NZ walk in a day

 

David Whitley climbs volcanoes, checks out ancient Maori sites and crosses from the west coast to the east coast in a map geek’s dream day 

No-one is going to claim that the lagoon at Onehunga is the prettiest sight in New Zealand. The parkland around it makes it a pleasant place to walk dogs, but it’s what’s behind that counts. Manukau Harbour, the second largest in New Zealand, leads out to the Tasman Sea. It’s the west coast, and my plan is to walk to the east coast.

There aren’t many countries that you can walk across in a day, but New Zealand’s odd shape means it is one of them. Auckland is built on an isthmus between two large natural harbours, and the 16km Coast to Coast walkway connects them. Ironically, it runs pretty much south to north – a kink in the landmass means the east and west coasts temporarily turn 90 degrees before resuming conventional positions.

But the Coast to Coast Walkway isn’t just about childish box-ticking for map geeks – it also strings together a series of key sites that offer a different perspective on Auckland than the one you’d get staying downtown.

The route trundles past quaint wooden houses in Onehunga before arriving at One Tree Hill, which is something of a beloved landmark for Aucklanders and has been for centuries. Long before Europeans arrived, the hill was known to the Maori as Maungakiekie – and it was the biggest pa (or fortified village) in what is now the Auckland area. Of the 60 pa found around the isthmus, more than half have been destroyed or severely damaged – mostly through quarrying. What makes Maungakiekie so special is that the defensive terracing on the hillsides and inside the craters is clearly evident. The same goes for the pits used for storing kumara (sweet potato) during the winter. It’s not just a park – it’s an archaeological site as well.

Oh, yes. It’s also a farm. Bizarrely for an urban park, sheep and cows can be found ambling around the hillsides, making it feel more like a country estate than a big city’s green lung. This is largely thanks to Sir John Logan Campbell, who bequeathed adjoining Cornwall Park to the nation in 1901. This turned the hill – a public reserve since 1848 – into a giant green space.

Once past the guard sheep, it’s worth huffing and puffing up to the top. It’s only 183m high, but it feels taller than that. Manukau Harbour quickly comes into view, but once at the top in the shadow of the obelisk dedicated to Logan Campbell, the rest of the city comes into view too. The Skytower of central Auckland is the obvious point to fix upon, but the east coast is there too – the laid-back beachside suburb of Devonport, the craggy volcanic Rangitoto Island and the other islands of the Hauraki Gulf.

Closer in, however, are a couple of other green protrudences that look suspiciously like One Tree Hill. That’s because they were formed in the same way. The most remarkable thing about Auckland’s geography isn’t that it has two harbours, over 50 islands and spans both the east and west coasts – it’s that it’s built on a field of volcanoes. At the latest count, there are 55 volcanic cones within the greater Auckland area, and One Tree Hill offers the best illustration. All the houses heading down to Onehunga and Manukau Harbour are built on the lava field spewed out by an eruption thousands of years ago.

The second volcanic cone on the trail is Mt Eden, a perennial favourite with tour buses which drive up for the views. Walkers go for the steeper route up, which if you tackle it with a determined charge, isn’t all that arduous.

It’s 196m tall, but that’s more than enough to take in views that are arguably even better than those from One Tree Hill. To the west, the thick green hills of the Waitakere Ranges roll out, and the Coromandel Peninsula can be seen out over the water to the north-east.

Again, evidence of Maori terracing and fortifications is present. It stirs a fascination in New Zealand’s indigenous population that goes beyond the usual hakas and cultural performances. Luckily, the best place to learn more is also on the route.

The road from Mt Eden eventually leads to the Auckland Domain, a massive park on the cusp of the city centre. Amongst the cricket pitches, art installations and giant, showy trees is the Auckland Museum. The collection inside is a real hodge-podge of subjects, but it’s the Maori section that’s genuinely excellent – they’ve somehow managed to get meeting houses and war canoes inside, while the information on Maori history and culture is useful too.

After a good few hours of walking – at least four hours need to be set aside, and that’s if you tackle it without detours or lunch breaks – the path eventually leads to the flashier trailhead. Waitemata Harbour is the harbour people think about when they talk about Auckland. It’s the one at the bottom of the city centre. And, more importantly for me, it’s the one on the east coast. Mission accomplished.

 

You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal here

 

Winter sports

 

New Zealand’s best options for taking to the snow and ice without hurtling down hills with skis
 
The superb skiing is undoubtedly one of the main reasons to visit New Zealand in the winter, but not all of us fancy hurtling down mountains with strips of wood strapped to our feet. Luckily, there are plenty of ways of getting out there amongst the white stuff without having to be a traditional Alpine skier. 
 
This is New Zealand – and if there’s some way of getting a thrill and adrenalin rush, the Kiwis have thought of it. And this applies to snow sports as well as throwing themselves off tall buildings and cliffs.

Snowboarding
 
The obvious non-skiing activity is snowboarding, which is almost more popular than its older brother these days. Resorts in New Zealand are well equipped for snowboarders. Particularly good areas for snowboarders include Coronet Peak near Queenstown and Treble Cone near Wanaka. The latter has manmade half pipes designed specifically for snowboarders.

Meanwhile, Tukino on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu, North Island is excellent for those who fancy learning. Snowboarding lessons are attractively priced, while most of the slopes are perfect for beginners.

Nordic Skiing
 
Yes, OK it’s skiing, but not as most of us know it. Nordic, or cross-country skiing derivates from how skiing originated.

Back in the olden days, skiing wasn’t a jolly good lark for decadent holidaymakers who enjoy a bit of a thrill – it was a practical means of getting around for the Scandinavians. For the Sami people of northern Finland, Norway and Sweden it was pretty much the only way to get from A to B. The skis were even put to military use later on.

Nordic skiing is a rather different adventure from the Alpine downhill version, and can best be described as bushwalking with skis on. And with New Zealand’s gorgeous mountain scenery, it’s a fantastic way to explore.

Undoubtedly the best place to try it is at the Waiorau Snow Farm, 35km from Wanaka and perched high above the lake. It has 50km of dedicated trails, and offer tuition to eager novices.

Snowshoeing
 
Of course, it is possible to do proper bushwalking in the snow without using skis and poles at all – just strap a couple of tennis rackets to your feet.

Ok – crude stereotype... Modern snowshoes bear little resemblance to the traditional ones, which may as well have been brandished in black and white footage of Wimbledon. The 21st century snowshoe is a triumph of design and often remarkably high tech, but the principle remains the same. By creating a larger surface area, the weight is more evenly distributed, and prevents walkers sinking into the snow. Subsequently, strapping the snowshoes on is a brilliant way of seeing areas that would be otherwise inaccessible during winter.

Alpine Recreation runs two to five day snowshoe treks through the Southern Alps.

Ice skating
 
Another footwear option is the ice skate, and while you might not be at Torvill and Dean standard, managing the basic stutter walk across the ice isn’t quite as hard as it may initially seem. And besides, the odd fall is character-building, yes?

It’s possible to have a go at skating in various locations across the country, but arguably the best bet is at the Tekapo Park. It’s at Lake Tekapo in Canterbury, around 2.5 hours drive from Christchurch and has one of the world’s most spectacular ice rinks. At 26m by 56m, it’s international-sized and the outdoor setting adds to the excitement.

Skate rental prices are relatively cheap and group lessons are available for those wanting to spend slightly less time on their backside.
 
 
 
Snowmobiling
 
Of course, the coolest people on the piste aren’t those on skis or snowboards – they’re the ones at the helm of those big red beasts that bound across the snow at high speed.

Snowmobiles (or skidoos) were again originally designed as a form of transport, partly to get to remote areas quickly and partly to rescue bungling skiers. But now riding them is something of a sport too, and an exhilarating one at that.

The best place to experience it is on a high plateau in the Old Woman Range near Queenstown with Nevis Snowmobile Adventure. There are 360 degree views up there, and the package includes a 12 minute helicopter ride from Queenstown airport.

From the plateau, visitors are given special thermal gear, and then set off through mind-boggling scenery with some mighty sexy machinery beneath them.

Ice climbing
 
To feel like a proper adventurer in the mould of Kiwi legend Sir Edmund Hillary, then it’s hard to beat cracking open the ice axe and crampons. Forget all that sissy walking lark, ice climbing is what proper mountaineers have to do in order to conquer the toughest peaks.
 
The two best places to learn – and go on an ice adventure – are the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers on the West Coast of the South Island. Yes, it’s cold (the clues are in the �?ice’ and �?glacier’ parts) but its rare for anyone to come back from either not raving about the experience. 
 
Fox Guides leads day-long ice climbing expeditions on the Fox Glacier.

You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal here

 

by David Whitley