Published on : Thursday, February 16, 2017
New Zealand is blessed with an absolute abundance of stunning scenery – snowcapped mountain peaks, white-sand beaches, rivers meandering through fern-covered valleys – and an equally impressive number of ways to experience it, from easy walks to three-day canoe journeys.
On the water
It might involve paddling down a river but the Whanganui Journey in the south-west of the North Island is still considered to be one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. This canoeing or kayaking trek follows 145 kilometres of the winding Whanganui River, framed by steep-walled gorges covered in verdant native ferns, Northland Paddleboarding is the oldest specialist SUP school in New Zealand, operating out of the Kerikeri area, in the far north of the North Island
waterfalls, farmland and bush. It begins at the small rural town of Taumaranui and ends at Pipiriki three to five days later, depending on how quickly you wish to complete it, with a number of campsites and Department of Conservation (DOC) huts along the way. Bookings are essential during the peak season , which is also the best time to see this stunning part of the country.
For a more laid-back time on the water, you can’t go past sheltered Golden Bay at the north-west tip of the South Island. On Tata Beach, a perfect crescent of yellow sand and Pacific waters, you’ll find Golden Bay Kayaks, which offers guided tours and a range of hire options. On the offshore islets of Motu and Ngawhiti you’ll spot nesting shags (comorants) hiding among the scrub and seals lounging on the rocks. And in adjacent Wainui Bay, the lake-like stillness is only disturbed by clouds of sand exploding from the sea floor as stingrays – attracted by the warmth of the shallow water – are disturbed by your gentle paddling.
Taumaranui, the starting point of the Whanganui Journey, is a 4.5-hour drive from Wellington. Concessionaires are on hand to provide you with all the gear and training you need. Make sure you check out the Bridge to Nowhere spanning the Mangapurua Stream, the only reminder of a now-abandoned farming community.
Bookings are essential at Golden Bay Kayaks, which shuts down over winter. Tata Beach is a two-hour drive from Nelson. The nearby Abel Tasman National Park is home to another Great Walk, the Abel Tasman Coast Track.
Step by step
New Zealand experiences don’t get much more beautiful than the Milford Track – from the glacially carved Clinton Valley blanketed in lush beech forest and the Sutherland Falls tumbling gracefully for 580 metres to the 1073m-high Mackinnon Pass, the highest point on the walk. It’s not hard to see why, in 1908, English-born poet and essayist Blanche Baughan called her essay on the track ‘The Finest Walk in the World’. The 53.5km walk takes four days and three nights and, over summer, bookings are essential – interest in the most famous of New Zealand’s Great Walks is always incredibly high.