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Walking the Ōtira Valley Track, with Mt Philistine beyond, in Arthur’s Pass National Park.

Six little-known summer day walks you can do in New Zealand

The cicadas are loud, the daylight is long and it’s time to walk off some of that Christmas excess. But it’s peak tourist season too, so where can you go to avoid the crowds? Shaun Barnett, author of guidebook Day Walks in New Zealand, suggests six lesser-known walks, including historic coastal bays in Northland and Golden Bay, waterfalls in the King Country and Hawke’s Bay, a mountain amphitheatre at Arthur’s Pass and an old mining site near Glenorchy.

Whangamumu Track

Whangamumu Scenic Reserve, Bay of Islands

Yachts at anchor in Whangamumu Harbour, Northland.

Northland has a rich human history. It’s no surprise the mild climate, numerous harbours and abundant forests attracted early Māori to settle here, then later the first Europeans.

Whangamumu Harbour is a sheltered inlet located near the Bay of Islands, south of Cape Brett. Māori once occupied the attractive natural harbour, and between 1890 and 1940, European whalers made a base here, too.

At Net Rock, north of the harbour, humpback whales were “caught” with large nets fixed by a wire cable across a narrow channel – apparently the only place in the world where this “fishing” technique was employed. Using longboats, the whalers drove the humpbacks into the nets, where the entangled whales were sufficiently slowed to be easily harpooned, then dragged back to the whaling base for boiling down.

Pōhutukawa growing over an old brick wall and boiler at the harbour’s historic whaling station.

In its peak year, 1927, the station produced some 388 tons of oil from 74 whales. It finally closed after an oil slick from a wrecked ship forced the whales to alter their migration path.

From a signposted layby on Rāwhiti Rd, this walk passes a recently restored wetland, then climbs a forested ridge to descend to Whangamumu Harbour. It suits walkers of modest abilities and families with school-age children. Carry drinking water, and allow enough time to explore the historic whaling station, where pōhutukawa grow out of the brick and metal ruins.

Grade: Easy. Total walking time: 2.5-3 hours return. Access: From Russell, drive for 24km (30 minutes) on Russell, Kempthorne and Manawaora Rds before turning left onto Rāwhiti Rd. The track start is signposted on the right, 1km along Rāwhiti Rd, and there are toilets here too. Secure parking is available on nearby private land for a small fee.

Tawarau Falls, in a King Country conservation area dominated by native forest and limestone.

Tawarau Falls Loop Track

Tawarau Conservation Area, King Country

Native forests and rugged hill-country farms characterise the King Country, but it’s the underlying limestone that lends the region its most defining features. The area boasts many caves, notably at Waitomo, but also layered cliffs, in places reminiscent of those better known in Paparoa National Park. Tawarau Conservation Area is a large tract of native forest, dominated by limestone features and some beautiful stands of tawa, as well as a striking waterfall, which tumbles through a cleft adjacent to a colourful limestone overhang. Access can be confusing, so take a topographical map.

An information panel indicates the starting point at the end of a left-hand fork in Appletree Rd. A narrow track, slippery in places, leads through native forest beside the Tawarau River. The river snakes its way through a narrow limestone trench, and requires four crossings – the first using a footbridge, but the following three must be forded, so take care. Shortly before the waterfall, the river enters a limestone labyrinth. At a signposted junction, take the five-minute side-track that descends steeply to the base of the falls, with a chain providing security.

Either return on your inward route, or continue on to intercept the Double Falls Track, which ends at the other fork of Appletree Rd. From there, it is about a 30-minute walk on the road to get back to your vehicle.

Grade: Medium. Total walking time: 2.5-3 hours round trip. Access: Turn off SH3 onto SH37, also known as Waitomo Caves Rd. From Waitomo, take Te Anga Rd and drive for 18km until you turn onto Appletree Rd. This is a short gravel road through pine forest that is negotiable by a 2WD with reasonable ground clearance. Where the road forks, take the left-hand branch.

Shine Falls, Hawke's Bay

Shine Falls Track

Boundary Stream Scenic Reserve, Hawke’s Bay

Some call Shine Falls the finest in the Hawke’s Bay; certainly they are the highest. The 58m waterfall tumbles over a limestone escarpment in the region’s most significant lowland forest remnant, Boundary Stream Mainland Island. The track to the falls is an easy, delightful bush walk, suitable for families and walkers of most abilities.

Since 1996, Boundary Stream has been one of DoC’s mainland islands: sites of intensive management where pest numbers are kept low to improve the habitat for native species. North Island brown kiwi, toutouwai (North Island robin), kōkako, kākā and kārearea (New Zealand falcon) are among the birds thriving in the reserve. It’s also a haven for some rare plants, such as kākā beak and yellow mistletoe.

From the carpark, the track crosses a stile and passes over farmland beneath sizeable limestone bluffs and outcrops. Posts mark the route for 20-25 minutes to the reserve boundary. From here, an easy, flat track runs above a gorge in Boundary Stream with limestone cliffs above. In spring, yellow kōwhai flowers and the red blooms of the endangered kākā beak add colour to the more sombre greens of the surrounding bush. About five minutes before Shine Falls, the track through to Pohokura Rd branches off. Continue over a footbridge and past a picnic table to reach a pool at the base of the falls.

Grade: Easy. Total walking time: 1.5-2 hours return. Access: From Napier, drive north on SH2 for 43km until just past Lake Tūtira. Turn left onto Matahorua Rd, follow for 13km, then turn right onto Heays Access Rd and follow for 7km to reach the Shine Falls carpark, shelter and picnic area. Allow an hour’s drive from Napier.

Taupō Point, a lovely swimming spot on the quieter side of Abel Tasman National Park.

Taupō Point

Abel Tasman National Park, Golden Bay

Whether it’s geology, history or simply fine coastal scenery that attracts you, Taupō Point is well worth visiting. Granite dominates almost the entire coastline of Abel Tasman National Park, except at Taupō Point, where an outcrop of limestone occurs at this unusual headland. Best of all, this walk lies on the quieter Golden Bay side of the park. 

The return scramble around rocky red ledges at low tide.

The area boasts a rich Māori history. Nearby, Whariwharangi Bay is thought to be the place where in 1642 Dutch seafarer Abel Tasman had a bloody encounter with Ngāti Tumatakokiri, the iwi that dominated the area at the time. Taupō Point was possibly the place from which they launched their waka to confront Tasman’s two ships. Certainly, a Māori pā once dominated the headland at Taupō Point, which offered a superb vantage point with excellent natural defences.

Access to Taupō Point is dependent on the tides, so plan your trip accordingly.

Take the Abel Tasman Coast Track for 15 minutes, until the signposted branch to Taupō Point. This descends through coastal forest until reaching the shoreline and following it northwards, by turns bouldery and sandy underfoot. Although you can bypass Uarau Point using a high-tide route, at low tide it’s worth scrambling around the rocky red ledges.

Beyond Uarau Point, easy travel leads along beaches and past a rocky reef to reach Taupō Point. A short track over a sandy isthmus leads to a delightful bay on the north side of the point, where there is excellent swimming.

Grade: Easy. Total walking time: 2-2.5 hours return. Access: From Tākaka, take Abel Tasman Drive to Wainui Bay as far as Anatimo, then turn left onto McShane Rd. At Takapou Bay, there’s a carpark, information shelter and toilets, marking the start of the Abel Tasman Coast Track.

Ōtira Valley Arthur’s Pass, National Park, West Coast.

Ōtira Valley

Arthur’s Pass National Park, West Coast

Of all the valleys in Arthur’s Pass National Park, the Ōtira is arguably the most enchanting. A place of babbling streams, artfully strewn rocks and abundant alpine flora, the valley appeals as much for its more subtle details as for the grand mountains that rise on either side.

Access to this enclosed alpine amphitheatre is via the Ōtira Valley Track, which involves a minimum of effort and climbing. During summer, alpine flowers abound, including giant mountain buttercups, South Island edelweiss and several species of mountain daisy.

The walk starts gently, with the Lake Misery trail branching off after a couple of minutes. The well-graded Ōtira Valley Track sidles across rocky slopes, among tussocks and subalpine shrubs, gradually meandering towards the riverbed, with Mt Philistine dominating the skyline.

After about 45-60 minutes, the track reaches a footbridge over the Ōtira River; here not much more than a creek. Beyond, the route gets rougher, marked by cairns and the occasional pole, and requires some navigational ability, until it peters out entirely beneath the daunting cliffs of Mt Rolleston’s Ōtira face.

Grade: Easy. Total walking time: 1.5-2 hours return. Access: The Ōtira Valley is accessible from a carpark off SH73, about 6km north of Arthur’s Pass village and about 1km from the pass itself.

Heather Jock Hut, with Mt Alaska in the distance.

Glenorchy Scheelite Huts

Whakaari Conservation Area, Otago

Glenorchy is the gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park, but few visitors realise rewarding walks exist right near the township itself, in the Richardson Mountains. This range is notable for a network of rustic huts, remnants from when the area was mined for scheelite.

Scheelite is an ore of tungsten, a soft metal important in the munitions industry, and the fortunes of Glenorchy’s hardy scheelite miners rested squarely on what was happening in the wider world. During times of war, mining was profitable; during peace time, not so much. The Richardson Mountains are a hard, high place, especially in winter, so the miners needed shelter. Because the century-long mining period lasted until the 1980s, many of the huts have survived, and DoC has in recent years done a wonderful job of restoring them.

This walk makes an interesting circuit around the huts in the Bonnie Jean catchment, and will occupy a full day. Those wanting a shorter walk can turn back at Jean Hut (4-5 hours return) or simply visit the Glenorchy Scheelite Battery (1.5-2 hours return). Take plenty of sun protection in summer – there’s precious little shelter.

The Judah Track at first climbs through dry farm country, near the Buckler Burn, to join the old mine vehicle track after half an hour or so. After another 15 minutes, the track reaches the Glenorchy Scheelite Battery site, once the ore-processing plant. The main route continues up the vehicle track, climbing at a steady gradient, until curving into the Bonnie Jean Creek catchment.

The historic Boozer Hut in Glenorchy’s Whakaari Conservation Area.

Stay on the Judah Track for another 60 minutes, past the signposted junction to Jean Hut (your return route), to reach Bonnie Jean Creek. Here, a two-minute side trip leads to one of the historic huts, Boozer – named after a miner with a fondness for liquor. Across the creek, the track zigzags to reach the Bonnie Jean mine and hut, where much mining machinery remains.

From Bonnie Jean Hut, the track climbs to the top hut in the valley, Heather Jock, which has a fine perch offering expansive vistas over the Buckler Burn, the Richardson Mountains, and the more distant Mt Earnslaw/Pikirakatahi.

From there, a track marked by poles drops down a series of zigzags to reach Jean Hut, built during the World War I. Large rocks, hanging either side of the hut by cables, act a crude but effective way of securing the roof against the winds. From Jean Hut, it’s 10 minutes back to the main Judah Track, from where it’s a downhill plod along your inward route.

Grade: Medium-hard. Total walking time: 6-8 hours. Access: From Queenstown, drive for nearly an hour along the Glenorchy-Queenstown Rd to Wyuna, about 3km before Glenorchy. At the carpark, there are toilets, information panels and a small shelter. Keep to the track, which crosses private farmland at first, and take a topographical map for navigation.   

This article was first published in the February 2020 issue of North & South. Follow North & South on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to the fortnightly email for more travel stories.