The panorama from the top of Knuckle hill is incredible; from 342 metres above sea level you can see most of Whanganui Inlet, and in the other direction nothing but trees. The drive to get here isn’t too shabby either. The road winds around the inlet, crossing streams and small bays. At low tide it is stunning with tiny channels snaking their way through the mud flats and seaweed and the late afternoon light giving it all a silvery glow.
The trees towered above me, their ramrod-straight bodies reaching to the sky high over my head. In between the trunks the green undergrowth shimmered in the dappled sunlight and I wandered slowly between broken stumps and huge ponga ferns. The Anaura Bay Walkway may be easy, but it’s still got stunning forest and a fantastic view over Anaura Bay.
NZ’s Southern Scenic Route is more than just the Catlins! That stretch of road is famous for a reason, but what many people don’t realize is that there’s another side to it. The Southern Scenic Route actually extends West of Invercargill along the Southern coast of New Zealand and up to Manapouri. It winds its way through farmland, historical and cultural sights, and past endless gorgeous beaches, with far less tourists around than in other parts of the country.
Considered one of the best bush walks on the South Island, the Charming Creek Walkway is gorgeous. The abandoned railway line goes through vegetation that grows over the path to make a tunnel, across wooden bridges and a 37 metre-long suspension bridge. From the bridge and beyond Mangatini Falls comes into view, thundering into the river and reflecting in a pool.
The Hooker Valley Track in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is one of New Zealand’s most popular, and I can see why. Winding between towering mountain peaks covered in snow, the track is easy, relatively flat, and well-maintained. Only taking a few hours, it’s one of the easiest ways to get to the spectacular alpine views New Zealand is famous for. No strenuous uphill hike, no climbing, no helicopters needed.
I followed the short loop track along a boardwalk, between trees hung with moss and jungle-like ferns, the sunlight from above barely visible, the green of it all barely penetrating the dark mood the forest creates. And then, finally, I reached the Tōtaras. The trees towered above me, their hulking bodies dwarfing my existence, making me think of all the changes they must have witnessed in New Zealand over the past millennium.
The 10km Coromandel Walkway connects Fletcher Bay to Stony Bay, right at the tip of the Coromandel peninsula. It has ups and downs, fields and forests, beaches and exposed cliffs, and a dramatic viewpoint. It’s a million shades of green and blue in the trees and bushes and grass and water and sky. There are cows and more cows, plus lots of my favourite NZ birds.
I climbed up the steep grassy Fantail Bay track until I was out of breath and my legs were protesting. But I kept going, thinking that the view from the top would be the perfect reward for this short but punishing climb. Then I reached the end of the track. In a forest. With no view. But the Fantail Bay Track redeemed itself once I turned around and went back the way I’d come.
Do you want a great day trip out of Coromandel Town? The Matamataharakeke Track only takes about three hours, going along a stream through the forest, a walk up a ridge with views across to Kennedy Bay and out to Waikawau Bay, a great lookout point that’s perfect for a picnic, and then a descent back to Waikawau Bay with more stunning scenery.
Onawe Peninsula juts out into Akaroa Harbour like an elongated pyramid, connected to the mainland only by a thin ridge reminiscent of a dragon’s spiny backbone. A walk on this old Maori pa site is a lovely way to spend an afternoon, basking in the sun and watching people fish from the nearby beach.