So in January we tried the ‘explosive’ kind.
Of all the Great Walks, the Kepler is the only one that was deemed ‘a classic’ from the moment it was conceived. Opened in 1988, it came about when the Department of Conservation joined several infrequently used routes on the Kepler Mountains to make a well-constructed track, with the aim of easing the number of walkers crowding onto the Milford and Routeburn tracks. That it failed in this intention and instead offered another high-standard multi-day track to walk in this wonderful part of New Zealand was entirely predictable. But its popularity seems to prove that a track doesn’t have to be an ancient Māori greenstone trail or a place of colonial history, or even feel the decades-old reverberations of explorers, hunters, trampers and their ilk to have poignancy in a world overwhelmed by humans. The well-conceived Kepler Track cuts a daring line across some spectacular Fiordland tops and links many disparate natural features—caverns of limestone, meadows of alpine plants, forests of lowland beech and two lakes of monumental size. Furthermore, it neatly returns to its start at Te Anau like a giant ouroboros (the serpent of creation that swallowed its own tail), having led you across a wild edge of Fiordland. It takes between three and four days to walk its 60 kilometres, and can be done clockwise or anticlockwise. From Te Anau to Brod Bay, the Kepler starts out gently enough through a forest of red beech and mountain beech on the edge of Lake Te Anau, the largest lake in the South Island. Whether you wander in silence or converse with a companion, these first kilometres help to clear the mind of the recent hectic past and other unnecessary thoughts. The harder work begins with the climb up the east-facing hill from Brod Bay to the bushline through an entrancing forest covered in lichens. From Luxmore Hut, the next day’s tramping is spent almost entirely above the bushline, winding around easily travelled mountain faces and ridges. The track zigzags a few times, then climbs gradually before commencing a long sidle under the northern faces of Mt Luxmore. The rocks around Mt Luxmore sparkle with crystals and mica, their grainy, gritty texture splashed in strong dark reds and blue–greys. Indeed the Kepler Track, of all the walks described in this book, has the most interest for those with a geological bent. Here it’s possible to point to the ground and roll your tongue knowingly around such expressive words as gabbro, dunite, pegmatite, diorite and gneiss. This second day, no matter what the weather, will etch long-lasting images into your memory. When glancing down to place your feet you will see rocks and alpine tussocks, flowering herbs and mountain grasshoppers; when you look out you will see huge Fiordland vistas, and may even experience an almost vertiginous feeling of spaciousness. By making an early start the following day you can walk all the way to Rainbow Reach carpark (allow seven to eight hours), or to the Te Anau outlet in 10–11 hours. But most prefer the five- or six-hour stroll down the Iris Burn to spend a third night at Moturau Hut on the shores of Lake Manapōuri. Beyond Moturau Hut, a boardwalk stretches out above a superb kettle bog, a soggy mire where tiny purple bladderworts, deep blue swamp orchids and diminutive sundews waver amongst rustling wires of rush and green sphagnum moss. After several swamps are traversed, the trail reaches the Waiau River where, at the Rainbow Reach bridge, you can catch (in summer) a shuttle bus to Te Anau. Otherwise the track continues for a further three hours of forest and riverside walk to complete the circle back at the Lake Te Anau outlet.
Fiordland is severe country with an uncompromising climate, which makes the Milford Track all the more remarkable for the relative ease with which it conveys people into the heart of this rugged wilderness. Not that walking the Milford Track is an effortless undertaking—it’s more that the Milford’s well-constructed path belies Fiordland’s severity as it comfortably steers trampers along two immense glaciated valleys and over a high pass within a spectacular landscape of mountains, snowfields and deep-green forests. In effect, walkers of the Milford are granted all the rewards of tramping in this exceptional mountain area, yet spared the struggles necessary to tramp in most other Fiordland valleys. What many aren’t spared walking the Milford is wet weather. It rains frequently (on average 7–10 metres a year) and torrentially, rapidly transforming the landscape as waterfalls formed in an instant career down previously blank rock faces, gentle watercourses become seething torrents, and water flows across the valleys—taking everything in its path like the mythical Assyrian army. Water is thus a dominant motif on the Milford, although not one that should deter you because the experience of a Fiordland storm—seen from the safety of a bridge—can be just as exhilarating as the stupendous vistas of a fine day. Beyond the immediate and awe-inspiring effects of a Fiordland inundation, water also works in more subtle ways, sustaining the luxuriant coatings of moss and epiphytes in its forests, and filling the pools, cascades and waterfalls that have added so much character to the Clinton and Arthur valleys. Gigantic Ice Age glaciers of frozen water carved the walls of these two valleys, and even today frozen snow released in mammoth winter avalanches continues to alter the landscape and vegetation. That water forms a major theme on the Milford Track is dramatically confirmed by the 580-metre Sutherland Falls, among New Zealand’s highest waterfalls (its status as the highest waterfall was only recently eclipsed by discovery of a higher one, also in Fiordland) and also by the fact that—uniquely for this country—reaching the track requires passage across two large bodies of water—Lake Te Anau and Milford Sound.
Two contrasting landscapes are likely to linger in your mind after you’ve walked the Heaphy: one, a high, silent, tussock plateau; the other, a loud coastline where waves reach brashly towards groves of tropical palms and flowering rātā. These contrasts often accentuate divergent emotions of fear and attraction, awe and intimacy—it is all part of the appealing variety you experience on this traverse through forests and ancient geological structures in the northwest of Kahurangi National Park. Once beyond the first paddocks and scrubby spurs, the track enters a diverse forest that includes huge old red and hard beeches, rimu and miro, with distinctive mikimiki and toro trees in the understorey. The track crosses streams at regular intervals, and windows in the forest open towards the granite summits of the Lead Hills and Mt Olympus across the Aorere Valley, and beyond to the Dragons Teeth on the Douglas Range. The downs immediately make an impression by their strangeness: the high rolling plateau of open tussock and occasional forest contrasts with the rustling patches of mountain neinei and silver beech. Perhaps the downs landscape catches you off guard because mountainous country isn’t meant to be so smooth and flattish, and forests aren’t supposed to sit above alpine tussocklands. For whatever reason, it’s queer country and nearly everyone feels something of its eeriness, even if only retrospectively, once down in the semi-tropical forests of the Heaphy Valley. As you move over the downs the track traverses tussock flats where rivers like the Big cut raw into the old peneplain and begin coiling and curling in slow meanders before their sudden descent into mossy beech forest. Heading downriver, the track wends between exquisite avenues of nīkau palms and tree ferns, and massive northern rātā clear the surrounding canopy, festooned in perching and climbing plants. Kiekie and supplejack vines make much of this forest quite impenetrable, and warmth-loving species like kawakawa, rangiora and kōwhai complement the forest’s exotic nature. Further enhancing this section along the river’s final meander to the coast is a dramatic array of limestone landforms, including a rank of bluffs that not only walls in the southern bank, but also provides intriguing track-side architecture. A large surf invariably runs hard into the river, as it rushes across the swollen face of the sand. After three or four days walking, the almost violent power of the place seems paradoxically to create a sense of inner peace and contentment, especially at dusk when the sun boils into the western sea behind the rising spray of breaking waves.
While many ships founder in foul weather, a few are saved by a timely spell of calm.
The Routeburn Track is a high mountain traverse of the Ailsa and Humboldt mountains, two spectacular glacier-sculpted sandstone ranges wedged between the granite peaks of Fiordland’s Darran Mountains and the crumbling schist ranges of Mount Aspiring National Park. If you start the Routeburn from its southern end and climb to the grand viewpoint of Key Summit, you almost immediately gain an impression of the impact that glaciers had on the southern South Island landscape—in fact everywhere you look is a postscript to the last Ice Age that peaked 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. Below, the Hollyford Valley describes the classic U-shape of a glacier-carved valley, and its steep sides retain the classical imprints of a post-glacial landscape: hanging valleys, headwalls, cirque basins and aquamarine tarns. Across the valley, where remnant glaciers persist on the highest Darran summits, are fine glacier-honed ‘arete peaks’ like Pyramid and Christina, while northwards lies the beautifully rendered Emily Peak above Lake Mackenzie in the Ailsa Mountains. If morning cloud has filled the Hollyford to the bushline you can imagine that cloud as a huge glacier, fed by numerous side glaciers, and so start to comprehend the enormous drama that took place here when the ice was on the move. Indeed, the glacier that filled the Hollyford was so deep that it flowed over Key Summit (today a forest-fringed mountain bogland) and dispersed tongues of ice into the Eglinton and Greenstone valleys, while the main flow continued down the Hollyford to well beyond the present shore at Martins Bay. The glacial imprint appears so fresh because the granites and sandstones of these dramatic mountains are more resistant to the weathering forces that elsewhere have worn away the glacial record. At any time of year, even in midsummer, walking the Routeburn can become a meditation on the language of glaciers as you move beneath sculpted faces and ridges, past Lakes Howden, Mackenzie and Harris—created when the ice retreated—and past large boulders sure to be heavily scratched and serrated by broken rocks dragged over their surfaces while embedded in ice. The Routeburn is most often walked in three days, with evenly spaced stops at Lake Mackenzie and Routeburn Falls.
A part-time Department of Conservation job set three industrial design students on a path to save New Zealand’s native birds from predators.
The year ended with a sizzle, as temperatures hit records, and cyclones spiralled into new territory.
Since it was opened in March 2013, the Timber Trail has become the new favourite among those who love the outdoors, but typically shy away from the hardships associated with tramping or mountain biking. At last, here is a remote yet relatively easy ride, through stunning forests with a fascinating history. There is a lovely lodge to stay at halfway, and you can even arrange to have your bags transported and meals supplied. From Pureora, 55 kilometres southeast of Te Kuiti, the trail heads south, weaving through tall rainforest where 800-year-old rimu and kahikatea tower 50–60 metres above the trail. Kererū (wood pigeon) and kākā can be seen swooping through the forest, and if you are lucky (and get up early) you might hear the haunting call of the rare kōkako, more commonly seen on the back of a New Zealand $50 note. The trail climbs around the ﬂanks of Mount Pureora, through cloud forest, with an optional two-hour side trip to the top and back. The views are magniﬁcent on a ﬁne day. From the trail’s high point near the 14-kilometre marker post, a fantastic, well-graded downhill leads to massive swing bridges and more beautiful forest before ﬁnally breaking out into an area of recently clear-felled pine plantation. The cutover area doesn’t look so great right now, but is slowly reverting to native forest, and should be stunning again in a hundred or so years. Near the halfway mark you can choose between staying at the Black Fern Lodge or camping at Piropiro Flats. Black Fern Lodge is famous for its excellent food and accommodation, and its whio (blue duck) recovery programme. On the second day, the trail soon enters original forest again and crosses one of New Zealand’s longest suspension bridges, which offers breathtaking views of the forest. From there, a three-kilometre hill provides a challenge for those who haven’t done any cycling for a while, but it is followed by a long and easy downhill run on a historic bush tramway that was built almost a century ago. Interpretation panels describe the timber-milling industry that was proliﬁc at this end of Pureora Forest and was based out of Ongarue, now just a small settlement at the end of this fantastic two-day cycle trail.
A record low temperature, accepted only this year, dates back more than a century.
New Zealand's highest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook, forms the cornerstone of the country’s longest cycle trail. Starting from the Southern Alps, this 260-kilometre trail descends 540 metres through the Mackenzie Basin and down the Waitaki Valley to Oamaru and the Pacific Ocean. The Alps 2 Ocean (A2O) trail has eight distinct sections, which can be ridden individually, or combined to create one of the most memorable cycling holidays of your life. The first half from Aoraki/Mount Cook to Omarama has spectacular mountain scenery, and three sections of fantastic off-road trail. The trail sections around the base of Lake Pukaki, the base of Lake Ohau and across the Quailburn are absolutely world class. The cycling can be complemented with a trip onto Tasman Glacier, a swim in Loch Cameron, or a glider flight at Omarama. The second half of the trail also has some great bits of cycle path, mixed in with quite a lot of road riding past lakes Benmore, Aviemore and Waitaki. It then enters the fascinating Vanished World, with Elephant Rocks and fossilised creatures from another epoch such as giant penguins and vicious-looking dolphins. The strange landscapes have been used for a few movie sets, including The Chronicles of Narnia movies. Finally, the trail enters Oamaru on a disused railway line and passes through the Victorian Precinct before suddenly emerging at a long pier on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. If you don’t have time to do the whole trail, cherry-pick the sections from Lake Pukaki to Lake Ohau and over the Quailburn to Omarama. They have the best scenery and the least traffic.
Now that the Bay of Plenty has three fabulous cycle trails, it is an excellent destination for a biking holiday. The Motu Trails can be ridden individually, or combined into one long loop for cycling enthusiasts. The bay also has great bush walking, beach-combing and boating. There is something for everyone. The Dunes Trail is an easy all-weather path, with iconic coastal scenery. Most people do it as a there-and-back ride, making the cafe at Tirohanga Holiday Park their destination. There are views out to smoking White Island (New Zealand’s most active volcano) and inland to the bush-clad peaks of the Raukumara Range. Motu Road, the original coach road from the Bay of Plenty to Gisborne, is ideal for those with an appetite for exercise. It is a narrow gravel road with large hills and excellent scenery. In places, the native trees meet overhead, and on our trip we even saw a wild deer trotting along the road. For experienced mountain bikers, the Pakihi Track provides the icing on the cake. It’s a historic stock route, weaving through the beautiful Urutawa Conservation Area. This forest is home to many species of native birds, native bats, and the endangered Hochstetter’s frog.
Thanks, you're good to go!
Thanks, you're good to go!
Ask your librarian to subscribe to this service next year. Alternatively, use a home network and buy a digital subscription—just $1/week...
Subscribe to our free newsletter for news and prizes