aotea
A new hut provides exquisite views of Hauraki Gulf islands
Out in the Hauraki Gulf, Little Barrier seems almost suspended above the ocean, with beams of late sun raking the rugged island. From Mt Heale Hut, there’s an outstanding view of the island nature sanctuary.
Perched at 500m, the comfortable, modern hut has one of the most expansive panoramas of any in the north. With a deck spanning two sides, the hut also offers commanding views over the bush-clad interior of Great Barrier Island, across the waters of Fitzroy Harbour and beyond to the Auckland mainland.
One of only two huts on Auckland’s largest island, Mt Heale Hut was built in 2010 near its namesake spear-shaped peak. Undoubtedly the most scenic track of several leading to the hut is the Windy Canyon route, which passes through a remarkable chasm in the volcanic topography, before climbing over the summit of Mt Hobson, the highest peak on Great Barrier, and descending down to Mt Heale Hut.
DOC has undertaken serious effort to upgrade the island’s tracks and build the hut; more Aucklanders – and other New Zealanders – should visit the island to enjoy this extraordinary location.
Grade Easy/moderate Time 2-3 days (Mt Heale Hut via Windy canyon 3-4hr)
3. Omanawanui Track, Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, Auckland
A remote corner of Auckland’s best hiking asset provides the best view
Be warned, you won’t be alone if you hike the Omanawanui Track to Whatipu. This popular section of the Hillary Trail regularly has boots and trail runners treading its snaking ridgeline.
It’s busy, but not crowded so is well worth the long drive to the start of the track which no doubt deters many because an unbridged stream must be forded and the road is gravelled for the final 5km to just past the frighteningly-named Destruction Gully.
The track undulates, with a few stiff climbs thrown in for good measure, on its descent to Whatipu. About half-way along though is the highlight of the trip: a trig station at Pt 241. Here, you are a world away from a city that is home to 1.4 million people. You could be in the remotest corner of the country for all the wildness and isolation you feel.
For here is a grand view of the entrance to Manukau Harbour. South Head is directly opposite and below the wild waters that mark this narrow causeway between harbour and the horizon-swallowing Tasman Sea.
Grade Easy/moderate Time 2hr
4. Pirongia Mountain, Pirongia Forest Park, Waikato
Escape the rat race on an extinct volcano
Just one massif along a stretch of extinct volcanoes that once ruptured the surface of the western Waikato, Pirongia Mountain is an island of bush among the dairy country of the surrounding region.
Only 25min from Hamilton, here one can escape into an ancient world of podocarp forest and supple jack vines and emerge (perhaps only slightly muddy) above the tree line into a subalpine landscape. While once you might have had to stand on tip-toes to see over the montane plants on Pirongia’s summit, there’s now a viewing platform that gives you an advantage over the scrub and offers 360-degree views: Mt Karioi, near Raglan, to the north-west is a notable highpoint, while Te Awamutu and Hamilton punctuate the rich rolling grassland to the east and north. Overnighters will be pleased to know that Pahautea Hut is not far from the summit.
The highest mountain in the Waikato, Pirongia offers great views from more than just its top. The relatively quickly reached trig at Ruapane (723m) gives excellent views north and is a great spot for a picnic if you’re not inclined to have a long day out. Wharauroa and Mahaukura too, on the eastern side of the mountain, are striking craggy outcrops with sweeping views to the north and west.
Grade Easy/moderate Time 3hr to two days
5. Hikurangi, Raukumara Range, East Cape
A singular view from a sacred mountain
The jewel in the crown of North Island’s East Cape, 1752m Hikurangi offers one of the world’s most unique views. As a new day dawns, it’s the first mainland location on Earth to see the sun.
While you might be captivated by that distant star’s orange globe breaking the horizon, if you look around you’ll see a folded landscape below you. The sea’s not far to the east and to the west the rugged Raukumara Range, the North Island’s largest unbroken remnant of native bush, stretches away; ridge after rolling ridge. In between is rugged farming country, home to small Maori communities.
While the 4WD track is far from a classic, after you reach the Gisborne Canoe and Tramping Club Hut at 1200m the remaining 500 vertical metres are through twisted beech forest and a rich variety of subalpine plants. After gaining height on a rising sidle the route to the summit enters a steep gravelly gut which lands you in a dramatic position on a precipitous summit ridge in between the two peaks. The left (northern peak) is more easily reached, and if you’ve climbed in the dark (and it’s not cloudy) you’ll soon be rewarded with the touch of the sun on your face from the highest non-volcanic peak in the North Island.
Grade Easy/moderate Time Two days. Permission is required from the Runanga Ngati Porou to access Mt Hikurangi.
6. Panekire Bluff, Te Urewera National Park
A lake surrounded by ridge after ridge of unbroken forest
Panekire Bluff rises a sheer 400m above the sea of rippling waters at Lake Waikaremoana. Many a tramper tackling the Great Walk has rested from their exertions here, perched on a rock with legs dangling over the abyss.
Perhaps nowhere else in New Zealand does the enormity of an unbroken forested extent impress as much as Te Urewera. From Panekire, across the sprawling arms of the lake, ridge after green ridge stretch seemingly forever.
The long bluff is the highest point above the lake, with the track passing close to its edge in several places. Panekire Hut is set just back from the cliff.
Grade Moderate Time Onepoto to Panekire Hut, 4-5hr
7. Pouakai Range, Egmont National Park, Taranaki
A place to view the perfect symmetry of Mt Egmont/Taranaki
The Pouakai Range is the eroded remains of a volcano once similar in size and shape to Mt Egmont/Taranaki itself. The range boasts what are arguably the best views in Egmont National Park – aside from the summit of the mountain itself.
The tussock ridge above Pouakai Hut sports two small tarns, and these make a fine foreground to reflect Mt Taranaki, which, from this angle, has an almost perfect symmetry. Below is the Ahukawakawa Swamp, a large wetland occupying the large basin between the mountain and the Pouakai Range. Dawn and dusk are ideal times to enjoy the view, and on occasions mist drapes the swamp and lower lying flanks of the mountain, with the upper peak seemingly suspended above the sea of cloud.
Grade Moderate Time Either as part of the 2-3 day Pouakai Circuit, or via the 3-4hr Mangorei Track.
8. Mt Ruapehu, Tongariro National Park
An easily attainable view that stretches long into the night
Pack your tent – or your shovel if you know how to build a snow cave – and spend the night on the North Island’s highest summit.
Mt Ruapehu’s massive bulk is an easy climb at any time of year, especially if you utilise the chairlifts on Whakapapa Ski Field to speed your ascent.
Views from high places are always good, but due to Ruapehu’s massive bulk many on this climb are hidden until the very last moment. This is the case as you climb from the chairlift and get out of the shadow of Pinnacle Ridge. Suddenly Ngauruhoe and Tongariro appear, dazzling beneath their winter coats. Higher still and over your shoulder, Mt Egmont/Taranaki, some 130km away, rises like a white-headed pimple from green, green pastures.
But it’s from the huge expanse of the Summit Plateau, which offers limitless options for pitching the tent, that the best views are reserved. If you’re wise you’ll choose a spot close to the eastern or western edge so you won’t have far to go to appreciate the vista over the surrounding countryside. Stick to the eastern side and laid out before you is the Mangatoetoenui Glacier, a gorgeous, crampon-crunching route off the mountain if you’ve arranged transport from Tukino Ski Field. On the horizon, the snow-covered tops (in winter at least) of the Ruahine Range hint at the promise of yet more wild and remote trips.
On the western side, watch the sun sink beneath the horizon, gaze into the far distance and wonder if anyone has climbed Egmont/Taranaki that night who might be looking back at you.
As night falls, the views just get better. For those who step out from their warm shelter, the wispy cloud-like Milky Way circles overhead, so bright and clear this far from light pollution that picking out familiar constellations among the numerous bright lights proves difficult.
This final view will leave you in little doubt as to the true scale of things.
Grade Moderate Time 3.5-4.5hr from Whakapapa Ski Field’s top chairlift
9. Urchin, Kaimanawa Forest Park
A striking view of the central North Island volcanoes
Sometimes you can be distracted by the sheer number of mountains and other landmarks visible from a viewpoint. The beauty of this view from 1392m Urchin the Kaimanawa Ranges is that the eye is drawn straight to the dominant North Island landmark – the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park.
The summit of Urchin is an easy climb through beech forest and as soon as you hit the tops, Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe draw the eye. They seem close enough to touch across the Rangipo Desert and only the march of the pylons along the Desert Road hints at the civilisation not far below.
You could make this an easy day trip, or, if you wanted to overnight, there is a great campsite at the bottom of the track in the Waipakihi Valley. Water can be difficult to find on the tops around here.
Grade Easy/moderate Time Two days, camping required
10. Ruahine Corner Hut, Ruahine Forest Park
Interesting forest, curious topography and big sky country
A subtle, yet spectacular view is the red tussock Mangaohane Plateau viewed from Ruahine Corner Hut in the northern Ruahines.
The limestone plateau is ringed by bluffs and carpeted in distinctive forest. From the small hut on the edge of the plateau, the red tussock, the kaikawaka trees and the limestone cliffs of Te Rakaunuiakura all come together to create a dramatic landscape.
This is a solid weekend trip, but the tramping – and views – are so good around here that you could comfortably spend much more time exploring.
Grade Moderate Time Two-three days
11. Elder Hut, Tararua Forest Park, Wellington
A classic Tararua tramp with views of Wellington from a comfortable hut
What could be better than a stunning view? How about a stunning view of your home town from a cute hut?
The Southern Crossing is a famous tramping route, mainly because of the extensive views of the greater Wellington region from the tops on a rare good day. A neat way to spend a little more time and really appreciate the view is to leave the Southern Crossing at Aston and head south along the long bush-covered Renata Ridge. Elder Hut nestles on the south side of 1110m Elder, just above the bushline.
The views from the tops are enhanced with a cup of tea in hand and a comfortable bunk to spend the night in.
Grade Moderate Time Two days.
12. Arete Biv, Tararua Forest Park
A view of the tussock ridges of the Tararuas
A more subtle and intimate view of the Tararuas is gained by looking along the main range from two-bunk Arete Biv. The biv itself is at the heart of the Tararuas with the five major rivers of the range all rising on Arete’s slopes. The biv is small but comfortable, and in good weather the camping is spectacular. The sunrise and sunsets from the Tararua tops are something to prize, mostly because fine weather is relatively rare!
Grade Moderate Time Two days