Take a Hike

Jan 18, 2011
Outside Magazine
New Zealand's Milford Sound

Milford Sound    Photo: Photo by Andrew Bargery/Aurora

Tramping in New Zealand is like a national religion. The nine multi-day hut-to-hut Great Walks are exceptional and, thanks to Department of Conservation vigilance, often blissfully uncrowded. The Milford Track, a 33-mile route weaving through alpine terrain overlooking deep-walled fjords in the far south, gets the most buzz—and deserves it. The four-to-five-day trek starts with a boat journey across Milford Sound. Your first view: 5,551-foot Mitre Peak, jutting straight out of the water. The track climbs a 3,507-foot pass across ice fields, skirts 1,904-foot Sutherland Falls, and ends with another boat ride, across Lake Te Anau. You can reserve hut space, plus bus and boat tickets, for the November-to-April trekking season on the DOC Web site (roughly $340 for huts and transportation; doc.govt.nz).

The 34-mile Abel Tasman Coast Track is tramping lite. It's sunnier here on the north end of the South Island, the beech forests are interspersed with golden-sand beaches, the maximum elevation is less than 700 feet, and you're more likely to find an impromptu campsite party with Danes and Germans than wilderness solitude. Beware: there are two low spots along the trek—Onetahuti and Awaroa—where high tides can cover the trail, so be sure to time it right. For your nights on the trail, choose from four huts ($27 per person) or 18 primitive campsites ($9 per person).

An alternate to the Great Walk circuit is Aspiring Guides' (aspiringguides.com) eight-day Gillespie Rabbit Pass Traverse, in Mount Aspiring National Park, about midway down the South Island. The longest guided trek in New Zealand, it cuts through everything from rainforests to hanging glaciers. Plus you can brag that you tagged the icy shoulder of Mount Awful (the treacherous summit is 7,201 feet). The guides double as camp cooks, and you stay in pre-pitched campsites and luxury mountain huts (from $1,830 per person).

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