After 10 days hiking, biking, kayaking and driving through beautiful New Zealand, all I want to do is go back. I had heard for years that I “MUST go to New Zealand.” However, it wasn’t until I glimpsed the snow-covered Southern Alps, hiked through Castle Hill, and touched the wild Tasman Sea that I truly understood the allure of this country. I did all of those activities on the first day of Wilderness Inquiry’s 10-day, 10-person November trip to the South Island.
Everywhere you look in New Zealand there is another stunning view. Little green signs posted along every roadside by the Department of Conservation offer great hiking options. These “walks,” as the Kiwi say, may run through sheep pastures, up pristine glacial valleys, around small alpine lakes, or deep into extraordinary fern tree forests.
Exploring New Zealand’s amazing lands was improved by the emptiness of the trails and waterways. High tourist season in the South Island runs from December through March. By traveling in November we experienced all of the beauty and few of the crowds. The mountains were still snow capped, making the vistas stunning,. The temperatures were comfortable for hiking, with 15 hours of daylight a day.
My two favorite places were the Hooker Valley near Aoraki (Mount Cook) and the Rob Roy Glacier. In each place we did a longer hike through a beautiful valley filled with pristine sheep grazing land and preserved wilderness maintained by the New Zealand Department of Conservation.
These are the kind of hikes that just get better and better. With each 100 yards of distance I traveled, whether further into the valley or further up the mountain, I had to remember to look out. Each time I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, or imagine it becoming any more beautiful. And yet, as I kept climbing the views became even more breathtaking. The endorphins from hiking probably helped, but on each hike the sense of euphoria was incredible when I reached the final outlook and sat down for a nice lunch.
I also loved the opportunity to mix-up the muscle groups and participate in some of New Zealand’s other well-known outdoor activities, including mountain biking and sea kayaking. Biking along the West Coast Cycle Trail gave us the opportunity to cover a lot of ground with stunning riverside trails and mountain views. The hills were gradual and the trails were wide and mostly gravel or well-packed dirt. This made for an easy but very gratifying experience.
Kayaking the Okarito Lagoon was also a highlight. It is the largest unmodified wetland in New Zealand. The paddle started in a wide-open lagoon, with flocks of black swans and Canadian geese taking flight across the water. We made our way into back channels, and up windy rivers that felt like magical secret gardens. The pristine water was naturally dyed red from the tannins of the plants. The palms and ferns bent over the river and we paddled upstream until the brush became too thick and the water too narrow. It was a true adventure through the jungle! Excursions like this, shared with a group of people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs, remind me the world is alright.
Click to sign up for Wilderness Inquiry’s 10-day New Zealand Hike and Explore Trip.
– Post by Wilderness Inquiry Programs Director Nell Holden