The Heaphy Track is New Zealand’s longest Great Walk and offers hikers unparalleled freedom and discovery in the remote wilderness of the Kahurangi National Park. There is nothing quite like the feeling of connecting with the stunning natural landscapes that envelop you from all sides, as you traverse lush forests and untracked wilderness, cross rocky riverbeds and ascend the rolling ridges that lay before you. Note: Whilst there are plenty of guided options available, this track is not for the faint-hearted and is best suited to experienced hikers only. A selection of smaller walks from the four gateway towns that surround the national park can cater to the curious day-tripper.
2. Go mountainbiking in the off season
Much like everything else in the Kahurangi National Park, the mountain-biking tracks are nestled deep in the back country, but their remoteness only makes them all the more extraordinary. The Heaphy Track is a multi-day ride spanning a whopping 78.4km, and nothing else in New Zealand can quite compare. Suitable for those with advanced skills and accessible by mountain bikers from May through November, the track meanders across diverse terrain, suspension bridges, rocky riverbeds and steep slopes. Alternatively, the Kill Devil is an advanced return track measuring 37.4km, and is open to riders all year round. A challenging track that lives up to its name, riders will navigate 58 switchbacks, with over 800 metres of climbs and a series of gnarly descents.
3. Look out for wonderful wildlife
The Kahurangi National Park is a place of majestic beauty, and wonderful wildlife. Home to more than 18 species of native birds, giant carnivorous snails, the nocturnal weta, large cave spiders, and the great spotted kiwi, the park is teaming with an array of fascinating creatures. When trekking the Gouland Downs area in particular, keep your eyes peeled for the newly introduced flightless birds, the takahē. A rare relic of the indigenous bird that was once thought to be extinct, the takahē’s beauty is best admired from a distance, but is something that very few people will ever get to experience.
Photo: Helen Dodson
4. Go on a caving adventure
Mt Owen is home to the longest cave system in New Zealand, and is a paradise for experienced cavers, but the Kahurangi National Park is not only limited to those who are experts in the realm of deep descents. The Oparara Basin near Karamea is a 35-million-year-old complex of limestone caves, arches and channels that are a must see for walkers, cavers and nature-lovers of all ages and abilities. Short walks ranging from just 10-30 minutes will take you on a journey through native beech and podocarp forest into the cave basin, wrapping you under the canopy of unique limestone formations and fossilised rock ceilings. Feel the tingles run down your spine as you realise that these caves are home to families of insects, birds and fish, including giant carnivorous snails, large cave spiders, low-flying bats and mysterious blue ducks.
5. Visit the Lord of the Rings film locations
Nestled in the heart of the Kahurangi National Park is Mt Owen, the majestic mountain range where, distraught from the loss of Gandalf, the remaining members of the Fellowship escaped the mines and threw themselves to the ground in grief in the famous Peter Jackson movie, “Exit From The Mines of Moria”. A helicopter tour with Reid Helicopters promises the ultimate Lord of the Rings experience, as well as stunning views of the glaciated marble karst landscape in this harsh alpine environment. Top tip: double up your tour to incorporate the pinnacle rock formations that adorn Mt Olympus, site of the “South of Rivendell”.
6. Visit the Riwaka Resurgence
The source of the Riwaka River is an underground spring known as the ‘Resurgence’, a name that clearly reflects the peace and tranquillity of this extraordinary place. The crystal-clear springs are considered wahi tapu (sacred) by the people of Te Atiawa and Ngati Rarua, and emerge from the depths of the Takaka Hill in the Kahurangi National Park, fed by the limestone passages and marble cracks that have formed within the cave over many years. Hugged by lush native forest and sheltered by the deep fold in the mountain, the Riwaka Resurgence is situated just off the Riwaka Valley Road and is a short 20-minute return walk from the grassy carpark.
Photo: Gerald Lim
7. Go fishing for brown trout
Kahurangi is the source of the pristine Wangapeka River, a nationally recognised fishery known for its plentiful supply of brown trout. The wild upper reaches of the river are the most scenic and although fish numbers here are slightly less than in the lower reaches, many of the fish are of trophy size. The upper reaches can be accessed from the Wangapeka Track, which weaves through a stunning forest canopy of red and silver beech trees and looks down on the aquamarine pools below. Note: Anglers will require a licence from Fish & Game New Zealand.
8. Go on a whitewater rafting adventure
Known as the white-water capital of New Zealand, Murchison’s ‘four rivers plain’ offers an endless array of water-based experiences, from rafting down the mighty Buller River, to jetboating through pink granite rock passages, searching for treasure in the gold flushed riverbed, or casting a line in fly-fishing paradise. Top of our list is a multi-day rafting trip from the headwaters deep in the valleys of the Kahurangi National Park, journeying down the length of the mesmerising Karamea River and rolling through some of New Zealand’s most challenging rafting rapids.
9. Challenge yourself to climb Mount Arthur
The saying “nothing worth having ever comes easily” rings true once you master the trek to the summit of Mount Arthur. The challenging 9.2km climb over rolling ridges and through waving tussock fields will treat you to glimpses of the panoramic views that await you at the top, and you’ll be left fascinated by the glaciated marble outcrops and limestone landscapes that surround you. An extraordinary picnic spot (although you might want to make that a light picnic when journeying that far!), make sure you take the time to breathe in the fresh alpine air and enjoy the 360 degree views out over Kahurangi National Park, Tasman Bay, and the neighbouring tablelands.
10. Explore the national parks gateways
The majestic Kahurangi National Park is surrounded by four gateway towns, each extraordinary in their own way – Takaka in the North, Motueka in the East, Murchison in the South and Karamea in the West. A visit to the National Park, which is home to one of New Zealand’s Great Walks and a number of the magnificent film locations from Peter Jackson’s famous movies, wouldn’t be complete without spending time either side of your visit to explore it’s surrounds. Places of particular significance that you’re going to want to add to (and tick off) your bucket list as soon as you know about them include the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand, the braided rivers offering some of the best white-water conditions in the country, and one of the largest natural sandspitsin the world.