As all you "Lord of the Rings" fans know, the movies were filmed on location in New Zealand. Starting very soon, I expect we'll be seeing a lot more in the media about New Zealand, as the upcoming release of the "The Hobbit" is Dec. 14. The second release is set for December 2013. These movies again will show the world the wonderful landscapes of New Zealand and will generate strong interest in traveling to this beautiful country. It's never too early to start planning.
One huge area of interest - especially from people locally - is to partake in an active vacation. One of the major ways to do this in New Zealand is to take a walking or hiking holiday. It's known as "tramping" there.
With 14 national parks in a country about the size of Colorado and with a population of 4 million people, you can easily find yourself far away from the hustle and bustle.
The crown jewels of New Zealand hiking are called the "Great Walks." There are nine, six of which are found on the South Island. Some of the best trails and alpine routes are found in Fiordland and Mount Aspiring national parks, best accessed from Queenstown. The Milford Track is perhaps the most famous hike in the country and is a four day, 331⁄2-mile backcountry trip. It extends from the northern end of Lake Te Anau to Sandfly point near Milford Sound. Renowned for its glacially carved valleys, alpine flowers and waterfalls, the highlight of the route is the destination: Milford Sound.
If you want to hike in New Zealand and don't want to travel with all your backcountry gear, then a guided hiking trip, such as the MilfordRouteburn or, my favorite, the Hollyford track, is a great option.
Great Hikes suit people who are looking for a short getaway of three to seven days. This is ideal for most travelers to get a taste and still have time to explore the rest of the country. Each day's walk is followed by a delicious meal, comfortable accommodations and often a hot shower!
Routeburn Track is a nearly 20 mile track that connects Mount Aspiring and Fiordland parks via the Harris Saddle. Beautiful forests of beech trees, hanging valleys, waterfalls and snowy passes make for an unforgettable hike.
Hollyford Track is one of New Zealand's greatest walks, representing the country's wilderness at its most undisturbed and inspiring. It includes the best features of New Zealand, walking from the mountains to the sea, and is suitable for a wide range of fitness levels. The scenery is geologically spectacular: snow-capped mountains, glaciers, rainforests, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, reefs and sand dunes.
Besides the three mentioned above, the Abel Tasman Track offers three days of walking the coastal track and then two free days at a beachfront lodge to explore, canoe, swim or hike inland to explore part of the park missed by hiking just along the coast.
Heaphy Track, also in the northern part of the South Island, connects Golden Bay with the west coast township of Karamea and can take six days. The Heaphy is renowned for its flora, and there are many rare and endemic species along the track.
Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds is unique for its stunning coastal view, historical landmarks and wonderful variety of native bush and wildlife. It is a track of contrasts, walking from shoreline to ridges, glimpsing the hidden coves, bays and inlets of the Marlborough Sounds. Comfortable, resort-style accommodations can be enjoyed at night.
While the South Island may be better known for its hikes, there are still many great options on the North Island. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is ranked among the top 10 day hikes in the world.
The Tongariro Hiking Tour is a 31⁄2-day, three-night walk featuring the Tongariro Crossing and Mount Ruapehu crater lake. The accommodation is lodge style and overlooks the dramatic volcanic landscapes.
Combine a variety of other activities with the hiking, such as cycling, kayaking, caving, viewing wildlife and glacier hiking. Heli hiking is also very popular and can get you into the mountains in only half a day.
Rosie Holliday is an ex-pat Aussie and longtime local travel agent who owns Holiday Adventures, an affiliate of Andavo travel - A Virtuoso Agency. While she can and does book the world, her specialties are Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Europe. You can reach her at 970-748-9818, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.hollidayadventures.com.