A Walk in the Park
New Zealand’s Great Walks wind through jaw dropping landscapes
With its hedonistic mix of pristine landscapes, lush green pastures, vast expanses of untouched beach, snow capped mountains and subtropical foliage; New Zealand is an incredible mix of visual diversity. Throw wildlife into this mix of natural beauty – think seals basking in the sun, whales majestically cutting through the ocean and an abundance of fearless native birds, and you have a pretty good idea of why travellers consider New Zealand something of a Holy Grail. It has long been a coveted destination for tramping enthusiasts, and its appeal has only increased with the emergence of New Zealand as the home of award-winning vineyards and restaurants. This is not just the top must-do destination for committed trampers, but also for the wine and food aficionado, and the heady mix of experiencing all of these elements together is the reason New Zealand has transformed into the absolute bucket list destination.
Having walked, tramped and hiked with the best of them (well the best of the non-hardcore contingent, that is) I have to confess that choosing which route to take is a minefield – a bit like selecting from a gourmet menu, there are no wrong choices, but you don’t want to have food envy when someone else’s dinner is served. With its plethora of phenomenal walks and tracks to choose from, it can be hard, if not impossible to whittle down one single route that allows you to experience the best of everything in a finite amount of time, which is why we at New Zealand Walking Tours seek to maximise your time and minimise your agonising. And, let me add it’s not just your agonising but also your agony that we want to cut back on – in days gone by, I’ve roughed it; I’ve schlepped up mountains with a tent on my back and raw pasta in my bag. Great, well done me. NEVER AGAIN. Now I want to enjoy the scenery without worrying whether I’ll actually cry if I have to eat another protein bar. So what we at NZ Walking Tours have done is pick the best of the best hiking experiences; broken them down into manageable day walks, and ensured that each day ends with a slap-up meal, a wine to make your toes tingle and a bed that, after a day on the track, feels as soft as a cloud.
So, to give you some idea of what’s on your platter, the walks and hikes within New Zealand include three large UNESCO world heritage sites – Tongariro National Park, Te Wahipounamu and the Subantarctic Islands – as well as nine Great Walks across the North and South Islands, plus many one day options. Tip-top planning has enabled us to incorporate a number of the World Heritage Walking Tours into our itineraries. Whilst it goes without saying that every one of the tramps or hikes offers up its own unique experience, those that come under the banner of ‘World Heritage’ do so because they have been tagged as outstanding in their natural heritage, and are thus protected by the world heritage convention.
Often in the shadow of the South Island, I think most would agree that when it comes to the North, she’s a show stopper in her own right. One of my favourite areas has to be Tongariro National Park in the North Island of New Zealand; I think what I love is that it has something to offer all year round. This isn’t just the country’s oldest national park, but also a dual World Heritage Site (for both outstanding natural features and cultural importance to local Maori). So it’s no surprise that this Park is featured in two separate tours – both the Timeless North and Pristine New Zealand include this area. Home to the majestic Mountains Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro, the vistas are quite literally the stuff that Lord of the Rings is made of. Now brace yourself, because this eerie volcanic terrain leaves you feeling as though you have seen landscapes reminiscent of those from the dawn of time. There’s no denying it’s spectacular, but lets face it, it’s so easy to miss so much – which is where those clever Kiwi guides come in and earn their keep – under their expert eyes hidden lakes, native flora, fauna and wildlife are all revealed. And of course the beauty of these trips is that the euphoria doesn’t stop when the hike ends. As the day closes the doors of Chateau Tongariro will be flung open to you. This is one of those hotels that stays with you long after you have left – you want a toboggan to mess around with in the snow; they will give you one. You want to watch a movie? They will put one on in the Cinema. You want a glass of wine while listening to a pianist play on the Grand Piano. You’ve got it. Take me back is all I can say….
Now let’s not pretend that the South Island is the poor cousin. She is, frankly, gob smackingly stunning. Te Wahipounamu wows with its wild, dramatic landscapes – and Fiordland National Park offers the opportunity to experience a vastly different type of hiking adventure from those of the North Island. Spectacular sights ensure that this area is considered by many to be the walking capital of the world. So, no surprise that the Great Walks of the Routeburn and Milford Track are included by us within the Pristine New Zealand, Elegant South and Beautiful South packages. The ‘great wilderness’ of Fiordland attracts explorers keen to discover the mystical beauty described by the celebrated British writer Rudyard Kipling as the ‘eighth natural wonder of the world.’ Of the fourteen fiords in the National Park, Milford Sound is the most famous, and the lure of its surrounding alpine landscapes really is hard to resist. There is simply so much to digest, that unless you have a six month sabbatical, it’s a case of being organized and leaving it to the pros – we will take you by boat, by air and by foot – incorporating not just walks, but also a helicopter ride and a cruise through Milford Sound. The mesmerising combination of mountains, rainforest, thundering waterfalls and crystal clear waters, will leave you absolutely gasping for a glass of the local award- winning vino, and your wish will be your hosts’ command.
We like to think that every base has been covered – breathtaking natural beauty, and good old-fashioned manmade home comforts – and this delicious combination leaves our travellers not weary, but invigorated, and genuinely delighted with their experiences.