The isolated and beautiful Cape Palliser Lighthouse. © Julian Apse

Get outdoors: Eight places to escape to nature this spring

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The beauty of travelling in New Zealand is that you don’t have to head far to find yourself in the great outdoors. From windswept beaches to stunning cycle trails, we’ve picked eight spots around the country where you can escape to nature this spring. 

1. Kariotahi Beach, Auckland

The magnificent black-sand beach of Karioitahi is a windswept landscape that suits all sorts of invigorating activities. From hang gliding to paragliding, blokarting to surfing, you can even take your four-wheel drive for a spin along the beach if you’re game. There’s not much there in the way of commercialism, no shops or boutiques, and aside from the surf life-saving club and the public toilets, it’s really just a whole lot of nature, much as it would’ve looked thousands of years ago. A mere eight kilometres from Waiuku, grab your favourite takeaways on the way through and settle on down to watch the sunset... cheap and cheerful but oh, so hard to beat.

2. Cape Foulwind, West Coast

This incongruously named peninsula south of Westport is certainly worth a visit. There’s a well-marked trail between Tauranga Bay and Cape Foulwind which can be completed in a couple of hours return and lets you view a seal colony as well as penguins if you’re lucky. If you haven’t experienced the ubiquitous ground bird the weka, you are in for a treat here. But, be warned: do not leave your car keys or anything valuable within reach. Weka are not called ‘sticky-beaked’ without reason. 

3. Lake Waikaremoana, Eastland

Lake Waikaremoana is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, set in the heart of Te Urewera, the largest area of untouched bush in the North Island. Take on the track over four days, or 46 kilometres around a half-circuit of the vast lake. Waikaremoana, ‘the sea of rippling waters,’ is literally that – a shining gem, set amongst luxuriant rainforest, with abundant native birdlife and seriously spectacular scenery. While the trail does require a reasonable level of fitness, aside from the steep climb to Panekire Bluff on the first (or last, depending which way you tackle the route) it is not too challenging.

4. Ship Cove, Marlborough

Set right on the outskirts of the Marlborough Sounds, Ship Cove Meretoto was a favourite anchorage of Captain James Cook and remains popular with boaties today. Known as Meretoto to Māori, the cove was a place of shelter at the edge of the open sea. Arriving in New Zealand, Cook found the same thing and spent 170 days here between his first visit in January 1770 and his final departure in February 1777. As well as being a historically significant site, Ship Cove Meretoto also marks the start of one of New Zealand’s Great Rides and fantastic multi-day walk, the 70km Queen Charlotte Track. Visit by charter boat or sea kayak, learn about the site’s history and take the short bush walk to a hidden waterfall. 

5. The Timber Trail, Ruapehu

This weaving, winding and wonderful 85km ride follows what remains of an old tramway trail, once a common sight in the Kiwi bush, used by sawmillers up until 1958 to haul rimu logs by the thousand. The Timber Trail makes the most of the tramway, old bulldozer roads and a few newly constructed sections of track. While it’s mostly pretty easy going, especially the family-friendly second stretch from Piropiro, you will wonder at the tenacity of the lumbering woodmen who drove logs through these amazing spaces. The trail features a staggering (and slightly swaying) 35 bridges, eight of them significant suspension versions, the longest a stunning 141m in length and 55m high. 

6. Farewell Spit, Nelson

Farewell Spit is the longest natural sandbar on the planet. Though it’s a sandbar but also a wetland. The northern/seaward side is barren dunes, while the southside faces Golden Bay and is more hospitable. The tide can go out kilometres here, revealing huge areas of salt marsh and mudflats which are a homeland for loads of feathered folk. Thousands of migratory waders form the Arctic tundra turn up here seasonally. There is also a gannet colony at the far eastern end and a fully functional lighthouse. While you’re here, head to Wharariki Beach, a 7km drive and half-hour walk from the base of the spit. An amazing, unusual place, this wild beach at the very top of the South Island is famed for very strange dune shapes, weird rock formations just off the shore and seals at the far end of the beach.

7. Cape Palliser, Wairarapa

Cape Palliser is a wild, windblown promontory that is the southernmost tip of the North Island. Even the road there should be on your bucket list, a shoreline-hugging, sinewy stretch of craziness. Cape Palliser lighthouse was constructed in 1897 and was once fuelled by oil, but its 20-secondly blink is electrically derived these days and managed from a control room in Wellington. Climb the 250 steps up to its base while you think on the pivotal role it plays in ship guiding. Gaze across the water and marvel at the fact that here you’re actually further south than Nelson or Blenheim which are in the South Island.

8 Clutha Gold Trail, Otago

'Gabriel’s Gully,' near Lawrence, was where the find that initiated the great Otago gold rush was made. Today Lawrence is a much more peaceful spot and a handy little town for exploring the local area. The best way to get a feel for the history of the area is to jump on a bike and ride part or all of the two-day Clutha Gold Trail to Roxburgh Dam. The trail is well punctuated by information panels and for a stretch runs alongside the mighty Clutha River, allowing you to really get a feel for the power of this impressive waterway.

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