There are 16 blistering hot weekends between New Year’s eve and Easter. Our summer play list includes breezy campsites, river splashing tramps, beachside huts and kayak adventures. Or, as you might like to put it: your best summer ever.
Words by Shaun Barnett, Ray Salisbury, Tania Seward, Peter Laurenson, Chris Prudden and Neil Silverwood
Camping in rabbit country
Lake Tennyson and Clarence River headwaters
Lake Tennyson and the surrounding mountains are the epitome of much north Canterbury high country. Peaks that top 2000m, valleys where the winds stir the tussocks, and glistening rivers and lakes.
Rabbits once over-ran this country, and there’s an historic rabbit-proof fence still on site. It was futile; the bunnies weren’t halted, and now the marginal country is no longer farmed. Lake Tennyson, named after the English writer, occupies a basin between high, dry mountains, its blue waters providing a pleasant contrast to the gold tussocks and grey screes.
From the shelter and camping area, cross the lake outlet, and follow a vehicle track around the southern shores to pick up a sketchy track on the western bank. This pushes through copses of beech trees, and sidles high to avoid some lakeshore bluffs before emerging onto an old shingle fan near the lake head. Here, the infant Clarence River washes into the lake; it’s a tame beast this close to its headwaters, with none of the volume it so quickly accumulates downstream. Take your pick of great campsites; either beside the lake, or head up-valley where opening vistas reward any extra effort. Like most of this mountainous country, the valley was carved by glaciers, long since retreated to leave terrain flat enough for the most pleasant of tramping gaits: ambling.
Access From Lake Tennyson Campsite, off Tophouse Road Grade Easy Time 2-3hr
Lane Cove Hut, Northland
The Lane family ran sawmills at Totara North, and in 1922 built a bach on the edge of Pekapeka Bay, Whangaroa Harbour. After many happy summers here, the family decided to sell the bach and surrounding land to the Department of Lands and Survey in the 1970s. Now managed by DOC, the cottage has been converted into a public hut and, along with the surrounding forest, is part of the Ranfurly Bay Scenic Reserve.
The hut is reached on foot via the Waiarakau Stream Track, or by water in a taxi or sea kayak. With a deck overlooking Pekapeka Bay and the northern side of the harbour, the two-roomed cottage is an ideal base for a family holiday. Not surprisingly, it’s very popular over summer, and must be booked well in advance through the DOC website.
The side-track to Kairara Rock (or Dukes Nose) climbs steeply to an outstanding viewpoint, ending with a section where you haul yourself up a chain on an almost-vertical rock pitch. Whangaroa Harbour is among the most spectacular of Northland’s many harbours, with steep peaks that were once volcanoes.
Access Campbell Road Grade Easy Time 2hr via Wairakau Stream Track
A classic circuit
Angelus Hut, Nelson Lakes National Park
Unfortunately the secret’s out. Lonely Planet has featured this walk now for a few years, which means booking ahead in the summer months if you want a spot at Angelus Hut. But there’s a reason for the attention.
For rapid ease of access to expansive alpine tops vistas, Robert Ridge is hard to beat. And at the end of a solid day in your boots, at the south end of Robert Ridge you’re rewarded with an idyllic scene in the basin containing Lake Angelus and the lavishly appointed Angelus Hut. Angelus Peak and other high points almost completely surround you as you sit back to enjoy alpine tarn tranquillity and, hopefully, a gorgeous sunset.
Not only is Lake Angelus a beautiful and spectacular spot, but it’s also the junction for several tracks, such as the magnificent trip over Sunset Saddle and down to Hopeless Hut.
But for an overnight trip, returning along the Speargrass Track, down Speargrass Creek and through lovely beech forest (with the chance to bag Speargrass Hut) makes for a great loop.
Access Robert Road, St Arnaud Grade Moderate Time Robert Ridge route, 6hr; Speargrass Track, 6hr
A perch for the night
Camp on Cone Ridge, Tararua Forest Park
Like many subsidiary ridges, Cone is perfectly situated to offer a grandstand view of the higher ranges beyond. Most of Cone Ridge is covered in stunted silver beech forest, but Cone (1080m) itself offers a few hectares of open country, and makes a fine place to camp. A small tarn on the northern end provides water, but it would pay to take some as well.
The most direct access is from Waiohine Gorge Road, where the tramp starts by crossing a footbridge spectacularly high above the river. Climb a well-used track through mixed podocarp-beech forest onto the ridge, then divert along to Cone Saddle, to a track crossroads. Keep on the ridge, climbing until the trees begin to thin as the altitude takes hold.
A tiny perch, right on the bushline, makes a sheltered spot during windy weather, but only has capacity for one small tent among the stunted trees. From Cone itself, a broad arc of the Tararua Main Range spreads before you, but it’s probably the vertiginous Tararua Peaks that most draw the eye.
Access Waiohine Gorge Road Grade Moderate Time 4-6hr
Sawcut Gorge and Isolation Hut, Marlborough
Southern Marlborough is not your typical tramping country; the hot summer sun gleams off white boulders so chalky you’ll need sunglasses even in the valley. Curious plants, such as the showy Marlborough rock daisy, grow in improbable clumps on the cliff-sides, along with a profusion of other locally endemic shrubs. Then there are groves of matai, with their distinctive trunks showing hammer-like indentations, and their roots sunk deep in shattered rocks.
And finally, there’s Sawcut Gorge – a slot so narrow you can almost touch both sides.
From Blue Mountain Station, it’s a half-day tramp up the Waima River on a well-defined route to reach the gorge. Here, just where the chalky peaks start to look imposing, the route abruptly swings left, into a defile that narrows and narrows until you reach the slot gorge itself. Fifty metres high, and a couple of hundred metres through, it’s a place where the limestone walls, rippling stream and shadows mingle in a display of mesmerising light and form.
A short distance upstream is Isolation Hut, a tidy six-bunker offering pleasant accommodation.
Access From the end of Ure Road Grade Easy Time 3.5hr
Perfection in Abel Tasman
Te Pukatea Bay, Abel Tasman National Park
A strip of golden sand circles an aquamarine cove of the clearest water, hemmed by native bush.
You can’t get much better than this slice of Abel Tasman National Park in high summer. While it’s part of a popular Great Walk, the vast majority of walkers stay at nearby Anchorage Hut.
From Marahau, follow the easy Coast Track as it meanders around a delightful selection of beaches: Apple Tree, Stilwell and Akersten – all worthwhile detours and swimming spots. A gradual haul over the clay tops provides a stunning vista of the park, before the descent to the thriving metropolis of Anchorage Hut. Continue to the end of the beach and cross the headland to reach the sandy and sheltered DOC campsite. Since you booked in advance, you know there’ll be room to spare.
If you’re restless, try the short loop walk to Pitt Head, or go for a well-deserved swim.
Access From Marahau Grade Easy Time 4.5hr
Stafford Hut, South Westland
A stone’s throw from the Jackson Bay jetty, you can disappear into the bush. You’ll really be off the radar on this route, which is arguably the West Coast’s best kept secret.
In 1876, a road was cut from here in the direction of the Cascade Plateau, and the easily-graded, benched track to Stafford Hut follows its line, ascending a low bush saddle. Before you can say ‘Jackson Bay’ you’ll be dropping down Saddle Creek to a signed junction.
From here, a well-marked route travels up Smoothwater River, criss-crossing it until Kakapo Creek, which becomes more narrow and slippery. Gators are recommended to keep out the hook grass and sandflies.
Stafford Saddle (243m) is a moderately steep ascent and the Tasman Sea is visible through a screen of juvenile rimu, lancewood and tree fern. Drop down a spur track into an unnamed feeder stream. This section calls for good navigational skills and a sense of adventure, as you boulder-hop along a small gorge.
A delightful stream-bash along the Stafford River flats ensues.
Orange markers show shortcuts through mixed podocarp. Toetoe flats on the true right hide an old deer enclosure – the nearby hut was used as a culler’s base during the 1970s. A trail on the true left is marked with a fishing buoy, revealing the six-bunk Stafford Hut, beautifully positioned amongst rimu, palms, flax and toetoe. A generous balcony and large window face the lagoon and, beyond, the ocean crashing over the bar.
At low tide you can follow the coast north to Smoothwater Bay, to complete a circuit.
This is low-lying country with lazy waterways that sparkle in the sunshine.
Access From Haast-Jackson Bay Road Grade Easy-moderate Time 3-5hr each way
Mitre Flats Hut, via the Barra Track, Tararua Forest Park
Getting to Mitre Flats Hut is quite easy by Tararua standards, but not as easy as the map suggests. While there is minimal height gain required, the Barra Track undulates single-mindedly up and down over a root-infested trail most of the way and proves extremely slippery when wet. (In summer, a fun alternative is to follow the Waingawa River bed.)
Mitre Flats Hut is fairly modern with a nice veranda, sleeping 20. Nestled on a grassy flat beside the Waingawa River and surrounded on all sides by dense bush, it’s a nice spot to relax and enjoy summer swims in the river, or to prepare for an ascent of Mitre. At 1571m, Mitre is the Tararuas’ highest peak and, after the rooty access experience, a surprisingly well-graded ridge climb.
Mitre Flats Hut is also the jumping off point to other destinations such as Cow Creek Hut, 3-4hr upriver, and Jumbo Hut, 5-6hr south via the rugged Barton Track.
Access From Upper Waingawa Road Grade Easy Time 4hr
A slice of the Heaphy
Heaphy River Lagoon, Kahurangi NP
One of the best spots in Kahurangi has to be where the sluggish Heaphy River slithers like a snake to the sea. Cutting a generously wide, green lagoon through the dunes before colliding with the surf, there is room to rest here, between the danger and the decadence; between the wild and the well-trodden.
Approach the Heaphy Track from the south – by the time you’ve travelled as far as Karamea, you should have slowed down a bit. Cross the swingbridge at Kohaihai into a world of tropical beauty. The easy track is lined with nikau palms on the right, and spectacular coastal scenery on the left; a veritable corridor into paradise.
You won’t want to leave in a hurry: DOC has recently built a luxurious new hut and the nearby lagoon is perhaps the best for swimming in all of New Zealand.
Access From Karamea-Kohaihai Road Grade Easy Time 4hr
A trip that has it all
Mt Peel and Balloon Hut, Kahurangi National Park
If you agree that variety is the spice of life, but only have two days to play with, then a trip to Balloon Hut via Lake Peel and Mt Peel is worth considering.
From Cobb Reservoir a trail quickly ascends through bush onto a ridge at 1300m. From here, it’s tops-lover’s heaven as you make your way first to beautiful Lake Peel then, via a scree scramble, to the summit of Mt Peel (1654m). The summit offers a panorama taking in most of Kahurangi National Park, including the route from the summit, south-east down the Peel Range and on to the wide open tussock of the Tablelands, at the southern end of which lies Balloon Hut.
Balloon Hut is a charming, light space, sleeping 14. It’s also a good spot to enjoy the sunset, which appears to set the tussock of the Tablelands on fire.
There are two good exit options on an overnight round trip. First, retrace your steps back past Lake Peel. While this is backtracking, the landscape is sufficiently lovely to justify a second look from a new perspective. But if variety is the name of the game, carry on along Starvation Ridge, Salisbury Track and then Upper Takaka Track to Lower Junction. This route is mostly through forest on civilised trails. From Lower Junction, cross Takaka River and ascend the Bullock Track, which drops back onto Cobb Dam Road 2km from the car park.
Access Cob Dam Road Grade Easy-moderate Time Car park to Balloon Hut via Lake Peel and Mt Peel, 4-6hr; Balloon Hut out via Lower Junction, 4-6hr
A night on the farm
Scotties Hut, St James Conservation Area
Hanmer Springs is something of a Rotorua of the south for mountain bikers, and a trip into nearby Scotties Hut makes an ideal overnighter with some historic flavour.
From the St James Homestead on Tophouse Road, a dual use track makes its way through the Peters Valley to Peters Pass. At 900m above sea level, this is the high point of the trip.
From the pass, an obvious 4WD track leads steadily downhill, crossing the Edwards River several times until Scotties Hut is reached.
A former mustering hut, Scotties Hut has recently been renovated by the Combined 4WD Club of Canterbury using funds from the Outdoor Recreation Consortium. A hot spring at Cow Stream is well worth the detour.
After a night camped next to a piece of New Zealand’s farming history, retrace your tracks to the St James Homestead and your vehicle.
Access St James Homestead on Tophouse Road Grade Easy-moderate Time 2-3hr
Big city getaway
Te Wharau Campsite, Duder Regional Park
Aucklanders have always been spoiled for choice when it comes to sea kayaking trips, and the Te Ara Moana (Sea Going Pathway) adds another option for novice and experienced paddlers alike.
The first day of the sea kayak trail makes an ideal overnighter for those who can’t commit to the full four days. From Omana Regional Park it’s a leisurely 11km past Maraetai and Umupaia beaches and around Whakakaiwhara Point to Te Wharau Campsite.
Whakakaiwhara Point is the home of Duder Regional Park. History buffs will be in their element here, as Maori occupation of the area dates back to the 14th century, and a number of archaeologically significant sites are still visible. After making camp, wander the trails through the working farm to explore the remnants of the fortified pa on the end of the peninsula.
Access Omana Regional Park Grade Easy-moderate Time 3-4hr
Escape the apocalypse
Waikiti Hut, West Coast
The Waikiti River is a place that few will have heard of, yet it makes a terrific place to get away from the world.
You’re probably wondering where the river is: it’s a valley on the West Coast between Greymouth and Reefton, but the area is seldom-visited by trampers and only just a little more often by hunters. It’s the kind of place the phrase ‘off the beaten track’ was created for.
The Waikiti Route soon enters beech forest, alive, in summer, with the hum of wasps attracted to sooty mould growing on the trees (watch out for hidden nests). The track is well marked and after two hours a swingbridge, marking the halfway point to the hut, is reached. Beyond here, the track deteriorates and becomes more difficult until it eventually breaks out into a river flat and just beyond is the cute six-bunk Waikiti Hut.
The hut’s a simple, no-frills affair categorised as minimum maintenance by DOC. It’s tidy and well looked after.
Access From the bridge on Haupiri Amuri Road Grade Moderate Time 5hr
Island in the lake
Pigeon Island, Lake Wakatipu
There are few more spectacular sights than rounding the corner at Bennetts Bluff on the Glenorchy Road with Lake Wakatipu stretching up to its beginning and the guardian of the pounamu – Pikitakatahi/Mt Earnslaw rising to 2830m overlooking all.
On a clear day you might have to squeeze in a park as you won’t be the only one stopping for the view.
From here you can see the two largest Islands of Lake Wakatipu, Pigeon and Pig islands – both an easy 30-minute kayak away.
A metalled track leads to the lake edge just before the road bridge over Lake Face Creek – take note of the tall lone pine on the mountainside above, it will be your visual marker for the return trip.
On the southern end of Pigeon island there is an inviting bay, a public hut and campground. Once you’ve pitched your tent, or claimed a bunk, continue with a kayak circumnavigation around the island or tackle the walking tracks which run the length of the island and top out at the 463m high point. From the summit, there is a spectacular view all around, surrounded by water and mountains.
Time your trip to be on the water in the morning, when the lake is at its calmest. Be aware that conditions on Lake Wakatipu can change quickly, especially with a nor’west wind that can create a swell of up to 1m.
Access Park at Lake Face Creek on the Glenorchy-Queenstown Road. Grade Easy-moderate Time 4hr to kayak to the island and walk the tracks
Waipakihi River, Kaimanawa Forest Park
There’s something about grassy river flats that lend themselves to long, languid days in the sun. If the weather forecast is predicting a stable high pressure system, head into the upper reaches of the Waipakihi River valley, where a number of campsites and small beaches are waiting to be explored.
A well-marked track ascends 700m to the summit of Urchin (1391m). It’s a steep track, but the views of the nearby mountains and Lake Taupo are worth the effort. From the summit, a poled route leads east, across the tops to the start of a knee-straining 400m descent through beech forest to the Waipakihi River.
Once the river is reached, head upstream and choose a campsite. There are numerous grassy flats and wide sweeping bends to choose from. Several deep pools are ideal for swimming, but anglers will be out of luck as the trout don’t swim this far upstream.
Access From the end of Kaimanawa Road Grade Moderate Time 4hr each way
Rinse and repeat
Aniwhenua kayak run, Bay of Plenty
If you’re after a wet ’n wild experience, consider the section of the Rangitaiki River immediately below the Aniwhenua Power Station.
Park at the end of Black Road, and put in at the power station. The 8km Aniwhenua run is well known for its grade II wave trains, providing hours of entertainment for kayakers of all abilities. Paddlers who want to improve their basic skills will find the numerous eddies and pools useful.
As you paddle between the towering walls of volcanic ash that line each side of the river, give a nod to the environmental groups who banded together in the 1990s to ensure the development of the Aniwhenua Dam didn’t ruin a spectacular paddling paradise.
After you’ve reached the take out (7km down Galatea Road, where the road meets the river), head back to the Lake Aniwhenua Camping Area, where freedom camping is encouraged. Rinse and repeat.
Access From Black Road Grade Easy Time 3-4hr for each kayak run
Shred your nerves
Crow Hut via Rome Ridge, Arthur’s Pass National Park
When it comes to Arthur’s Pass, the only way is up – and that’s especially true of the traverse from Arthur’s Pass village to Crow Hut via Rome Ridge.
Coral Track packs no punches as it ascends 300m in the space of a kilo-metre. The bushline is reached after two hours, and it’s from here that you get a good look at the gigantic chosspile that is Rome Ridge and the eastern aspect of Mt Rolleston.
Make your way upwards along Rome Ridge towards Pt1825m. The tricky part is getting onto the main ridgeline between Mt Rolleston and Avalanche Peak, and some scrambling is required. The level of exposure is not for the faint hearted, but on a bluebird day the views more than compensate for the elevated heartbeat and shredded nerves.
About halfway along the ridge, a large cairn and marker pole denote the start of a gigantic scree run into the Crow Valley. The distance is deceptive, and it takes most groups around an hour to descend to the valley floor. From there it’s only 1km to Crow Hut with its resident kea population.
The following day, walk out to Klondyke Corner via the Crow Valley Track and the Waimakariri River.