When it comes to outdoor activities, I’m a bit of a wuss. I like tramping – nature, fresh air, fitness – but I don’t like getting muddy. Or sleeping in huts or tents. Or going through streams. Basically, I like to be comfortable. (And what’s wrong with that?)
New Zealand is a very outdoorsy nation. Bush walks are a big thing. The Department of Conservation maintains nine ‘Great Walks’ around the country, but they all take a few days to do. I like walks I can do in less than a day. Happily, New Zealand has more of those than you can count.
As I live in the North Island of New Zealand, I’m more familiar with the North Island’s range of day walks. I haven’t mentioned any South Island tracks for that reason, but from what I have seen of the South Island, the walks down there are even more beautiful than the walks up here.
This is a list of my top ten North Island day walks.
1) Karangahake Gorge
I’ve posted about Karangahake Gorge on this blog before. It really is my favourite place to go walking. 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.
2) 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. I learned a lot there as a recently emigrated kid. There are also some good walks from the Cascade Kauri park. The Waitakere Dam is a must-see if you’re in the area, but the Waitakere Dam Walk is too short and easy, even for a wuss like me. I’d go to the dam and start another walk from there.
3) The Tongariro Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the most demanding day walk on this list, but still doable for wusses for like me. It’s something you should seriously consider doing if you visit New Zealand. 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. I know a guy who did it in jandals, but he’s a Kiwi. They’re like that.
4) Puketi Forest
I visited the Puketi Forest when I was in Kerikeri and, honestly, it was the most beautiful patch of bush I’ve ever encountered. 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.
5) The Putangirua Pinnacles
You know the bit in The Return of the King when 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 like I did.) 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.
6) The Waitomo Walkway
Waitomo is known for its spellbinding collection of caves rather than its walks, but, as my family found when we visited Waitomo on a New Zealand campervan holiday, the walks are pretty good too. I’ve raved about the Waitomo Caves on this blog in the past, but I didn’t talk about the awesome rock formations on the surface, the ones we found at the end of the Waitomo Walkway. It goes from Waitomo Village to the Ruakuri Scenic Reserve, following a stream. I really enjoyed it. There were archways of stone to walk under, boulders to scramble on, an enchanting bridge surrounded by trees and great picnic spots. It was decent length walk too.
7) Tiritiri Matangi
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.
8) Cathedral Cove Walk
I’ve written about the beauty of Cathedral Cove elsewhere on this blog – I think it’s New Zealand’s best beach. To get there, though, you either have to take a boat or do a steep three-quarters-of-an-hour walk (from the Cathedral Cove car park. It’s about half an hour more from Hahei, which you might end up doing, as the Cathedral Cove car park is often full.) I definitely recommend a water bottle on this walk – I hadn’t realised it would be such a strenuous walk to get to the beach and I was gasping! The sheer majesty of Cathedral Cove, though, is more than worth the walk.
9) Mount Victoria
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! Also, don’t forget to take a hat, as the lava fields are exposed and hot.
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, and even wusses like me can enjoy walking. (A map would also be good, but the tracks are usually so well signposted you don’t need one.)