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Posts categorized “Hiking/Trekking New Zealand”.

New Zealand: Hiking the South Island

By guidebook authors Craig & Kathy Copeland, originally published in the travel section of the Calgary Herald.

Hobbits don’t drive cars.

Occasionally they catch a lift on the back of a horse. But for the most part, they walk.

So for director Peter Jackson, choosing New Zealand to represent Middle Earth in his Lord of the Rings film trilogy was easy. It’s perhaps the most diversely beautiful country in which to go for a long walk.

It’s bulging with mountains, studded with glaciers, slashed by fiords.

The coast — not just isolated stretches, but most of it — remains as wild as when the first Maoris paddled ashore.

The native bush is so thick and lush that, from a distance, forested hillsides appear to be covered in broccoli florets.

The rivers have such a startling clarity that visitors stare at them, transfixed, as if they’d never seen water before, as if this weren’t water at all but some liquid form of sunlight.

And all these visual stimuli come with a soundtrack: birdsong that’s actually musical. Here, birds don’t just chirp and twitter. They emit astonishing arias that would make an angel beg for singing lessons.

New Zealanders are blessed, and they know it. They’ve protected 33% of their country as scenic reserves and national parks. As a result, they host two million visitors a year, many of whom bring their hiking boots.

So, where to hike?

It’s a big country. Take Colorado, pluck it out of North America, break it in two, and toss it into the South Pacific Ocean. That’s New Zealand.



The North Island is home to 80% of all Kiwis. Wellington, the nation’s capital, and Auckland, its largest city, are both in the north.

A mere 800,000 of the country’s 4,129,000 citizens reside on the South Island. Glance at a map and you’ll see why: topographical pandemonium. It makes the island less habitable, but more alluring for hikers.

Look closer at that map and you might see tiny golden rings. They indicate Lord of the Rings filming locations and are labeled with Middle Earth place names: “Isengard,” “Lothlorien,” “Amon Hen,” etc.

The South Island, not the North, is showered with these ring symbols. It’s an accurate measure of which island has the most captivating scenery and affords the most dramatic hiking.

So don’t dilute your New Zealand adventure by attempting to squeeze both islands into your itinerary. Fly in and out of Christchurch, the South Island’s urban hub.

But exit the city quickly. After a twelve-hour transpacific flight deposits you on foreign soil, in a different hemisphere, amid a new season, you need the kind of grounding no metropolis can provide.

Jet lag-feeling as if the essential you is a piece of lost luggage-is best overcome on your feet, out in nature. Besides, you’re here to hike, and just two hours northwest of Christchurch is the ideal place to begin.

Kura Tawhiti Conservation Area, near Castle Hill village, is a grassy basin harbouring an array of fantastic boulders and rock outcrops. Wandering among these monolithic stones and marveling at their sculpted shapes is a joy.


The beauty of this strange place is beyond what can be seen. Many visitors report feeling blissed-out here. They say the atmosphere stimulates childlike playfulness while inducing a powerful sense of tranquility.



The original Maori settlers obviously felt it, because this is where Tohungas (priests) trained their acolytes. The Dalai Lama felt it, too. He called the area “one of the energy source centers of the universe.”

After some gentle Kura Tawhiti walking therapy, you’ll be ready to start hiking.

If you’re a backpacker, you’re aware of the country’s “Great Walks,” for example the Milford Track. These multi-day trails cover spectacular terrain, but they’ve been over-hyped.

Despite quotas, a reservation system, and whopping fees, they’re crowded. Camping is generally prohibited. You’re often required to sleep in huts, which fill to capacity most nights. Jostling for bunk space and queuing up at the toilet dispel any sense of wilderness.

Yet most hikers visiting New Zealand fixate on completing several of these Great Walks. By not swerving out of the parade, they have a blinkered experience.

My wife and I have spent many months researching a New Zealand hiking guidebook. For us, backpacking has been obligatory. But it’s the country’s unheralded wealth of dayhiking opportunities that excited us most.

After boot-testing more than 100 trails, these six dayhikes were among our favourites:

Mt. Arthur

location: Kahurangi National Park, near Motueka

round-trip distance: 11 kilometres

elevation gain: 875 metres

hiking time: 8 hours

From the Flora trailhead, at 920 metres, you’ll surpass treeline within an hour. An excellent ridgecrest trail-affording views over Tasman Bay, across tussocky, moor-like tablelands, and into the shaggy depths of the surrounding wilderness-leads to the panoramic summit of 1795-metre Mt. Arthur.

Robert Ridge

location: Nelson Lakes National Park, near St. Arnaud

round-trip distance: 8 to 16 kilometres

elevation gain: 520 to 1170 metres

hiking time: 4 to 10 hours

Starting at the Mt. Robert trailhead near Lake Rotoiti, ascend the steep, switchbacking Pinchgut Track. Crest the ridge in about an hour. From here, all the way to the lakeside Angelus Hut, you’ll be in the alpine zone, overlooking mountains and valleys while traversing a long, narrow, rocky, 1850-metre spine.

Heaphy Track

location: Kahurangi National Park, near Karamea

round-trip distance: 8 to 32 kilometres

elevation gain: negligible

hiking time: 3 to 9 hours

Yes, it’s one of the Great Walks, but you can make it greater by dayhiking rather than backpacking it. Most of it is submerged in forest. But the south end follows the ocean’s edge for 16 kilometres. The crashing surf is always within earshot, usually within view, and occasionally close enough to spritz you. After walking the sumptuously long beach to Khohaihai River, turn around and enjoy it all again.

Mueller Ridge

location: Mount Cook National Park, near Twizel

round-trip distance: 10 kilometres

elevation gain: 1000 metres

hiking time: 4 to 6 hours

Though gruelingly steep, the trail to 1800-metre Mueller Ridge is mercifully short. It catapults you onto a natural grandstand where you can stare in amazement at New Zealand’s highest peak, glacier-draped Mt. Cook, and its equally icy lieutenant, Mt. Sefton.

Conical Peak

location: Fiordland National Park, near Glenorchy

round-trip distance: 26 kilometres

elevation gain: 1000 metres

hiking time: 8 to 10 hours

The eastern half of the famous Routeburn Track is the most varied and dazzling. And the trail’s climax-1515-metre Conical Peak, just above Harris Saddle-is within range of strong dayhikers. So thumb your nose at fees, reservations and shuttle buses, wait for a shatterproof blue sky, then dash for it. Hike streamside, past numerous cascades, through a magnificent native beech forest. Skirt Harris Lake, high in the alpine zone, then nip up to this diminutive peak for a sweeping view of Fiordland.

Gertrude Saddle

location: Fiordland National Park, near Te Anau

round-trip distance: 10 kilometres

elevation gain: 600 metres

hiking time: 7 to 8 hours

Probe a steep-walled cirque, then negotiate a cairned alpine route that aims for the sky. It follows plummeting streams, rounds a gorgeous lake, then crosses broad, smooth slabs before granting access to the 1410-metre saddle, which from below appeared unassailable. The view is astonishing: an aerial perspective of Milford Sound, New Zealand’s most celebrated natural wonder.

When to go

For optimal weather and fewer crowds, visit New Zealand during February and March-late summer in the southern hemisphere. The South Island tends to remain cool and rainy in November and December. Most Kiwis vacation from Christmas through January.

What to bring

Switchbacks, which make ascents easier, are common in the Canadian Rockies. They’re almost non-existent in New Zealand. So their trails are excruciatingly steeep-an entirely new order of verticality, hence the third “e.” Be prepared for an occasional gravity-defying ordeal by bringing all the physical fitness you can muster, plus a pair of trekking poles.


What to buy 

Due to the earth’s curvature and variances in the magnetic field, a compass designed for the northern hemisphere won’t work properly in the southern hemisphere. The needle will drag and stick. So buy one when you arrive in New Zealand. Silva makes a simple, inexpensive model that sells for about NZD $20. It’s royal blue, about the size of a twooney, and shaped like a fat teardrop.

Where to shop

The Mainly Tramping store in Wanaka (Dunmore Street, ph +03 443 2888) has a good selection of name-brand hiking gear and clothing. They also have some of friendliest, most knowledgeable gearheads in the country.

What to eat

For a delicious, high-carb hiking snack try Bumper Bars. They’re made in Christchurch and sold at most South Island grocery stores. The main ingredients are oats, butter, apricot shreds, and chocolate chips. It’s certainly not health food, but it’s excellent mood food for when the hiking gets tough.

How to talk

Kiwis don’t call it hiking. They call it tramping. You’re a tramper, not a hiker. It sounds like you’re a bum, but you’re actually a few rungs higher on the social ladder. They also call them tracks instead of trails. So asking for directions to the trailhead is futile. They call it the road end or car park.

Who to ask

The Department of Conservation is the government agency devoted to preserving New Zealand’s natural heritage. It’s the primary source of information about hiking trails. You’ll find DOC offices throughout the country. You’ll find their website, (http://www.doc.govt.nz” www.doc.govt.nz) invaluable when planning your trip.

Where to splurge

For a cushy heli-hiking experience, stay at Whare Kea Lodge on Lake Wanaka. The lodge itself is exquisite, but think of it only as basecamp. A helicopter will whisk you from the front lawn, up to Dragonfly Peak, on the edge of Mt. Aspiring National Park. Your guide will then lead you to Whare Kea Chalet-the poshest digs ever to grace an alpine wilderness. Visit http://www.wharekealodge.com for details.

What to avoid

The farther southwest you travel on the South Island, the more remote it feels, and in fact is. Then suddenly, you enter Queenstown, a tourism vortex, as incongruous in this wild land as a goiter on a supermodel. It’s beyond buzzy. The crowds and commercialism are cloying. So pierce it with sufficient momentum to glide out the other side, unsullied, on up the shore of 50-mile-long Lake Wakatipu, where you’ll find the abundant natural splendor that Queenstown falsely lays claim to. Coast to a stop in the village of Glenorchy.


Join us—in person, or in print:

New Zealand’s South Island: Frontier Chic

By guidebook authors Craig & Kathy Copeland, originally published in Calabasas Magazine.

“No worries,” the New Zealanders say.

Thank the receptionist, and she’ll reply “No worries.”

Ask the gas station attendant if he can direct you to the resort, and he’ll start by declaring “No worries.”

Request mint sauce with your roast lamb, and the waiter will respond “No worries.”

It’s a cultural tic. You hear it frequently, everywhere. And at first it’s endearing.

Begin pondering the peculiarities of this non sequitur, however, and it becomes annoying.

“Do I look worried?” you wonder.” “Is there something I’m unaware of that I should be worried about?”

But eventually, as you get to know these people and their country, you appreciate the phrase for being laughably ironic.

KiwiHere you are, among a populace so self-effacing that their national bird is the tiny, rotund, flightless Kiwi with whom they feel an abiding, personal bond, going so far as to call themselves Kiwis. Here you are, in a society with amicable race relations, minimal pollution, little serious crime, and no mammalian predators. Here you are, in a blessedly isolated land that’s graced with a temperate climate, agricultural abundance, and scenery that’s never less than soothingly pastoral and often mountainously spectacular.


Besides, it’s summer in January: you’re wiggling your toes in sandals while the neighbors back home are cranking up their thermostats.

No worries? Indeed.

That’s why so many people–about two million annually–make the long journey to the bottom of the world to visit New Zealand. And you can almost hear their collective sigh of relief upon arriving in a nation so unlike most of their own: one in which nature, not man, appears to dominate. Sure, there’s a sprinkling of cosmopolitan savoir-faire to be found, along with a dash of compelling architecture, and a pinch of scintillating nightlife. But the country is largely rural, not urban. A full one-third of it is protected as scenic reserves and national parks. So it’s the “100% pure New Zealand,” as advertised, that attracts the vast majority of visitors and inexorably draws them to the South Island.

Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, and Auckland, its largest city, are both on the North Island. A mere 800,000 of the country’s 4,129,000 citizens reside on the South Island. A glance at a map helps explain this imbalance. You’ll see the South Island is bulging with mountains, studded with glaciers, and slashed by fiords, features that make it less habitable but more alluring. And if you look even closer, you might see tiny golden rings scattered about your map. Each is labeled: “Isengard,” “Lothlorien,” “Amon Hen,” etc. These are place names from the Tolkien trilogy. The rings indicate where director Peter Jackson (a Kiwi, by the way) filmed various scenes for The Lord of the Rings. Note that it’s the South Island, not the North, that’s showered with these ring symbols. It’s an accurate measure of which island affords the most captivating scenery.

So attempting to squeeze both islands into your itinerary will dilute the purity of your New Zealand experience. Fly in and out of Christchurch, the South Island’s unofficial capital. But exit the city post haste. After a twelve-hour transpacific flight deposits you on foreign soil, in a different hemisphere, amid a new season, what you need is a respite, not an onslaught. Head directly north on Highway One, into the Waipara wine region. Within an hour, you’ll reach Claremont Historic Country Estate.

At Claremont, you’ll join a handful of guests secluded not just from the world but seemingly from time itself. Your room will be one of just four in a homestead built from local limestone in 1866, now meticulously restored and sumptuously furnished in high aristocratic style. You’ll be feted by a chef who served my wife and me the most delectable and artfully presented meals we enjoyed during our entire six-week South Island odyssey. One particularly memorable dish was Thai-spiced pumpkin soup with coconut prawns and toasted pumpkin bread. But Claremont is not merely a place to stay and recuperate; it’s a realm to be explored. Your host, Richard Goord, will invite you aboard his Land Rover to tour the estate’s hinterlands. By all means, accept. The natural beauty is seductive. And Richard’s commentary on the area’s geology and paleontology is engrossing. Dusty topics, you think? Not when presented by an impassioned guide. You’ll see.

While at Claremont, consider a foray to nearby Pegasus Bay Winery. It’s worth it, if only for a taste, and no doubt the subsequent purchase, of their Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Semillon, or Merlot Cabernet. Ideally, sip while you dine at the winery’s own bistro–named New Zealand’s best casual dining restaurant in 2005 by Cuisine Magazine. They create their menu around their wine list and use predominantly local ingredients. The sophisticated atmosphere is punctuated by the work of New Zealand’s leading artists. The platter for two is to swoon over. It includes freshly baked ciabatta, chilled organic tomato gazpacho, a golden beetroot, date and orange salad, terrine of confit chicken and duck with chestnuts, truffled rare beef, horseradish crostini, and cold, smoked, Akaroa salmon.

Have you overcome the jet-lag feeling that the essential you is a piece of lost luggage? If so, it’s time to depart Claremont. Head inland, where the topography erupts skyward. It’s a mere two-hour drive to New Zealand’s Southern Alps, but allow for a leisurely stop en route, near Castle Hill village, at Kura Tawhiti Conservation Area. It’s a grassy basin harboring an array of fantastic boulders and rock outcrops. Wandering among these monolithic stones and marveling at their sculpted shapes is a joy. But the beauty of this strange place is beyond what can be seen. Many visitors report feeling blissed-out here. They say the atmosphere stimulates childlike playfulness while inducing a powerful sense of tranquility. New Zealand’s first settlers, the Maoris, obviously felt it, because this is where Tohungas (priests) trained their acolytes. The Dalai Lama felt it, too. He called the area “one of the energy source centers of the universe.”

Just when you glimpse the magnitude of the Southern Alps–the range that gives the South Island its stegosaurus physique–turn off the highway and enter Cora Lynn Station, a 6000-acre sheep farm and nature reserve that camouflages Wilderness Lodge Arthur’s Pass. The lodge is an inconspicuous structure that, rather than reach out and bludgeon you with opulence, proves just how stylish discretion can be. The veranda posts are hand-adzed silver pine. Some of the exterior walls are the same material used for humble, sheep-station outbuildings: corrugated iron. What’s opulent here are the views. Every room overlooks the gorgeous Waimakiriri River Valley. But reserve one of the four alpine lodges, preferably number 21, where the view is enhanced by more space and privacy. Not that you should hole-up there. The lodge is owned and run by people who love the dramatic Arthur’s Pass area, know it intimately, and are expert at gently guiding guests into the wilds where they can fully appreciate that drama. They might also offer to take you into the paddock for a dose of sheep-farm reality. Go. It’s fun and fascinating to participate in the Kiwis’ traditional livelihood, and to see exactly where your lovely Icebreaker superfine merino wool pullover came from. Afterward, you’ll find the lodge restaurant staff is skilled at quelling appetites unleashed by outdoor activity. Tuck into dishes such as their cauliflower, blue cheese, and roasted pine-nut soup. No longer will “hearty” and “gourmet” seem mutually exclusive.

Having now probed the Southern Alps, you know they’re steeep–an entirely new order of verticality, hence the third “e.” So hiking here soon becomes a gravity-defying ordeal. (See “Walk This Way” sidebar.) Fortunately there’s another means of exploring this awesome range: by air. The place to do it is Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s tallest peak, a 12,349-ft glacier-clad colossus towering above a sea of icy crags. Base yourself at the Hermitage, in their loftiest room (number 1011), where you’ll enjoy a walloping view of both the mighty mountain and its lieutenant, Mt. Sefton. But if you see blue sky above the summits, you should be soaring, not sitting. Book your flight with The Helicopter Line or Mount Cook Ski Planes. In a chopper, you’ll hover like a hummingbird, for a closer, more thrilling encounter with the sheer rock-and-ice faces. In a plane, you’ll land on a glacier, the pilot will cut the engine, and you’ll wander atop the ice in silence. The experiences are different but equally stirring. If you can afford both, plunk down your plastic for Heli Line’s “Mountains High” flight as well as Ski Planes’ “Grand Circle” flight.

The farther southwest you travel on the South Island, the more remote it feels, and in fact is. Then suddenly, you enter Queenstown, a tourism vortex, as incongruous in this wild land as a goiter on a supermodel. It’s beyond buzzy. The crowds and commercialism are cloying. It’s New Zealand’s most over-hyped city. So pierce it with sufficient momentum to glide out the other side, unsullied, on up the shore of 50-mile-long Lake Wakatipu, where you’ll find the abundant natural splendor that Queenstown falsely lays claim to. Coast to a stop at either Matakauri Lodge or Blanket Bay.

Matakauri is sequestered within ten acres of native forest and welcomes only about a dozen guests at a time, so it’s very private. Constructed of local stone and wood, it has a contemporary yet unpretentious “mountain Zen” look and feel. Reserve one of the four 700 sq. ft. villas perched above the lakeshore. Each has a capacious window seat beneath a wall of glass, where you can happily sprawl for hours. Only cruise-ship decks afford better views of water. Touches of elegance, like fresh-cut calla lilies in the living room, and a few sensual luxuries, like a double shower, make you feel at home yet very much on vacation. In all of New Zealand, this is the room my wife and I were most loath to leave. And the inspired cuisine at Matakauri gave us no reason to check out Queenstown restaurants.

Blanket Bay sprawls across 59 lakeside acres. The lodge itself is positively baronial, impressive even to heads of state and titans of industry like the one who built it: Tom Tusher, former president and CEO of Levi Strauss World Wide. Tusher visited the area on a fly-fishing trip and recognized its resort potential. He remains the sole owner and continues to reside on the property much of the year. The Blanket Bay rooms, suites and chalets are frontier chic–a handsome balance achieved through painstaking construction, masterful interior design, and the budget of a small nation. For example, Tusher summoned Mexican artisans to stress the newer doors until they appeared as rich in character as the much older timbers salvaged from an Australian wharf. He imported the most realistic gas fireplaces on the planet, all the way from South Africa. When he hires a chef whose talents live up to the setting, Blanket Bay will be the pinnacle of luxury in New Zealand.

While staying at Lake Wakatipu, two outings are compulsory: a jet-boat trip with Dart River Safaris, and a flight-seeing trip with Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters.

A clever Kiwi, seeking to travel the country’s shallow, braided, glacial meltwater streams, invented the propeller-less jet boat. It can rocket through mere inches of water. On the Dart, you’ll spend an hour careening into a deep, blazing green, Tolkienesque mountain valley, then have the option of paddling an inflatable kayak back down-river. It’s half thrill ride, half eco-therapy.

Book the “Fiordland Explorer” flight with Glacier Southern. They’ll fly you over a vast sweep of Fiordland National Park. You’ll visit mysterious Doubtful Sound. You’ll cleave alpine passes that only mountaineers traverse. You’ll land on a pristine beach and an icy peak. You’ll enjoy a gourmet feast in the wilderness. And you’ll swoop into Milford Sound, where in addition to being moved by the sight of New Zealand’s most celebrated natural wonder, you’ll realize that “celebrated” means crowded.

Not long ago, the beauty of Milford Sound was amplified by serenity. Today, a half-million tourists ogle the majestic fiord every year. And New Zealand’s Tourism Strategy 2010 states the nation’s resolve to generate ever-bigger waves of visitors–human tsunamis.

So when a Kiwi nods, smiles and says, “No worries,” you can think, “Yup, because I visited New Zealand now, rather than later.”

Start Planning

Claremont Historic Country Estate


Pegasus Bay Winery


Wilderness Lodge Arthur’s Pass


The Hermitage


The Helicopter Line


Mount Cook Ski Planes


Matakauri Lodge


Blanket Bay


Dart River Safaris


Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters


Walk This Way

Walking draws more visitors to New Zealand than any other activity. And the South Island offers the country’s most scenic trails. For sheer spectacle, these dayhikes rival any on Earth.

The Heaphy Track, on the northwest coast, starting north of Karamea. The first nine miles, to Kohaihai River, are at the foot of the coastal mountains, on the edge of the Tasman Sea. This stretch is mostly level and rarely strays from the crashing surf. (3- to 9-hour round trip)

Mueller Hut, near Mount Cook, starting near the campground beyond the Hermitage. This short but very steep trail catapults you onto a ridgecrest for close-up views of soaring peaks and tumbling glaciers. (4- to 6-hour round trip)

Conical Peak, above Harris Saddle, via the Routeburn Track starting northwest of Glenorchy. Initially streamside amid splendid native beech forest, the trail quickly rises into the alpine zone, ultimately granting vast views of Fiordland. (8- to 10-hour round trip)

Gertrude Saddle, near Milford Sound, starting just east of Homer Tunnel. The trail probes a steep-walled cirque then climbs beside cascades, past an alpine lake, to an astonishing vantage high above Milford Sound. (6- to 8-hour round trip)

For a cushy heli-hiking experience, stay at Whare Kea Lodge on Lake Wanaka. The lodge itself is exquisite, but think of it only as basecamp. A helicopter will whisk you from the front lawn, up to Dragonfly Peak, on the edge of Mt. Aspiring National Park. Your guide will then lead you to Whare Kea Chalet–the poshest digs ever to grace an alpine wilderness. For details, visit www.wharekealodge.com.

For hiking gear, clothing, or advice, visit the Mainly Tramping store in Wanaka (Dunmore Street, ph +03 443 2888).

Water World

When traveling the South Island, you’ll never be far from the coast. Most of it remains as beautiful as when the first Maoris paddled ashore. So devote at least a day of your journey to appreciating the water. How best to do that? Either in a sea kayak or a wetsuit.

The place to kayak is Abel Tasman National Park, where sandy bays are surrounded by an explosion of greenery, where warm water invites swimming, and where Wilson’s Experiences operates two, comfy, beachfront lodges and employs guides adroit at revealing the secrets of this dreamy, subtropical sanctuary. For details visit www.abeltasman.co.nz.

It’s worth donning a wetsuit to go swimming with wild dolphins in their natural habitat. You can do it southeast of Christchurch, in Akaroa Harbor, with Dolphins Up Close. You’ll dive in among a pod of Hector’s dolphins. They’re playful, curious, and small: four to five feet long and about 100 lbs. Floating in the open ocean while these intelligent, wild, free, sonar-guided creatures whoosh past, mere inches away, is thrilling. For details visit www.swimmingwithdolphins.co.nz.

Pest Dressed

Brushtail possums are native to Australia, where they’re considered cute and harmless and are even protected by law. But when introduced to New Zealand, possums rapidly became a reviled pest, breeding at a rate of 20 million per year.

Today, an estimated 70 million possums eat 22,000 tons of New Zealand’s forest vegetation every night, decimating trees and destroying bird habitat. Understandably, trapping possums is a national mania. One positive result of the infestation, however, is the advent of possum-fur clothing.

Possum fur is finer than cashmere. And, like polar-bear fur, the fibers of possum fur are hollow: they trap heat and do not freeze in sub-zero climates. So New Zealand clothing manufacturers combined possum fur with merino wool to create a unique, sensuously soft, luxuriously warm, exquisitely beautiful fabric.

Both the World Wildlife Fund and the New Zealand Department of Conservation endorse New Zealand possum-fur clothing, so you can wear it without guilt. You’ll find possum-merino sweaters, cardigans, socks, gloves, scarves and hats.

But just how chic can possum-merino be? Very. Find out at the Untouched World stores in Christchurch (155 Roydvale Ave, ph +64 3-357-9399) or Queenstown (1 The Mall, ph +64 3-442-4992).

Upon receiving an ensemble created by Untouched World, Bill Clinton called it “the smartest outfit I’ve been given in seven years of being President.”

Chasing Rainbows

As the anchorman of NBC’s Nightly News, Tom Brokaw commanded the helm of American TV journalism for two decades. When he stepped down, one of the first things he did was go fly fishing in New Zealand.

A trip to New Zealand is high on the life list of anyone who’s passionate about stalking trout. The country is widely regarded as a fishing nirvana. And you’ll find the reputation justified, if you’re handy with a rod and reel.

“With limited skills, you’ll struggle here,” says fishing guide Ron Peacock. He and his wife, Robynne, own and run Fiordland Lodge. He’s been guiding for 13 years and now serves about 50 clients a year, most of whom employ his services for two days or more. He charges NZ $600 a day.

“Our water is gin clear,” Ron explains. “The fish can see you more clearly than you can see them. And trout are territorial. There’s generally only one or two fish in a pool. So stealth and presentation are critical.

“Your best cast is usually your first one,” he continues. “Blow the first cast and the fish will eye your fly thinking ‘What the hell?’ Then he’s wary and unlikely to take the next cast, even if it’s perfect.

“The more skilled you are, the more successful you’ll be, and the more options you’ll have. We’ve got 40 rivers and streams within an hour-and-a-half of our lodge. The variety is amazing: backcountry fishing, down-country fishing (in sheep and cattle country), spring rivers, big rivers, small rivers. Everything from highway access to helicopter access.

“And the scenery? Well, there’s no ugly place to fish around here.

“I recently had a client who was a fishing guide himself, from Montana. After six days, he was stunned. Awed. By the wilderness, the mountains, and the fishing. We kept moving from pool to pool, catching fish constantly. Rainbows and browns, four-pounders, 22 to 30 inches.

“But you don’t need to be a pro to enjoy fishing here, you just need some skill and experience. Get to a fly-fishing school before you come. Get on a river. And if you can’t, well, I do offer instruction.

“I guarantee you’ll see amazing scenery. I guarantee we’ll find trout. And I guarantee you an excellent lunch. I just can’t guarantee you’ll catch fish.”

For details, visit www.fiordlandlodge.co.nz. The lodge is a soaring post-and-beam structure whose great room affords a head-swiveling view of the serrated western horizon: from south to north. It’s near Te Anau, just two hours’ drive from the country’s premier scenic wonder: Milford Sound. Reserve the lodge’s executive suite: room 10.

Join us—in person, or in print:

Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit vs. Tongariro Crossing

The Opinionated Hikers on Patrol for You

New Zealand has marketed itself to hikers more successfully than any country in the world. True, NZ is blessed with gorgeous scenery and has an enviable number of tracks (trails), but those aren’t the only reasons it ranks high on many hikers’ life lists. Kiwis are smart. Their nation’s natural beauty is an infinitely renewable resource, so they sell it—hard. In doing so, they sometimes exaggerate.

Case in point: the Tongariro Crossing. Kiwis convincingly tout it as “the world’s greatest day-trek.”

They’re entitled to their opinion. And, granted, it’s a subjective matter. But having hiked the Tongariro Crossing three times during the past 20 years, and meanwhile having also sampled a lot of the most spectacular hiking terrain elsewhere in the world (Patagonia, French Alps, Sierra Nevada, Alaska, etc.), Kathy and I can say with assurance there are many day treks more deserving of “the world’s best” label. We hiked one of them just last week: the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit, in Yoho National Park, in the Canadian Rockies.

Is the Alpine Circuit the best dayhike in the world? Perhaps. It certainly ranks among the supreme ten.

Compare the photos above. The top six are from the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit. The bottom three are from the Tongariro Crossing. Where would you rather hike? We believe most hikers will agree the Alpine Circuit offers a scenically superior experience. So why doesn’t Canada market the Canadian Rockies with anything approaching the cunning and savvy with which Kiwis market New Zealand?

We hope the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit is on your radar. Before you go, read the complete description in the all-new, ultralight gear, 7th edition of our book: Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies, the Opinionated Hiking Guide.

Meanwhile, here’s our advice…

If you’re reasonably fit, begin the day by ascending to Wiwaxy Gap. Next, follow the Huber Ledges to Lake Oesa. From there, descend back to Lake O’Hara. Allowing plenty of time to gaze and take photos, this abbreviated loop will take you about three or four hours.

You’re fit and keen? Continue from Lake Oesa, onto the Yukness Ledges, then down to Hungabee Lake. From there, descend the East Opabin trail to the south shore of Lake O’Hara. Total hiking time: five to six hours.

You’re very fit and super keen? Proceed west along the north shore of Hungabee Lake. Work your way onto the All Souls’ Traverse, beneath Schaffer Ridge. Ascend to All Souls’ Prospect for a new panorama of the entire region. Then descend the Big Larches trail to Lake O’Hara, arriving there about seven or eight hours after you began hiking.

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Hiking and camping in the wilderness can be dangerous. Experience and preparation reduce risk but will never eliminate it.

Information published in a book or on a website—regardless how authoritative—is not a substitute for common sense or sound judgment. Your safety is your responsibility. The unique details of your specific situation and the decisions you make at that time will determine the outcome.

When hiking, threats to your wellbeing are unpredictable; you must always be aware. In the backcountry, risk is subjective; you must gauge it for yourself. Away from civilization, small mistakes can have severe consequences; you must vigilantly prevent injury and avoid becoming disoriented.

Never hike alone. Before setting out, check the weather forecast and current trail conditions; adjust your plans accordingly. Always carry a map and compass, a first-aid kit, extra clothing, a personal locator beacon, plus enough food and water to survive an emergency.

If you doubt your ability to negotiate rough terrain, respond to wild animals, or handle sudden, extreme weather changes, hike only in a group led by a competent, licensed guide.

The authors and the publisher disclaim liability for any loss or injury incurred by anyone using information published on this website or in the books presented on this website.