We’ve all heard of Roy’s Peak. But have you heard of Bealy Spur? Moke Lake Track? Sealy Tarns? It sounds like we’re just making up words now, but all of these hikes are as legitimate as they are stunning. Go find ’em!
New Zealand’s South Island is a hiker’s paradise. It seems wherever you go, there are spectacular trails to wander down. However, when you’re researching which hikes to do, the same ones keep getting mentioned. Popular hikes like Roy’s Peak and Ben Lomond don’t disappoint with their incredible views, but sometimes you get tired of the well-worn tracks and want to find something that still feels like a secret.
Cedric and I were recently back in NZ, exploring that amazing place in our Maui camper and hiking tracks we’d never heard of. If I give away some of these quiet spots, will you promise to look after them? Practice ‘leave no trace’ by taking your rubbish, sticking to the track and treasuring the wildlife.
1. Bealey Spur – Arthur’s Pass National Park
Easily the most pleasant walk I’ve done in NZ, Bealey Spur is a winning combo of pretty beech forest, alpine lakes, sweeping views of snowy peaks and impressive braided rivers. It’s one of the easiest hikes in the area and a great one to bring the kids on.
There are jaw-dropping views all along the track, which officially ends at a historic mustering hut. The green shed stands out against a sloping hill of yellow tussocks. You can actually stay overnight at the hut, but beware of rats! Though there’s not much of a view from the hut, head up the hill and you’ll find an unsigned track to the peak. Compared to the cruisy hike up to this point, the peak track is a workout for the quads. But after all that huffing and puffing, the expansive view of the surrounding mountains and valleys is totally worth it.
2. Rocky Mountain – Wanaka
Note: Due to rockfall, all tracks at Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain are closed until further notice. Check for updates.
Rocky Mountain is a prime spot for sunrise hiking. The slopes are covered in yellow grass which turns an intense gold in the morning light. Starting down the road from Roy’s Peak, Rocky Mountain is still very much a local’s secret.
The first section of the track is flat and easy around Diamond Lake. A short climb gives you a good view of the lake, which reflects the surrounding mountains. From there the track gets steeper and more challenging. Once above the bushline, the mountain is exposed and there are good views the rest of the way. The track splits in two and you can take the east or west path up to the peak. If going at sunrise, I suggest sticking with the sun on the eastern path. From the summit, you can spy Lake Wanaka and, if you’re lucky, you might glimpse the great Aoraki (Mount Cook).
3. Sawyer Burn – Lake Hāwea Conservation Park
The first section is basically a steep, unrelenting climb to the bushline. There’s not much of a view along the way, but mercifully the bush is shady. Once you emerge from the bush, there is a terrific view of Lake Hāwea. And a sense of achievement at how high you climbed in so short a time. From here you can hike through the mountains to Sawyer Burn Hut. This section of the track is much flatter, and you’ll find a shady spot to rest at the hut. The whole track is 5 hours return, though in winter it’s recommended you only walk to the bushline (2 hours return) due to avalanche risk.
4. Mount Crichton Loop Track – Queenstown
Some tourists scoff at any track that doesn’t end up at an impressive view. But I love a good forest walk because of how it immerses you deep into the landscape. Plus, they’re a great option when your legs need a rest from all that mountain hiking.
Mount Crichton Loop track is a local’s favourite, but you’d be hard-pressed to find it on any ‘best-hikes’ lists. It’s mostly easy walking through beech forest and grassy plains. At times the track follows a sharp cliff, the river flowing noisily below. The area is a historic gold mining site, and the track detours past a narrow tunnel which was once a trailrace. The loop also passes a hut built by Sam Summers who lived and prospected for gold in the area for 10 years. It’s great to imagine him there with his veggie garden growing right next to the cliff.
5. Moke Lake Loop Track – Queenstown
Another loop track in Queenstown – and such an impressive one! The drive into Moke Lake is a good reminder of how small we are in the shadow of mountains. Visit on a wet day and the mountains look brown and velvety, but if it’s sunny, they’re yellow and prickly.
The track begins and ends at the campsite (wake up next to these mountains? Yes please!) It’s easy walking – or you can mountain bike it – and takes about two hours to circle the lake. Along the way you might see some sheep running about, or horses in the nearby paddocks. During the warmer months, cool off with a refreshing dip in the lake.
6. Sealy Tarns – Aoraki National Park
Romantically named the ‘stairway to heaven’, Sealy Tarns is realistically just two hours of climbing steps. So yeah, you need a bit of fitness and a lot of mental strength to keep going! Good thing is there’s no end of amazing views on the way up as the bush is pretty low-growing. In winter, the last section is covered in snow and can be slippery. At the top there’s a small alpine lake, and an impressive view of the valley and the Tasman glacier. And if you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll get a sublime view of Aoraki.
Sealy Tarns is actually the first half of the hike to Mueller Hut. Carry on and stay overnight at the red hut if your legs can handle it! Remember to always check the weather, especially in winter, as the track beyond Sealy Tarns is not maintained.