For those who have a little less time but want to experience the very best that the North Island can offer the Ultimate North is the ideal choice. Explore thermal areas in Rotorua. Trek the best sections of the remote Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk deep in the magical rainforests of Te Urewera National Park. Relax in lodges in beautiful locations. Discover the surreal volcanic wonderland of Tongariro National Park, climbing volcanoes and staying high above the world in an alpine hut. The Ultimate North has many short hikes and two overnight hikes using backcountry huts. Link this tour with the Ultimate South for the Ultimate New Zealand experience!
Average 4-5 hours physical activity per day, up to 8-9 hours on longer days. Pack weights of 12-15kgs on some days. Altitude gains of up to 800m. Some uneven track surfaces and river crossings. No hiking experience necessary. Agility and fitness required. You need to be reasonably fit and enthusiastic. Terrain mostly tracks. Some may be slippery or rough; some off-track hiking and river crossings.
We head south to Rotorua (with a café halt at 9am for those who missed breakfast). Rotorua has thermal areas and stunning lakes, and with a backdrop of distant volcanoes it is quite unique. The area is also rich in Maori and early European history including the tragedy of the 1886 Mount Tarawera eruption that buried a Maori village. We have a quick stop by Lake Rotorua before driving south and exploring one of the extraordinary Department of Conservation thermal parks (price included). After a picnic lunch we head east and off the tourist route to hike one of tracks in the Whirinaki Forest. This park is huge but relatively un-visited. It is famous worldwide for its Jurassic-like rainforest - the podocarp trees are an ancient off-shoot of the conifer family and evolved before the flowering plants. It is thought that forests like this once covered the super-continent of Gondwanaland over 150 million years ago. We do a short nature walk, wandering amongst these giant trees to the river canyon before driving back to our simple cabin on a farm property with a mix of bunk rooms and camping. Just us here usually. We cook up a meal together and chill out by the outdoor fire brazier.
This morning we drive east and further into the rugged forest ranges of the Te Urewera National Park. Home of the Tuhoe (Maori tribe) this area was so remote it was one of the last places in NZ where European influence was felt. After two hours winding through the most incredible rain forest we stop for a cuppa (cup of tea) before finally getting to the western arm of the remote Lake Waikaremoana. We drive on to the southern end of the lake and stop for a picnic lunch and a chance to finish organising backpacks for the first hike. Jump into a water taxi and enjoy the 20 minute jaunt across the lake. We usually drop our packs at the lake-side hut or the campsite perched above a small beach before doing a 2 hour lake-side hike to a lovely waterfall. On return we set up camp here and as a group cook a meal. Soak up the surrounds; the reflections of wilderness in the lake, forest and mountains, bird song and tranquillity. On a still evening you can sometimes hear kiwi calls echo across the lake.
Activities: 2 hours hiking, 7km
Hoist your pack and follow the track as it climbs up through bright green tawa and beech forest to the Panekiri Range, over 500m above the lake. The trail climbs gently at first and later more steeply - so pack lightly! As we trundle along the ridge to Panekiri Hut you get great views beyond Lake Waikaremoana to the contiguous wilderness stretching for hundreds of kilometres to the north, south and west. At the hut take a rest and devour a well earned lunch. From here the track undulates along the ridge through gnarled beech forest and passes many brilliant viewpoints before the final descent to the road end. A 20 minute drive takes us to the sweet little cabins/camp area beside the wharf. Relax, sit on the wharf and drink a beer. We cook a meal together in the communal kitchen.
Activities: 8 hours hiking, 17km
Accommodation: Cabin or Lodge
This morning we hike on an easy 1 hour track up to the usually calm waters of Lake Waikareiti. If conditions allow (light wind) tumble into row-boats (included) and row out across this most splendid of lakes to a wee island in the middle. This tranquil paradise of bird life, ancient forest and pure waters really feels like a forgotten world. If weather prevents rowing, then there are plenty of other forest walks or viewpoints to explore. After, we drive west then south to Lake Taupo. This is the largest lake in New Zealand – a 600 sq km volcanic caldera crater created when the largest volcanic explosion known to humankind erupted in 186 AD. On the drive towards Taupo we pause to bathe in a natural hot river, one of those secret spots only the locals know about. There is also time for a stop at the Huka Falls where you can feel the spray as the mighty Waikato River plunges seven metres. At Lake Taupo we either grab takeaway food (own cost) or rustle up a quick 'trailer' meal at a lovely lake-side spot on route. Just relax on the strange pumice beach or take a swim in the evening light while dinner does it's thing. The sun may set before driving the last hour to Tongariro National Park.
Activities: 2 hours hiking, 4km
Accommodation: Cabin or Lodge
Established in 1887, Tongariro National Park is New Zealand's first National Park, gifted to the people of New Zealand by a far-sighted Maori chief who saw this as a way of protecting the tapu (respect, sacredness, preciousness) of this land – in particular the summits of the active volcanoes. Although most other hikers walk the busy one-day Alpine Crossing, only a fraction explore the remote and dryer east side of this volcanic range like us, and almost no one does the side trips and short cuts we know about. But rest assured, we do exit (or enter) the area via the 'crossing' so you still see that remarkable scenery - usually when its less busy if we can be cunning about it!
After being dropped off at the trail start, hike through waving tussock-grasslands between the volcanoes to a hut set in an enclave of native beech forest. After lunch traverse across stony deserts to an alpine hut at 1400m, perched on the edge of an old lava flow. From this hut there are fantastic views of the three main peaks in the park: Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. It's an extraordinary landscape of active volcanoes and lava valleys, dynamic and changing even in recent years (2013!). Enjoy the experience of sharing an alpine hut with hikers from all over the world. We usually sleep in the hut but very occasionally camp.
Activities: 5 hours hiking, 13km
Accommodation: Back country hut
Hike up through a moon-like gentle valley of contorted lava flows and ash fields before ascending steeply to the Emerald Lakes. This is where our route joins the spectacular Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Once here we Traverse the volcanic plateau, which boasts lava valleys and steaming explosion craters, flanked by the brooding volcanoes, before descending on the western side. In good conditions, there is an option to climb one of the volcanic peaks. Tongariro National Park is full of landscapes the likes of which are found nowhere else in New Zealand. An evening drive to a lodge right inside the National Park is the perfect place to relax with a beer and enjoy the million dollar views across to the volcanoes. Enjoy a meal out in the alpine village.
Activities: 6-8 hours hiking, 15km
A relaxing start today allows you to check out the Park Visitor Centre with espresso in hand before departing. Those taking the bus back to Auckland can be dropped at National Park Village mid morning; the train passes through National Park the following day. Drive south, eventually leaving the National Park and the volcanoes behind. Descend through the beautiful river valleys of the Rangitikei and finally along the coast to Wellington, New Zealand's wonderful harbour capital, arriving in the mid afternoon - cafe stop on route. This giant fault-created harbour is almost encircled by steep suburbs giving it a giant 'coliseum' feel. Nowhere is very far in this stylish little city. Enjoy. You might like to visit the museum of New Zealand, called Te Papa, or the beehive (Parliament House) to see some ranting politicians – or you might not. Wellington is well known for its vibrant café scene and its accessible downtown area. People come into the city to enjoy the lively atmosphere.
Activities: 1-2 hours hiking, 1km
Per Person, Twin Share