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The Wilderness 100: The 13 best trips on the West Coast

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May 2020 Issue

Looking for a new challenge this year (or for the remainder of your life)? How about ticking off the Wilderness 100?


Welcome to the inaugural Wilderness 100 – an annual list of the best trips in the country. For the website version of this feature story, we’ve broken the trips down into regions and linked to those trips we’ve got route notes and maps for. 

So, without further ado, here are the best trips on the West Coast.

1. Te Ara Kairaumati Walk/Lake Matheson, Westland Tai Poutini National Park

Sometimes it’s hard to argue with the masses, and such is the case for Lake Matheson, New Zealand’s most photographed lake. In still weather, the glossy black surface of the lake reflects perfectly the staggered spine of the Southern Alps, including mounts Cook and Tasman. The loop track isn’t strenuous, but the views are staggering. 

2. Mt Owen, Kahurangi National Park

The distinctive limestone karst slopes of Mt Owen are likely more famous than its summit, the highest in Kahurangi National Park. The northern approach via Granity Pass Hut is the easiest way to experience the summit, which is a 7hr return tramp from the hut. DOWNLOAD

3. Alex Knob, Westland Tai Poutini National Park

The best free views of the Franz Josef Glacier can be found not below it, but above it. The steep climb to Alex Knob is demanding on the thighs, but rewarding on the eyes, and one of the most spectacular day walks in the region. DOWNLOAD

4. Ballroom Overhang, Paparoa National Park
If camping beneath a giant limestone overhang fills you with dread, look away now. But if the adventure appeals, put on your dancing shoes and head to the Ballroom Overhang, found 6km up the Fox River from Tiromoana, near Punakaiki. DOWNLOAD


View from Mt Arthur. Photo: Nevin Amos

5. Mt Arthur, Kahurangi National Park

Many routes exist to the Mt Arthur summit, though the most straight-foward track leaves from Graham Valley Road end. The track is 7-8hr return, and trampers may wish to spend a night at eight bunk Mt Arthur Hut. Panoramic views from the summit take in the Kahurangi Range and Nelson Bays.

6. Heaphy Track Great Walk, Kahurangi National Park

From summits to sea, the Heaphy Track is often labelled the most diverse Great Walk. Each day of the 81km track offers remarkably different scenery, from the lonely tussocks of Gouland Downs, to wild west forests straight out of Indiana Jones, and finally, the powerful beauty of the Tasman Sea. DOWNLOAD

7. Ivory Lake Hut, West Coast

Wilderness’ 2016 hut of the year is an absolute doozy, but its isolation and difficulty will undoubtedly – and perhaps thankfully – put it safely out of reach of the masses. Perched on a slab of rock spotted with bright pockets of moss, the hut overlooks Ivory Lake, its dwindling glacier and Sawtooth Ridge beyond. DOWNLOAD

Oparara Arch. Photo: Matthew Cattin

8. Moria Gate Track/Oparara Arch, Kahurangi National Park

With its Coca-Cola coloured water and otherworldly limestone arches, the Oparara Basin must have been awfully puzzling for early visitors. Two short walks lead from the car park to the largest limestone archway in Australasia, and the unforgettable Moria Gate, named after the dwarven dwelling in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

9. Sylvester Lake Track, Kahurangi National Park

An easy day walk or weekend excursion, the trip to Sylvester Lake offers huge reward for little effort. There’s exploration aplenty beyond the lake for adventurous trampers, and the 12 bunk Sylvester Hut, just two hours from the trailhead, offers a cosy night’s accommodation. DOWNLOAD

10. Paparoa Track Great Walk, Paparoa National Park

Linking the mining town of Blackball to the tourist hotspot of Punakaiki, the newly opened Paparoa Track Great Walk packs the best of the north-west into 55km, from tannin-stained rivers to coal-seam tops and vine-lashed jungle. DOWNLOAD

Camping on Mt Fox. Photo: Lisa Podlucky

11. Mt Fox, Westland Tai Poutini National Park

For an aerial view of the Fox Glacier, climb the rough Mt Fox Route past the 1021m summit of Mt Fox to Pt1345. Be prepared for aircraft noise – sightseeing helicopters and planes can be a nuisance – but once on the tops, above the aircraft, this can dissipate. A group of tarns between Pt1345 and Pt1646 make a lovely campsite. DOWNLOAD

12. The Old Ghost Road, West Coast

The revived miner’s track is a relatively new story, but it was written long ago. The wildly successful track connects Lyell to the Mōkihinui River via a journey of tops, river flats and valleys, and has become popular with both trampers and mountain bikers. DOWNLOAD

13. Welcome Flat Hut, West Coast

It’s no secret why the aptly named Welcome Flat is so popular – after an 18km hike alongside the Copland River, trampers are rewarded with a heavenly welcome; hot pools. Yes, you heard that right – there are natural hot springs right by the hut, overlooking the Southern Alps. And if that sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is – the sandflies know about it too.