By Michael Lanza
Have you adventured in New Zealand yet? If not, then why not? Some of my all-time favorite assignments for Backpacker magazine have involved trekking and paddling on this island nation with an amazing bounty of natural beauty and a outdoors-loving culture to match it.
This is the time of year to start planning a visit during the upcoming austral summer; for many trips, you need to make travel arrangements and hut reservations months in advance. I’ve listed below a series of five-star, multi-sport adventures that could fill a two-week (or longer) visit to New Zealand. This itinerary includes dayhiking volcanoes, canoeing a wild river, a hut trek in the Southern Alps, and sea kayaking a remote fjord in the country’s largest national park. Click on the links (or any photo) to read the complete story about each trip.
Get on it, mate.
Having explored some of the most fascinating landscapes in the world that were born of volcanic activity—Yellowstone, Iceland’s Landmannalaugar, Mt. St. Helens, Idaho’s Craters of the Moon—I have to put Tongariro, on New Zealand’s North Island, right up there with the best of them. I hiked to the rim of one volcano there, Mt. Ngauruhoe, that erupted 45 times in the 20th century, and had a bird’s-eye view of another, Mt. Ruapehu, that ranks among the world’s most active volcanoes. The colors in this stark, nearly barren environment defy description; check out the photos in the story linked above.
As soon as you dip a paddle into the Whanganui River, you begin to understand why the country’s native Maori people believe that every bend in this stunning waterway had a mauri, or “life force.” Paddle for three days or five days down this unbroken gorge of sheer sandstone and mudstone cliffs soaring up to 200 feet straight out of the water and draped with jungle-like foliage in infinite hues of green, where ribbon waterfalls pour in straight, pencil-thin lines down the walls. You may discover your own life force.
Although just spitting distance from the world-famous and enormously popular Routeburn Track, the longer and more rugged Rees-Dart remains largely overlooked by the hordes of international trekkers. Yet, it has scenery copied and pasted from the same Southern Alps template: golden grasslands, roaring waterfalls, glaciers and whitewater rivers, and lush and otherworldly forests of moss-draped, twisted beech trees. And incredibly, my companion and I found ourselves walking most of each day without any other hikers around.
New Zealand’s largest national park, Fiordland, sprawls over nearly three million acres of the southwest corner of the South Island—an area as large as Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks combined. It’s home to another world-famous hike, the Milford Track, and other worthy adventures that are relatively accessible. But deep in Fiordland’s wilderness lies Doubtful Sound, a 30-mile-long fjord where cliffs rise straight up out of the sea to 4,000-foot summits—sheer, Yosemite-like granite walls improbably sprouting a vertical jungle of podocarp trees and other indigenous vegetation, thanks to upwards of 23 feet of rain annually. On an overnight sea kayaking trip around upper Doubtful Sound, I saw native crested penguins and paddled on an often mirror-flat sea reflecting soaring cliffs choked in rainforest.