We head south to Rotorua, with a caf stop at 9am for those who missed breakfast. Rotorua has thermal areas and beautiful lakes, and with a backdrop of distant volcans 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 heading away from the beaten track, southeast into the Whirinaki. This huge park preserves a remnant of the vast forests believed to have covered the super continent of Gondwanaland more than 150 million years ago.
After a picnic lunch we hike a loop beside the stunning Whirinaki River, exploring ancient podocarp trees on our way to a waterfall. We overnight in the countryside with a mix of camping and simple cabins. Often, we are the only people here. We cook up a meal together and chill out by the flames of the outdoor brazier.
Activities: 3 hours hiking, 11km
Accommodation: Cabin or Camping
This morning we drive east and further into the rugged forest ranges of the Te Urewera National Park. Home of the Tuh (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 reach 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. A water taxi skims us across the lake towards the trail, which forms one of New Zealand's nine Great Walks.
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
This morning we shoulder our packs and ready ourselves for some spectacular views. We climb up to the Panekiri Range through bright green tawa and beech forest until we are 500m above the lake. from here, we hike along the range offering breathtaking vistas for many kilometres north, south and west.
Stopping at Panekiri Hut, we devour a well-earned lunch before following an undulating trail along the ridge through gnarled beech forest, passing many brilliant view points before the final descent to the road end. A 20 minute early evening drive takes us to a little camping area with sweet little cabins. Here we can relax, sit on the nearby wharf and enjoy a drink. We cook a meal together in the communal kitchen.
Activities: 8 hours hiking, 17km
Accommodation: Cabin or Camping
Today we drive southwest to the Taupo volcanic plateau, stopping for lunch and to explore an extraordinary thermal park (entrance fee included). We stop to bathe in a natural hot river, one of those secret spots only known to locals. We also stop at Huka Falls, where we feel the spray of New Zealand's longest river, the mighty Waikato, as it plunges 11 meters into a deep circular basin.
Later we arrive at Lake Taupo, 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. 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. Here we can relax on the strange pumice beach or enjoy an evening swim. We might catch a pretty sunset before driving the last hour to the 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 volcans. Although many hikers walk the busy one-day Alpine Crossing, only a fraction explore the remote and drier east side of this volcanic range like we are about to do, and almost no one ds the side trips and short cuts we know about. Rest assured that we will hike the famous Crossing, considered one of the World's finest days walks, and we will aim to do that when there are less people about.
After being dropped off at the trail start, we hike through waving tussock-grasslands near soaring volcans to a hut set in an enclave of native beech forest. Here we lunch before traversing 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 Ngauruh. The latter starred as Mount Doom in Peter's Jackson's Lord of the Rings films. It's an extraordinary landscape of active volcans and lava valleys. 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: Backcountry hut or Camping
Hike up through a moon-like valley of lava flows and ash fields before climbing steeply to the remarkable Emerald Lakes, which have graced the covers of many guidebooks. From here we join the spectacular Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The next few hours of hiking take us through an unforgettable wonderland of lava valleys, steaming craters, and brooding volcans, before our descent through bonsai-like alpine foliage and mineral infused streams. In good conditions, there is an option to climb high on one of the volcanic peaks. An evening drive takes us to a lodge in the heart of the National Park, the perfect place to relax with a beer and enjoy the million-dollar views across to the volcans before dining in the alpine village.
Activities: 6-8 hours hiking, 15km
We begin the day by checking out the informative Park Visitor Centre before its time to go. As we drive south we leave the volcans to descend through the beautiful river valleys of the Rangitikei and finally along the coast to Wellington, where we arrive mid afternoon after a caf break. Wellington is much more than New Zealand's stylish capital, it is also the nation's hub for arts, culture, caf s and politics. Enclosed by hills and a harbour, this compact city has many attractions within easy walking distance. You might like to visit the museum of New Zealand, called Te Papa, or the 'Beehive' (Parliament House) to watch some political shenanigans. Many visitors immerse themselves in the vibrant caf scene and accessible downtown area.
Activities: 1-2 hours hiking, 1km