Best of 2020 – Hiking

For obvious reasons I didn’t do any hiking overseas in 2020 (other than at the start of the year in Africa), but thankfully New Zealand is a pretty good place to go for a walk, and I managed probably as much as any other year.

Simien Mountains and Highlands near Lalibela, Ethiopia, December / January
A spectacular way to start the year, exploring northern Ethiopia. I did a few day walks in the Simien Mountains, one of the most epic and mesmerising landscapes I’ve ever visited, and a three day walk in the highlands near Lalibela, with equally incredible landscapes, and time spent in remote villages.

Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda, January
From Ethiopia I travelled to the equally incredible Rwenzori Mountains, in western Uganda. These are one of the most surreal places I’ve ever visited, filled with strange plant life, endless thick mud, and almost no other hikers. During the ten day trip I summited the 5,109m high Mt Stanley, the third highest peak in Africa, which confirmed that I’m not a mountaineer, but the hiking was glorious.

Mueller Hut and Aoraki Mount Cook National Park day walks, January
A couple of weeks after returning from Africa I spent the night at one of New Zealand’s highest huts, Mueller Hut, 1,800m above sea level in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. The following day I explored a number of short but impressively scenic tracks nearby, and on my third trip to the area finally saw the summit of New Zealand’s highest mountain, the 3,724m high Aoraki Mount Cook.

Cape Brett and Whangamumu Tracks, February
One of New Zealand’s best coastal walks, Cape Brett also has one of the more unusual accommodation options, an old lighthouse keeper’s house at the cape. It is a very popular track, so I was lucky walking it mid-week in the middle of summer to have the hut, and most of the track to myself. There is no reliable water supply at the hut though, and it was the middle of a drought, so I carried 9 litres of water which made the many hills a little more challenging.

Rangitoto and Motutapu Island, March
Moving from Auckland to Wellington was good encouragement to tackle my bucket list, which included spending the night on one of Rangitoto’s two DOC owned traditional baches (Kiwi holiday homes) by Islington Bay. This was a beautiful place to stay, and allowed me to watch the sunset from the summit of Rangitoto alone, and explore the neighbouring Motutapu Island.

Travers-Sabine Circuit and Angelus Hut twice, March
One of the toughest walks I’ve done, 78km in five days, up and down over 4,000m with a heavy pack, leaving me literally limping by the end. I also entered the bush just as Covid-19 started to take effect, and came out five days later to find that New Zealand had entered full lockdown and I had a few hours to make it back to Auckland, a memorable end to an already memorable trip!

Waikowhai Walkway, April
A much easier, local day walk along the shore of Auckland’s Manukau Harbour. Quite probably the last time I’ll do it, unless I move back to Auckland at some point.

Te Henga and Lake Wainamu Sand Dunes, May
Last chance for a while also for one of my favourite Auckland walks, the epic Te Henga on the West Coast, and the surreal Lake Wainamu Sand Dunes, several kilometres inland.

Rotorua, May
An enjoyable stopover on my move from Auckland to Wellington, during which I did a number of good day walks including the Rainbow Mountain Scenic Reserve Summit Track, Papamoa Hills Regional Park, and the stunning Kaituna Wetlands.

Tararua Circuit from Kaitoke, June
My first, and it turned out, only multi-day walk near Wellington this year was a possibly foolhardy three day, 66km adventure in the infamous Tararua Ranges, ascending and descending over 5,500m. I’ve rarely experienced such highs and lows in one trip, from watching the sunrise over the Wairarapa to a terrifying crossing of the Tararua Peaks.

Mt Holdsworth, July
I did return to the Tararuas the following month, but just for a day walk to the 1,470m summit of Mt Holdsworth, one of the more accessible peaks. There was a fair amount of snow around so I was being careful, and found micro-spikes invaluable for the conditions.

Wellington, from May onwards
The capital is a paradise for hikers, even better than I thought it might be, with almost endless hills and a surprising amount of variety. Since May it has been rare for me to go more than a week between decent walks, most frequently up the 360m Johnston’s Hill and through Otari-Wilton Bush, both close to my house.

Zealandia is also close by, and is a great spot to see native birds, and for a decent walk by heading up to and around the perimeter pest proof fence.

Te Kopahou / Red Rocks Reserve can also offer native wildlife, male New Zealand fur seals, and epic scenery, with plenty of hills.

One of my favourites is the Eastern Walkway, at the southern end of the Miramar Peninsula, for the views, the bunkers, and the Ataturk Memorial.

Belmont Regional Park was a gem totally unknown to me until I moved to Wellington. Only twenty minutes from the CBD, the best way to explore it is via the full day 22km Puke Ariki Traverse that crosses the entire park.

Heading further north to Porirua and along the Kapiti Coast are more impressive walks up Rangituhi Colonial Knob, along the Paekakariki Escarpment Track, and around Whitireia Park.

Also on the West Coast Makara is an enjoyably windswept and driftwood strewn place to explore.

Other places for good walks include Mt Kaukau, Polhill Reserve, Trelissick Park, and Tawatawa Reserve. The options seem almost endless in Wellington.

Nydia Track, October
One of the best ways on foot to explore Pelorus Sound, one of the three Marlborough Sounds at the top of the South Island, is along the Nydia Track. I did a day walk from the northern end at Duncan Bay, by exquisite turquoise walks.

Queen Charlotte Track, November
A good first multi-day hike in six months as it was relatively easy, though 71km in three days was a fair distance to walk. Thankfully the weather was on my side and the coastal scenery was often incredibly scenic.

Mt Haast, December
First return to the backcountry for six months, an enjoyably rugged ~950m ascent to the 1,587m summit of Mt Haast, offering great views of the surrounding Victoria Forest Park.

Alborns Track, Klondyke Spur Track, Mt Stevens, Cowins Spur Track, and Gordon Range
Mt Haast was the first day hike of a three week road trip around the top of the South Island. It was soon followed by these five, in sunshine and rain, through the bush and onto the tops, often up steep hillside, all enjoyable and memorable.

Author: jontycrane

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