DOC Short Walks
Experience some of New Zealand's highlights in easy-to-manage, bite-sized pieces.
Great Walks are well, great, but we don't always have a few days spare to fully immerse ourselves deep in the wilderness. In come the Department of Conservation (DOC) with a variety of Short Walks and Day Hikes around the country. Choice!
A Short Walk, in Kiwi terms at least, is considered anything from half an hour up to three hours long. They're usually not too technical and require low to moderate levels of fitness, but as always, you should bring a backpack filled with provisions juuust in case disaster strikes (it's highly unlikely, but you can never be too safe).
We've put together a selection of tips about our personal favourites from the full list, and - as luck would have it - we know some pretty excellent hostels nearby...
2 hours return | Moderate fitness required
Start your journey with a picturesque ferry ride across Auckland Harbour to the base of this inactive volcano. Once you've alighted, your trek will take you over boardwalks and forest floors, up a gentle slope through many stages of vegetation. You'll see lava flows, scrub, and pohutukawa trees thriving in the rich volcanic soil on your way to the summit. Parts of the island are exposed to the elements, so sunscreen is a must, even on cloudy days. BYO food and water as there are no shops on the island.
Stay YHA Auckland
With two hostels in Auckland's CBD, there's plenty of room for you to put your feet up once you've returned to civilisation. At the hostel you'll find clean and comfortable communal facilities, and likely no shortage of volunteers to join you on your trip! The ferry terminal is located at the bottom of Queen Street, a 25 minute walk down the gently sloping main street.
1.5 hours return | Moderate fitness required
This popular coastal track is famous primarily for the stunning (and now filmset - thanks Narnia!) view at the end. Cathedral Cove is only accessible on foot or by water, so it's a pretty special wee spot. You're greeted by spectacular views out over the nearby coast and islands even from the carpark; the track heads downhill and round a couple of other bays before eventually ending at its namesake. You'll need a swimsuit, towel, sunscreen, plenty of water, snacks, and some dry clothes for the climb back up. It's tiring work frolicking in the sunshine so allow for a relaxed time frame down at the beach before commencing the return journey.
Stay YHA Whitianga
YHA Whitianga, On The Beach Backpackers represents the best of cheerful, comfy bach (beach house) hostels. A 15 minute walk along the beachfront brings you to the town's conveniences, or make the most of the kayaks available onsite if you fancy something a bit more active than lazing on the sand.
1 hour return | Low to moderate fitness required
The highlight of the Devil's Punchbowl Walking Track may be the spectacular closeup with a waterfall at its very end, but the trail also yields a delightful snapshot of lush native New Zealand bush and the chance to encounter some cheeky locals en route. The world's only alpine parrot, the Kea is often spotted in the carpark at the bottom of this trail, and the Otira Gorge lookout just up the road. They're famous for both their attitude, and their penchant for nibbling at rubber fixtures on the vehicles of unsuspecting visitors.
Once you've left the carpark, meandered across a river and spotted the waterfall from the bridge, you'll progress up a large number of stairs before emerging at a wooden viewing platform directly beside the second tier of the Punchbowl. The steps can be slippery when damp so make sure you have appropriate shoes. If you're into photography, bring a lens cloth with you to combat the spray!
Stay YHA Arthur's Pass
The aptly named Mountain House holds both lodge accommodation and dormitories for the budget conscious. This hostel is located right in the middle of the route through Arthur's Pass so it's hard to miss. The spacious kitchen is well equipped and cosy living areas upstairs are perfect for snuggling up in after your trek. There are a number of walks through the Pass so chat to our friendly staff if you want more!
20 minutes return | Low to moderate fitness required
This flat, easy walking trail may only take 10 minutes to lead you to these giant rock formations but we guarantee you'll want to spend plenty of time amongst them climbing and exploring. They're deceptively large but relatively accessible from the rear side - pick your way through these natural sculptures and emerge at the top of a steep drop. There are great views out across the valley to be had from the top, not to mention some excellent photo ops for those unafraid of heights (take caution though)! Paths through the rocks are steep and can be slippery, so shoes with a good sole are recommended.
Stay YHA Springfield
YHA Springfield is well-situated not just for walkers to Kura Tāwhiti but also for those keen on climbing it! Bouldering mats are available to hire at the hostel and you can even practise on their mini climbing wall. The popular Japanese restaurant on site is a great place to refuel after a day scrambling around the rock face, or relax a book from their extensive library.
1.5 hour loop | Suitable for all fitness levels
We hope you're ready for a solid dose of mountains and some reflective lake goodness! Lake Matheson is known for it's stillness, which makes it a great mirror for the back of Aoraki Mt Cook and Mt Tasman which are visible in the distance. The ample carpark is an indication of how popular this track has become in recent years (blame Instagram, we say!), partially due to its beauty and partially because it is a very accessible track. The loop takes you through beautiful West Coast bush around the lake, leading to the piece de resistance - a wooden viewing platform jutting out over the lake for your Alp-viewing pleasure. Dawn and dusk are the most popular visiting times.
Stay YHA Franz Josef
The lively common areas at YHA Franz Josef make for a welcoming atmosphere on your return to the hostel after a dawn lake mission! Walking enthusiasts adore the free sauna facilities; the pool table, DVD library, and fireplace are usually fully appreciated as well.
1 hour return | Low fitness required
This is a popular track for a number of reasons. First is its accessible location on the road between the West Coast and Wanaka. Alight in the car park and meander through 20 minutes of pleasantly airy beech forest in support of a second popularity factor - it's a lovely and very easy walk. Two swing bridges are the notable man-made feature of the track (unsurprising, given New Zealand's apparent love of them). These take you over the main attraction - water so clear and ice blue that you can see the bottom. The brave can stop for a dip here while the sane satisfy their desire for the perfect photo.
Stay YHA Wanaka
This remains one of our most popular hostels - given the commanding view of Lake Wanaka and the Alps from the lounge window, we can't say we're all that surprised! Just an hour's drive from the Blue Pools Walk, this hostel is also a great base for exploring Roy's Peak and Mt Aspiring National Park, among other beautiful places.
YHA Auckland International
A central, secure backpacker hostel in the heart of Auckland City with room options to suit all travel styles.
YHA Whitianga, On the Beach Backpackers overlooks Mercury Bay on the Coromandel Peninsula, a world-renowned holiday spot.
YHA Arthur's Pass
A ideal hiker's hostel, YHA Arthur's Pass offers convenient and comfortable lodgings with multiple room options in the middle of Arthur's Pass Village.
One of Springfield's oldest homes, this backpacker hostel has charm and history as well as quality accommodation options and added extras like home-cooked meals available.
YHA Franz Josef
Explore glaciers, lakes, and mountains from YHA Franz Josef, a backpacker hostel that sits right on the edge of the West Coast rainforest and offers a sauna that's perfect after a day at the glacier.
YHA Wanaka's central location boasts views of the lake and mountains. Cosy and sociable, this is the ideal backpacker hostel for discovering all of Wanaka's activities and adventures.
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