Day walks in Tongariro National Park. © Thomas Schweighofer

Off-the-beaten-track day walks

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Explore hidden walking gems that require only a map, some sturdy footwear and a strong desire to get out there and explore. 

Going somewhere you haven’t been previously – and somewhere that is not so obvious – can still feel like you are creating first footprints in the sand, pushing a bit further through untracked bush or following a hard-to-find river back to its source.

In New Zealand, we are blessed with such a varied and still largely unpopulated countryside, that opportunities exist almost everywhere.

1. Kauri Mountain to Ocean Beach, Northland

Ocean Beach, Whangārei

Ocean Beach, Whangārei. © Russell Street Creative Commons 

This long stretch of white-sand beach is not a particularly challenging ‘mission’, but the walk is along a beautiful stretch of Northland coastline and offers constantly stunning views towards Whangārei Heads. It will only take a couple of hours in one direction, but you’ll either have to organise a car swap with someone else or walk back as well. For an even fuller (possibly overnight) experience, carry on along a bush track from Ocean Beach (Te Whara Track) over Bream Head to Urquharts Bay (another five to six hours).

2. Mercer Bay, Auckland

Mercer Bay West Auckland

Mercer Bay on Auckland's west coast is found between Piha and Karekare.  © Oliver Strewe

Surprisingly, especially being so close to our largest city, this is a little known and highly rewarding spot between Piha Beach and Karekare. To get there, drive past Karekare and look out for the Te Ahuahu turnoff. Be warned: Getting to the bay is not for the faint-hearted. It requires scrambling down a cliff, at times using sturdy ropes that have been left permanently. But the long descent is more than worth it. At the bottom, you are rewarded with a secluded beach and the most awesome sea caves in the area. Make sure you go at low tide to ensure access the largest cave.

3. Ruahine, Manawatū

Ruahine valley

Looking down on the Ruahine Dress Circle. © Henry Burrows Creative Commons

The Ruahine Range in Manawatū is justifiably popular with trampers, mountain runners and hunters. Finding a quiet corner may not be easy, especially in summer, but the Knights-Shorts track full day loop (eight to 10 hours) might just be an option. The high point is the Toka Trig on the Ngāmoko Range of the Ruahines, and then returning via the tops and back to the start. There are great views of the volcanoes to the north. You can camp at Coal Creek an hour from the car park and there is also a shelter on the tops. Because this track is in the open for a fair amount of time, it is advisable to only do it in fine weather. Check with DOC for updated conditions.

4. Gertrude Saddle, Fiordland

Gertrude Saddle, Fiordland

Gertrude Saddle Fiordland. © Sara Larcombe Creative Commons

Hiking and scrambling up to the view at Gertrude Saddle isn’t really off the beaten track, but, surprisingly, not that many Kiwis have done it. Starting near Homer Tunnel on the way to Milford Sound, a track leads up the Gertrude Valley, beneath towering granite mountains, and then up scree slopes to a series of broad, polished rock terraces. Where it gets steep, there is a wire to hold on to, providing Dutch courage, and then carry on up to the saddle above you. This requires a bit of height gain (two to three hours to the saddle), but the view down the other side to Milford Sound is simply gobsmacking. This should only be done in summer and autumn when all snow has melted away, and DOC will be able to provide advice and track conditions.  

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