From peaks to valleys, Cindy Gallant went off the beaten path and explored some of New Zealand’s most breathtaking scenic landscapes. New Zealand is a trail runners paradise. The country has a maximum width of 400 km and 1,600 km in length – making it quick enough to get around, yet so ecologically diverse that you’re bound to experience something different only a few hours drive away.
During my three-week trip I explored 193.24 km of trails, volcanoes, waterfronts, and peaks while gaining a total of 7,151 m in elevation. Among all of those I ran, these are my top six (in no specific order) that I consider must-sees during your visit.
Rangitoto Island, Auckland – The Volcano Run
Fighting off jet lag and having a desperate need to shake out my legs from my 27 hour journey from Toronto, I joined the local MetroRun run club for their usual Sunday Long Run. As it was a few Sunday’s before the holidays, they were hosting their celebratory final long run of the year by travelling to Rangitoto. A twenty-five minute ferry ride from Auckland, it was the perfect escape from the busy city.
Erupted 600 years ago, Rangitoto is a 5.5 km wide island sitting to the North West of the mainland, and reaches a height of 260 m. It hosts multiple trails – some flat or some steep that’ll take you to the summit. Its trails are well formed or untouched – you pick, there’s something for everyone. Trails vary between 7 km to 12 km one way – we combined two different ones and completed 21 km because – who doesn’t want to run a half marathon on a volcano?
Hooker Valley, Aoraki/Mt. Cook – The Must See
I couldn’t leave Mt. Cook without running the Hooker Valley Track. It’s the areas most popular trail and easy to understand why. If you’re running and looking to avoid crowds, it’s highly recommended to head out early in the morning. It’s a well maintained path that accommodates hikers of any level on a daily basis.
The stunning track has you running a 10 km out-and-back route. After the first of three swing bridges, you enjoy views of Mueller Lake and hear rumbles from some avalanches in the distant. From the second swing bridge, the vegetation and flora starts to change. You find yourself running along a boardwalk that seems miniscule in comparison to the mountains that surround you. The third swing bridge leads you to the Hooker River and eventually, ending at the mesmerizing view over of Hooker Lake and the majestic Aoraki/Mount Cook. This track truly delivers what it’s expected too.
Kea’s Point, Aoraki/Mt. Cook – The Hidden Gem
Spontaneity brought me to this gem. Wanting to run a quick 6 km to shakeout my legs after driving for six-hours from Christchurch (which was an amazing experience not be missed in itself!), I had loosely planned six 1 km loops of the small Aoraki village. Soon enough,a trailhead appeared on my left and I decided to follow it.
A scenic, relatively flat (nothing is truly flat in NZ) trail leads you to a stunning viewpoint of Mt. Sefton (3,157 m), Mt. Cook (3,754 m) and Mueller Lake. The view at the end left me in awe. There was no hint along the trail of the beauty that was ahead which made it by far one of my favourite and most memorable experiences of the trip. Approximately 6 km round trip from the Visitor Centre to the lookout, there are other route options that continue on to Sealy Tarns Track for another two-hours one-way, and Muller Hut respectively.
Lake Hayes, Queenstown – The Trail Race
I love racing while while traveling.They are a great way to get right into the community and challenge yourself amongst locals. I signed up to the Lake Hayes Triathlon 10 km – a small community event that takes place between Christmas & New Years. I went out hard thinking I was doing great until I hit hill, after hill, after hill. The temperature quickly increased and I found myself panting and falling back. A quick reminder to myself that I was on vacation and always meant to do this race for fun, I dialed back and started taking it all in at a more enjoyable pace.
Lake Hayes is a 10 km trail that lines the perimeter of the lake and has a good set of rolling hills. Perfect for your training runs and less-so for your race day. Only 15 minutes away from Queenstown, it is a stunning, peaceful lake that is worth the trip out of town.
Ben Lomond Summit – The Struggle is Real
I hesitated a lot before embarking on this beast. I had already done so much in NZ and felt like I couldn’t be any more captivated. I was wrong.
Starting from the base of the Skyline Gondola, I slowly worked my way up the Tiki Trail. It’s a beautiful short stretch (1.6 km) that follows the gondola’s path up and is surrounded by Douglas Fir. The trees are then left behind and you connect into Ben Lomond Track, and 1,326 m onto Ben Lomond Saddle (approx. 1.5 hrs). Many people choose to enjoy a snack and turn back – completing a 3hr journey. Or – you can continue up to Ben Lomond Summit (1,748 m) on a steep one-hour climb – no running happening here. Once at the summit you’re rewarded with a stunning 360 lookout that once again, leaves you mesmerized like no other hike previously did.
Once you have taken it all in, you head back the same way you came. This time with a bit more breath in your lungs, and the ability to enjoy the view even more. It’s a full-day hike with a 1,438 m elevation gain. Remember, reaching the summit is only the half-way point! The entire trip is 15 km and if running, you can get it all done in 4-5hrs (double that for walking). You can also take the gondola up to the top of the Tiki Trail and trim off 1.6 km each way.
Rainbow Reach – The Great Walk
Kepler Track is one of many New Zealand Great Walks which are multi-day tramping treks. While not everyone has the time to embark on these tramping hikes, there are many access points that allow you to to experience it for a quick one-day hike. From Te Anau’s Vistior’s Centre, I started my one-way run to Rainbow Reach.
This 14 km track is flat and very popular amongst runners. It follows the terraces of the Waiau River along the Kepler Track through diverse red and mountain beech forest vegetation. At one point, surrounded by incredible lushness and greenery, you feel like you’re in a tropical wonderland. Closing in on Rainbow Reach, a swing bridge guides you over the Waiau River, bringing you to the end of this part of the track. I opted for the convenience of a pre-booked shuttle waiting at the end.
New Zealand left me enthralled with its beauty and desire to remain as pristine as possible. Provided you’re a respectful runner and adventure seeker, New Zealand is a welcoming destination. While this is only a small sample of the adventure that awaits, I encourage you to get out there and explore–I know I will most certainly return.
Cindy Gallant is a runner and marketing professional in Toronto, always up for a travel adventure.