Recharge on the WHANGANUI RIVER
The first thing you notice is the colour: a dozen different shades of green. It’s there not just in the trees that soar above you, but also reflected in the water beside your canoe. The second thing you observe is the tranquillity. As you paddle along, the stillness is broken only by the calls of birds and the swish of the oar.
Few things calm your soul as fully as a canoe trip down the Whanganui River, which flows through the heart of New Zealand’s North Island. The Māori revere the Whanganui as an ‘awa tupua’, a river of sacred power, which they believe originally fell as a teardrop from the eye of the Sky Father. To the ancient tribes who lived atop the cliffs that line its banks, the Whanganui was a highway, a food basket, a pharmacy. Today, it offers one of the nation’s most serene outdoor experiences.
A journey along the Whanganui is a wilderness adventure in the true sense of the word. There’s no wi-fi, no luxury lodges; it’s just you and the river. Accommodation is in simple tents or huts; sign up for a guided tour with the Unique Whanganui River Experience and you’ll also get to absorb plenty of Māori lore and legends along the way. There’s even an overnight stay at a marae, or meeting house, with a traditional welcome and a hāngi – a meal cooked in an underground oven – for dinner.
Equally memorable is the day you take a short hike (or longer and more exciting bike trail) to the Bridge to Nowhere. Pressed on all sides by trees, this lonely bridge has an unusual backstory. After the First World War, returning soldiers were given land parcels along the river and encouraged to clear the land and create fertile farms. The experiment ended in disaster and the families that had moved here with high hopes eventually fled the area in disappointment. The forest has since reclaimed the land they cleared, swallowing up all traces of their homes. Only this bridge has resisted the formidable power of nature.
Find out more: Unique Whanganui River Experience offers three-, fourand five-day guided trips, starting from NZ$690 (AUD$640) per adult; uniquewhanganuiriver.co.nz
You might think that there’s a limit on how far your feet can take you in one day, but that’s not always true. Tackle the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, for instance, and although you’re hiking just 20 kilometres, you’ll find yourself stepping into an entirely different world.
This remarkable North Island day trip takes you high above the treeline, past the sacred peaks of Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro into a landscape shaped by powerful volcanic forces. Along the way, you’ll pass by vents, where steam still shoots from the ground, and mineral-rich lakes that glow in eye-catching shades of emerald and brilliant blue. It’s a landscape so alien, it feels almost like another planet – no wonder director Peter Jackson chose this area to double as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films.
You need to come prepared, though. At this altitude – almost 1900 metres above sea level at the highest point – it can be cool even in summer. Weather can move in fast and the terrain can be tricky, so signing up with an experienced operator is advised. You’ll need to kit yourself out properly: that includes hiking boots, layers of warm, weatherproof clothing, plenty of water, and toilet paper. (There are toilet facilities along the route, spaced at about 90-minute intervals, however it’s strictly BYO paper.)
Some sections of the trail are challenging, including the Devil’s Staircase, which rises 300 metres over two kilometres, but the views are well worth it. There are plenty of other outdoor activities to enjoy in the area, too, from the Great Lake Trails beloved by mountain bikers to the superb trout fishing in Lake Taupo. The town of Taupo has lots of accommodation to choose from, including the welcoming Chateau Tongariro Hotel. Find out more: Adrift NZ offers a guided walk along the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, from NZ$175 (AUD$162) per person; adriftnz.co.nz