Only in New Zealand could you bathe in a natural hot spring one day, and marvel at towering glaciers the next.
For a relatively small country (268,000km squared), New Zealand’s diversity in terrain and contrasting landscapes are unparalleled. Seriously. It’s like someone squashed down the US to 1/37th it’s size. And then stuck a bunch more wildlife in there for good measure.
Undoubtedly the best way to see New Zealand’s variety and natural beauty for yourself, is to take advantage of some of the many short walks that criss-cross its two main islands.
So here is my pick of the top 5 short walks you didn’t know you needed to do.
Isthmus Peak – Hawea
Duration: 5-6 hours return
The lesser known big brother of the ever popular Roys Peak hike in neighbouring Wanaka.
Isthmus peak is an easier walk, with fewer switchbacks and not so steep terrain to negotiate – a saviour on the way up, and a god send on the way back down!
Just a couple of hours and a few bites of the chocolate bar after setting off, hikers are rewarded with uninterrupted views out over both Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka and the rest of the Southern Alps beyond.
Hooker Valley – Mt Cook
Duration: 2-3 hour return
Not impressed by stunning blue lakes surrounded by mountains?
Maybe floating icebergs and glaciers are more your thing?
Well then, you’re in luck. The Hooker Valley has got you covered.
This short, almost completely flat hike takes you straight up through the Hooker Valley as you track alongside the Hooker River towards the beautiful glacial lake at the conclusion of the walk.
Very often, hikers will also be rewarded for their efforts with the sight of floating icebergs in the lake formed by bits of broken off glacier.
Not bad for just a couple hours leg work!
Lake Tarawera, Rotorua
Duration: 5-6 hours return
After all that talk of cold lakes and glaciers, you’re going to need a little warming up.
Lake Tarawera’s southern shore is home to a little known hike in the Rotorua area where one of the largest bodies of water in New Zealand meets a series of natural geothermal springs.
Thanks to the nearby Volcano of the same name (Mt Tarawera) the area is a hive of geothermal activity – something you’ll no doubt learn within moments of arriving in Rotorua.
Be sure to take your swimmers on this walk, as you’ll want to jump in and feel the warm water for yourself.
As you swim or float relaxingly around, you’ll feel waves of hot and cold water washing over you.
At the end, if you’re feeling too relaxed to face the walk back or you’ve simply floated the day away and ran out of light, a handy water taxi service is available to pick you up and take you back to the starting point where you can be reunited with your car and move on to the next adventure.
Duration: 6-8 hours
While you’re in the area, Lake Taupo – a short drive to the West – is home to one of the most popular day hikes in NZ.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing takes you through heaps of Lord Of The Rings style terrain and puts you within touching distance of Mt Doom. If you’re feeling extra energetic after the climb up, you can even take a side trip to summit it.
The hike is a tough one, and you should set aside a full day if you want to take it on.
Furthermore, since it’s at altitude, the weather can be harsh and unpredictable. If you’re certain you don’t want to miss it’s hot springs, steam vents and alpine lakes formed in the craters of old volcanic explosions, you may be best advised to set a couple of days aside just incase. In poor weather conditions the track can be dangerous and will likely be closed.
Bobs Cove – Glenorchy
Back down on the South Island, no New Zealand trip is complete without a visit to the postcard perfect township of Glenorchy, and beyond to the aptly named ‘Paradise’. And yes. That’s actually what the place is called.
On the way, take half an hour out to stop off at the Bobs Cove lookout.
This is a very short walk, which can be made longer for those who like to work harder for their treats by tapping it onto the end of the 12 mile delta walk. The two link up at the Northern side of the cove and give you a great opportunity to extend your time on the water’s edge before you make the short ascent to the coves high view point.
An easy walk with maximum bang-for-your-buck views. A perfect way to end your time in this insanely beautiful country.
Ready For Something Bigger?
If your trip is a little longer and you have more time on your hands, you can also check out my roundup of the 5 best overnight hikes on the South Island.
New Zealand, and the South Island in particular, is home to some of the best hikes I’ve ever been on, and some of the best backcountry huts you’ll find anywhere in the world.
Their Department of Conservation put a huge amount of time and resources into maintaining the huts and networks of tracks across the country for us all to enjoy. So let’s go enjoy it.
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