This place has always been very high on my list for places that I wanted to experience. In January 2013, I finally managed to make it happen. One month of fun, exploring a country I had been dreaming of for so long.
After an extremely long plane ride (which I didn’t really mind and went by quite quickly actually) I still managed to get on a bus and travel another six hours. I should have been completely drained by jet lag, but the excitement of finally being here just seemed to overwrite everything.
My plan was simple - hike, surf and bike and as much as possible. Pre-booking places to stay is not my style. I like to just show up and get a feel for a place. If I like it, I stay - otherwise I move on until it feels right. I also tend to stay in locations that are less crowded, away from mainstream tourism as much as possible.
So no, I didn’t go to the ‘The Lord of the Rings’ tourist traps or do that boat tour in Milford Sounds. Instead I chose to do things like a two day, overnight kayak trip through Doubtful Sounds. This is just an incredible Fiord and much less visited than the busy Milford Sounds.
My three favorite hikes were the ‘Tongariro Crossing’, ‘Mueller Hut’ near Mount Cook and ‘The Kepler trek’.
On my second day, I hiked ‘the Tongariro crossing’. It took about 8 hours of moderate to challenging hiking. Due to one of the major volcanoes erupting at the time, it was not possible to complete the entire crossing, so people had to turn back about half way point. It was still an incredible hike a unique landscape of volcanoes and beautiful small lakes of emerald green.
I think it was considered New Zealand best day hike at the time and I can only recommend it.
My trip started off in the North Island. After the Tongariro crossing I headed to Raglan to surf. The small village had a really cool vibe and the surfing here was great. Really nice point breaks and a beautiful scenery to make for an awesome time. After about 10 days I decided to take a short cut to the south Island, because I was craving the mountains. So I hopped on a plane and headed for Christchurch.
Mount Cook is the highest peak in New Zealand. I had really hoped to climb it, but I would have needed a few weeks of training in the area and unfortunately I didn’t have the time. So instead I did an overnight hike to ‘Mueller Hut’ in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.
If there is one thing I could take from New Zealand hiking and drop it in Cape Breton, it would be the amazing hut system. So many trails have these big, well designed huts with everything you need in the middle of nowhere. You book them well before and it saves you the hassle of bringing your camping gear and you get to socialize with like minded people. It’s such a great experience and really adds another dimension to long, challenging hikes.
The hike to Mueller hut wasn’t all that long (about 4 hours one way) but it was steep and rather challenging because of the warm weather, even though I left fairly early.
That evening ended up being a very clear night and I was happy to capture a beautiful night shot of Mount Cook in the distance. A bunch of us also decided to watch the sunrise come up over the valley from our high point. It was truly breathtaking…
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park has a lot of other hiking opportunities. I spent a few days here hiking and relaxing. The hostel here is really great to stay at and has very good cooking facilities like most hostels in New Zealand.
Probably my favorite hike on the trip was the ‘Kepler Track’. This was a quite challenging three day trip through the mountains. Very steep climbing and challenging terrain at times. I was able to spend one night in a hut, but had to bring camping gear for the other night, so my gear load was pretty heavy (that damn camera gear on top of it all)
The views were incredible and looking back, I think it is the hike that really made me fall in love with climbing challenging mountains. I have hiked several mountain ranges since, yet this one remains one of the best.
My trip finished off with a five day bike ride around the Coromandel Peninsula in the North. The road was a bit of a Cabot Trail style ride. Lots of steep climbs, but incredible scenery to make it worth while. Of course on the steepest section where I actually had to push my bike a bit, it started to completely downpour and I was soaked to my bones lol
As I had already mentioned, I had dreamed of going to New Zealand long before going there. I had the hardest time leaving after one month. There is so much variety in landscape with the beautiful Fjords, mountains, volcanoes, beaches and emerald green lakes. It just has it all for me.
The only place that so far comes close to touching New Zealand for me is Iceland.
There are of course a lot of places that have similar landscapes, but I don’t know of any other place that has these kinds of landscape elements in such a small area as New Zealand and Iceland.
At times the scenery in Iceland is even more dramatic in the way it changes so abruptly. And it may even have more diversity in some ways. But the infrastructure for multi day hiking in New Zealand is much further ahead than in Iceland. You can go on long hikes in Iceland, but it becomes very expensive and complicated, as you often need a very expensive vehicle to access the hikes or you need to go with an organized tour.
The access to beaches is also much easier in New Zealand than in Iceland and the emerald green lakes were a lot more abundant in New Zealand.
Both are absolutely incredible places, but New Zealand has a very special place in my heart and I really hope to go back there one day.
words and images by Roman