New Zealand is a very outdoorsy nation. Bush walks are a big thing. The Department of Conservation maintains many tracks around the country, and here are some of our favourites in the North Island.
What’s great about all these walks is you don’t have to be super-fit or have ‘proper’ hiking equipment. You would, however, be stupid to do any of them without prudent preparation. Bring a hat, a rain jacket, sunscreen, food, water, reliable shoes, plasters, a torch, a mobile phone and clothes you don’t mind getting slightly muddy
An hour and a half southeast of Auckland, its spectacular walls tower over you as the Ohinemuri River alternately rushes and meanders below. There’s a variety of intersecting walks, both short and long, leading you not only through bush, but abandoned mines and railway tunnels. It’s historically interesting as well as breathtakingly beautiful, and there’s a gorgeous swimming hole to picnic at.
The Waitakere Ranges
There’s a whole heap of walks to do in ‘the Waitaks’ – a bushy, hilly wilderness right next to Auckland City. If you want classic New Zealand rainforest, this is it, plus it’s really easy to get to. A great place to start is the Arataki Visitor Centre, especially if you’re new to New Zealand.
There are also some good walks from the Cascade Kauri park.
The Tongariro Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the most demanding day walk on this list. It takes about seven hours, but it’s seven hours across a truly remarkable landscape. You might recognise parts of it as Mordor from The Lord of the Rings films – it’s so cool walking through an active volcanic zone! Mount Ngauruhoe looks amazing from the track. Then there’s the stunning Emerald Lakes ... It might be a little strenuous at times, but you don’t need top-grade hiking boots – sturdy trainers will do.
Northland is famous for its magnificent kauri specimens, and the ones in the Puketi Forest are certainly magnificent. Kauri trees can grow to over fifty metres tall and five metres wide! There are walks of varying length in the area, including a twenty-minute boardwalk that is not only fantastic for people in wheelchairs – it’s elevated above the undergrowth and, as such, gives you a whole different perspective of the forest. It’s magical.
The Putangirua Pinnacles
You know the bit in The Return of the Kingwhen Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli go to find the Army of the Dead? Well the Dimholt Road was filmed at the Putangirua Pinnacles in Wairarapa. (‘The Putangirua Pinnacles’ is often shortened to ‘the Pinnacles’ – don’t confuse it with ‘the Pinnacles’ in the Coromandel.) The track’s a little rough, so definitely don’t try this one in jandals, but it only takes about two hours and it’s worth it for the scenery. It’s quite alien; a most impressive example of badlands erosion.
Tiritiri Matangi is an island off the coast of Auckland that’s a sanctuary for native birds. The ferry to get there is quite expensive, but it’s well worth going. Not only do you get to see lots of endangered birds, the island itself is really nice to walk around. The views are fantastic. You don’t need to take the guided tour – you can spend the day exploring the various paths on your own. There’s an old lighthouse to discover, and when you’re done walking you can swim in the sea.
If you ever go to Wellington, you have to climb Mount Victoria. It’s not difficult, but it is nicely bracing. The view from the top is a treat. It’s easy to get to, as it’s right in the city, and there’s a good two-and-a-half-hour loop walk. It’s refreshing to walk through a pine forest in New Zealand, as opposed to the usual native bush. As an added bonus, the Mount Victoria forest is where Peter Jackson filmed the hobbits hiding from the Black Rider in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Rangitoto is Auckland’s most iconic volcano. It forms an island in the Hauraki Gulf, so, naturally, you have to catch a ferry there. The walk to the summit passes through bush and over open lava fields. The crater is quite something to see, as are the views back to Auckland City, and there are lava caves to explore, which is quite fun. There are lots of different routes to choose from. You can easily spend a day meandering over the island, but don’t miss the ferry back!