GoSee New Zealand's Great Walks
Experiencing some of NZ's famous walks
New Zealand is spoilt for choice when it comes to amazing walking and hiking trails. From the Abel Tasman to the Kepler Track, there is something for all tastes and abilities. GoSee's own Lisa Ruhfass recently explored a few for herself, having been lucky enough to book at the last minute due to fewer people travelling to New Zealand. In this blog, Lisa tells us about her trip and shares a few tips for those ready to make the journey themselves. And remember, GoSee has lots of great rental vehicle choices to help you get from one walk to another.
Booking a Great Walk
In March, 2022 I booked a spontaneous trip from Auckland to the South Island to do the Routeburn Track. When it comes to the extremely popular Great Walks, this was a great time to get out and tick this off from my bucket list. Bookings for the walks are made available in May each year for the following season and can often lead to the Department of Conservation's (DOC) website crashing as campsites and huts get booked out within several minutes. However, this year my friends and I were able to book Great Walks at the last minute as fewer tourists meant that huts and campsites that are usually snapped up by eager hikers far in advance were still available.
Our Itinerary was quite ambitious, trying to make the most of our time in the South Island. Starting our drive from Christchurch we lost no time and drove directly to Whitehorse Hill Campground located in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in the Canterbury region. There are several day and overnight tracks that you can do in this beautiful National Park.
In retrospect, I think it is a good idea to allow more time and add some days in between the more physical activities to give your body some well-deserved rest and time to adjust.
Hooker Valley Track
Distance: 10 km return
Level: Easy walking track
Time: Approximately 3 hours
One must do is the Hooker Valley track. It is easy to walk, with most of the track being flat. After approximately 5 km, following the track and crossing three swing bridges above alpine streams, you will reach the endpoint and can appreciate the Hooker Lake, New Zealand’s highest peak Mount Cook, and its neighbouring mountains in all their glory.
If you are leaving in the early hours, you might see icebergs and some frost flowers, making this place look truly magical, with the first glimpse of sunlight shining onto the famous Mt Cook and the surrounding Southern Alps.
Level: Advanced 1800 m
Time: 4 hours One Way
Tip: The trip to Mueller Hut can be done as a day trip or an overnight stay. It is best to pre-book the night at Mueller hut.
If you are planning to do the Mueller Hut Route as a return walk, it is best to start in the early hours as this is, depending on your level of fitness, quite a demanding and exhausting hike. I recommend staying overnight as it will give you the opportunity to take in this amazing, incomparable alpine environment. If the weather is right and you are lucky, you can enjoy the most magical colour palettes at sunset, witness a starry night without any light pollution, and wake up early to catch the sunrise and glow with a view down into the valley.
Even if you are planning to stay overnight, I recommend starting your ascent earlier in the day, as if it is a cloudless, sunny day, it gets more exhausting than it needs to be and might be less enjoyable. Not going to lie, it was quite tough mentally. The whole first part is stairs. They seem a bit endless, but you know the view is worth it, and it is there already, mostly accompanying you along the way, ready for you to soak in whenever you need to take a breather.
Once you reach the Sealy Tarns, it is a lovely place to take a break, with some stunning views over Hooker Valley, Mueller Lake, Mount Sefton and the surrounding mountains. Also, a good place to gather some more energy for the coming part up to Mueller Hut, which is not a maintained track (no more stairs, yes!) but take your time and watch your step as it is an alpine-like route, with a mix of boulders and rock fields to cross going further up.
Once you make it to the top you will be rewarded with stunning views of the Hooker Valley, Mount Sefton, and Mueller Glacier.
From here it is only another 20 minutes of following the orange markers through rocky terrain and climbing or jumping from boulder to boulder. After a couple of turns, the hut will be in sight and with it the stunning surroundings of the Alpine environment you are currently in. Time to admire the very rough nature with only the most resilient rock flowers that withstand any weather and climate.
Staying at the hut also means meeting other people, exchanging experiences, and enjoying the marvellous views together with the continuous sound of snow or moraine avalanches growling in the background, reminding you how high up you are.
Making our way back down the next day felt a lot quicker but can still be tricky, as moving downwards on uneven ground and steps can get quite intense on your knees. Either way, it is recommended to take trekking poles if you have some, to support you in your descent.
Visiting the Mueller Hut was very much worth the effort, it was a wonderful experience, and I would definitely recommend it. Make sure to read additional information on the DOC website to decide if this walk might be for you.
“ This environment is hard to describe, everything looks very majestic and magical, reminding me a lot of the Lord of the Rings movies. ”
Time: 2-4 days One Way
After returning from the Mueller Hut, my friend and I made our way to Queenstown. Once we arrived, we finished the last bit of packing to be all prepared for our next day pick up to start the Routeburn Track.
There are several transfer options. The best idea is to compare them and see what works best for you. We used Tracknet’s services and had a pretty good experience. If you were to go on a solo trip, you might meet other hikers on transfer services like this one. Some people also use a relocation service for their car, swap keys along the way with other trampers, or others even walk the track in reverse to get back to their car (which means you will have to carry additional food).
No matter what direction you choose to walk, they are both fairly similar when it comes to elevation and views.
When we started our walk, we came across several people with day packs on. So, if you are in the area and do not want to commit to the full multi-day hike, you could always think about just doing a day trip to enjoy the creek along the way and walk up to the Routeburn flats where you can find the first hut and campsite.
Our first day was pretty easy, as we only went that far to camp for the night. This was perfect for us as we were still feeling our muscles and bodies from the trip to Mueller Hut. Routeburn Falls offers no campground and has therefore no option to stay if you are intending to camp. The whole first part was not too steep and went through a beautiful forest and over several swing bridges, paired with some of the biggest ferns we’ve ever seen.
The Routeburn flat campsite is truly amazing! Very comfortable for campers as everything is covered in soft grass and welcoming ground, which makes it easy to attach your tent to stable soil. Additionally, you are surrounded by beautiful views of the beech forests and mountain ranges. Close by is also a creek and natural pool where you can refresh yourself or enjoy a dip.
On day two, we made our way up from Routburn Flats to the Routeburn Falls hut. Once we arrived, we had a lunch break there and checked out the huts. It was one of the biggest and most modern huts I have seen so far, with water flushing toilets, unbeatable views, and beautiful waterfalls close by.
Once we packed up again, we ascended further up and through the valley accompanied by the vast nature, creeks close by and with many tarns and waterfalls along the way. This environment is hard to describe, everything looks very majestic and magical, reminding me a lot of the Lord of the Rings movies.
Once you reach the top of the upper valley you will see the lake, which seems quite surreal bearing in mind how high up you are. Further around the corner, you will find Harris Saddle, a smaller shelter where you can have your lunch and a nice rest.
From the shelter, we made our way to Lake McKenzie, where our campsite for the night was waiting for us. We were lucky with the weather, having some clouds but still reasonably good views along the way. The path winds along the ridgeline, where you can see the creek from high above. There are also strong gusts of winds, that will remind you how high up and exposed you are. So definitely take it easy and take your time in this humbling, beautiful and untamed environment.
At one point we turned a corner and were finally able to see Mackenzie Lake and the huts from high above. The last bit led us through a mystical beech forest, as hauntingly beautiful and eerie as ever. All stones, moss and trees, everything seems to be intertwined into one, reminding us gently that nothing is permanent and of the never-ending circle of life.
Once we arrived at the campsite and pitched our tents it started to rain and did not stop for the remainder of our journey. We were actually quite lucky, as the forecast said it would rain most of the time, but it held off until the last night and day, which is fine as you can dry your equipment and tent once you are back home.
The campsite was close to the lake and there are a couple of little side missions you can follow if you feel like it. I only went off to visit the split rock which was quite impressive, as well as down to the lake to take in this beautiful environment.
Our last day to the Divide was accompanied mostly by rain through further beech forests, which was not a problem as the rain added to the moody vibe and wild nature surrounding us.
Arriving at the Divide shelter, happy, relieved and pretty wet, we were astounded to find some cabins for us to get changed into a drier set of clothes. We ended the trip cooking up one last tea and soup, sharing stories from the days before with fellow hikers and waiting for the transport back to Queenstown.
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Roy's Peak Track
Time: 5-6 hours return
After spending another night in Queenstown, we decided to add a stop and drive to Wanaka to do Roy's Peak before heading up further to Lake Tekapo.
This is a 16 km (5-6 hours) return track, rated as easy, probably due to the nature of the wide walkway through farmland, which you basically follow continuously until you reach the higher up tussock tops and the famous photo spot.
From here it’s only another 30 minutes to the top of Roy's Peak. Enjoy the most spectacular views on your ascent and especially from the top where you can soak in a 360-degree view of Wanaka and the surrounding area. Don’t underestimate the length of this walk, over time you will gain an elevation of 1,228m, so make sure to take enough water and lunch for your breaks along the way. This day was also pretty special for me as I saw my first mountain goats in the distance. If you are lucky, you might see one at the top when following the path which connects Roy’s peak with another multi-day track.
Feeling accomplished but tired after the descent we grabbed something to eat in Wanaka and made our way to our final stop at Lake Tekapo where we stayed one night and enjoyed some well-deserved hot pools the next day before flying back to Auckland in the evening.