North Island walks and day hikes - some personal favourites

Short walks to magnificent viewing spots, challenging day hikes and beach-side rambles; a useful selection of good walks around New Zealand's North Island.

Matauri Bay and Rainbow Warrior Memorial Track - Northland, Bay of Islands

Easy walking in an historically interesting area. Matauri Bay is home to Mataatua Puhi, a Maori war canoe built to commemorate the great Pacific migration that brought the Maori people to New Zealand. Mataatua Puhi is housed in an open sided waka whare (canoe house) next to the camping ground at the northern end of Matauri Bay. Matauri Bay is where New Zealand’s first English missionary Rev Marsden, made landfall in 1814.

To visit the site of the Rainbow Warrior take the steep track at the far end of the Matauri Bay beach. At the end of the climb are spectacular views over the Cavalli islands and a sculpture memorial by artist Chris Booth to the Greenpeace vessel, the Rainbow Warrior. The ship was blown up at its mooring in Auckland by French secret operatives in 1985, in response to Greenpeace protests against French anti-nuclear testing in the Pacific. One person on board was killed. This event is one of the reasons behind New Zealand’s staunchly independent anti-nuclear position.

Te Paki Coastal Track

There are several good day walks to be had at the very far tip of New Zealand along sections of the stunning Te Paki Coastal Track about an hour’s drive north of Kaitaia. The simplest is to take the 10 minute stroll down to the lighthouse at Cape Reinga and and enjoy the view out over the meeting of the Tasman and the Pacific oceans. Cape Reinga is 192kms north on SH1 of Keri Keri or 111kms north of Kaitaia.

To hike from Tapotupotu Bay to Cape Reinga lighthouse allow 3 hours each way. For Tapotupotu turn off SH1 just 2 km south of Cape Reinga following signposts along approximately 3 km of gravel road to Tapotupotu Bay. From the western end of Tapotupotu Bay climb steeply and follow the cliffs before descending into Sandy Bay. This section of the track affords stunning coastal views back to Spirits Bay and of the Cape Reinga lighthouse. Sandy Bay is a lovely beach for swimming, fishing or relaxing, and has a stream. It is a further 1 1/2 hours to the lighthouse. Alternatively you can do this track in reverse and simply hike from Cape Reinga to Sandy Bay and back (approx 3 hours return)

Karekare Beach, Waterfall and Walks - near Auckland

Just south of Piha, and 35kms/45 minutes west of Auckland, Karekare is one of Auckland's most spectacular beaches and wilderness areas. Part of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, Karekare was made famous by the Oscar winning movie The Piano.

Parts of this track can be a bit of a scramble, so if you prefer an easy but rewarding stroll just visit the Karekare Falls, a short stroll from Karekare Beach, up the valley on the Taraire track.

From Karekare beach take off up the steep Zion Hill Track (at the Pohutukawa Glade picnic area, just beyond the Karekare Surf Club), follow along Zion Ridge to join the Buck Taylor track. Rather than turning off to to the Lone Kauri car park, continue right along the Buck Taylor track to meet the Parahara Valley Track down to beautiful black sand dunes and along these back to Karekare Beach.

The Pinnacles - The Coromandel

This is a full day walk, 5-6 hours reutrn to Pinnacles Hut and allow another 1 1/2 hours return if attempting to climb the Pinnacles themselves. You can make a decision on this when you reach the hut.

From the Kauaeranga Road-end car park, walk to the swingbridge, cross the river and continue alongside the river to Webb Creek, then follow the historic packhorse route to the hydro Camp. The track from the Hydro Camp climbs and sidles around a hill before following a more open ridge with spectacular views of the east coast, before dropping down along a signposted side track for about 10 minutes to Pinnacles Hut.

From the hut to the Pinnacles there is now a well constructed path, but it is still a steady climb for around 40 minutes to the summit at 759 metres. Here there are spectacular views of the bush, mountains and coastline of the eastern Coromandel. Allow up to 6 return to hut, 8 hours return to the Pinnacles. Good fitness required. Contact Kiwi Dundee for guided hiking options in the Coromandel.

Tongariro Crossing - Taupo and Turangi

While there are other hikes in the area the Crossing is a satisfyingly challenging day walk and gives you magnificent views as well as close-up encounters with volcanic lakes, historic lava flows, recent eruption impact craters and general thermal activities. This is a 7-8 hour day walk over 19.4 kms of rugged terrain and climbing to 1120 metres so ensure you have some basic hiking fitness before you arrive. See Department of Conservation - Tongariro for a detailed description. There are several excellent guided options such as Walking Places who offer very small or exclusive group day treks.

Two Hawkes Bay Tracks - Te Mata Peak and Cape Kidnappers

Te Mata Peak has an essential place in the Maori history of the Hawkes Bay. Standing 399 metres above the Heretaunga Plains, the views are spectacular and there are several options from a 40 minute loops to 2 hour tracks circling the mountain. One of the best things to do is contact Waimarama Maori and ask to do their guided two hour trip to Te Mata. You will gain a huge appreciation of Maori culture and the history of region laid out in front of you.

You can take a well organised tour to Cape Kidnappers or spend a day walking the 8kms of beach along the base of the cliffs to visit the Gannet Colony sites. This is very tide dependent so check timing before you set off. Cape Kidnappers Gannet Safaris run tours out to the Gannet Colony on the Cape.

Mt. Victoria - Wellington

Wellington is a good walking city. You can start from Oriental Parade heading up either Hay Street/Telford Terrace or further along up Grass Street to reach Palliser Road, Lookout Road and Mt Victoria with spectacular views over the city and harbour. Return the same way or via Palliser Road to Oriental Terrace and then Oriental Parade. Here's a useful map. Other good local walks include taking the cable car up to the Botanical Gardens and strolling back down through the gardens to the waterfront then walking the waterfront as far as Te Papa museum where you can enjoy their excellent cafe.

Day Hiking - What To Pack

Footwear: the most important item to bring with you is a pair of quality hiking/walking shoes. Ideally these have ankle support (lightweight boots rather than shoes) but this is not essential. Most importantly the soles should have good tread. Lightweight runners or everyday shoes don’t cut it unless you are in a the city. You will find good walking shoes are useful shoes to have with you for travelling anyway, whether you are hiking through forests or lugging baggage through airport terminals.

Sunhat, rainproof jacket, at least one really warm thermal top, hiking trousers or shorts (not jeans) and small daypack. This is sufficient for summer day walks, for winter or autumn day hiking you will need more thermals, gloves and a warm hat.

Optional: Hiking poles (collapsible) if you are used to these, and they do help with New Zealand’s steepish terrain. A watch - just a simple timepiece that means you are not reliant on a phone signal to know what time it is and how long you have been hiking for when you are in the middle of nowhere.

Buy when you get here: sunscreen, insect repellent, water bottle. Always take an energy snack/packed lunch with you for longer hikes. Seek advice, from your hosts, from the local Department of Conservation Office (maps, guidance etc) and if in doubt look for some of the excellent guided walks available.

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