The end of summer is no reason to call time on trekking, writes Kate Ford
From Cape Brett to Fiordland, you don't need blue skies and sunshine to do these walks. In fact, the crisper autumn air can mean fewer crowds and cooler conditions – just be sure to bring the wet-weather gear.
Cape Brett Track, Northland
16.3km (8 hours)
Advanced tramping track
Have you ticked off the Great Walks and now you're after a new challenge? Although it's not one for the inexperienced, Cape Brett Track in Northland delivers rugged beauty for those wanting to put their trekking skills to the test. If you're used to advanced tramping tracks, Cape Brett should really be on your walking wish list. There are steep inclines and challenging terrain but you'll enjoy striking coastal scenery featuring birdlife, seals and dolphins if you're lucky.
Parts of the track are quite elevated and exposed, with steep cliff drop-offs, so ensure care is taken at all times. The walk culminates at the famous Cape Brett lighthouse, where your efforts will be rewarded with amazing views of the outer Bay of Islands, the Cavalli Islands, and Whangaruru. The DoC hut has been converted from an old keeper's cottage beneath the lighthouse if you wish to stay overnight (bookings essential). Cape Brett is open all year but use extra caution if you're considering venturing out on a wet day.
Kauaeranga Kauri Trail (Pinnacles Walk), Coromandel
Intermediate/easier tramping track
The Coromandel's lush trail follows an historic packhorse route that was used by kauri bushmen in the early 20th century. Depending how much time you have, there are various walking options and you can complete the Pinnacles as a day or overnight walk.
Spending the night is a very popular option, and booking to stay at The Pinnacles DoC hut will mean you get to see the spectacular sunset and sunrise views (and you might even hear kiwi and morepork at night). This trail is truly a natural wonderland and you'll experience some of the country's best flora like nīkau palms and rātā trees. When you're at the Pinnacles peak you'll have panoramic views at your feet so take some time to admire the Bay of Plenty and Hauraki Gulf, stretching to the Kaimai Ranges.
Ohakune Old Coach Road, Ruapehu
15km (4 hours 30 minutes)
Easy walking track
It may be a popular route for mountain bikers, but walkers will find plenty to love on this half-day walk on the Old Coach Road. The historic trail was in use during the early 1900s to transport passengers by horse-drawn coaches before the two rail heads formed the North Island trunk line. Located in Tongariro National Park, this short walk is a good choice for those wanting a gentler route than the nearby famous Alpine Crossing would offer in the cooler months.
Classified by DoC as an easy walking track, the Old Coach Road is also an optimal addition to your itinerary if you're visiting Ruapehu for the ski season. The route travels along the lower slopes of Mount Ruapehu and you'll pass by native forest filled with beauties like rimu and rātā trees. Wear sturdy shoes because certain parts can get muddy, and also be aware of those mountain biking on the trail, as it's a shared track.
Abel Tasman Coast Track, Nelson Tasman
Duration: 60km (3-5 days)
Grade: Intermediate/easier tramping track
Nestled in between Golden and Tasman Bays, this Great Walk is one of New Zealand's classic tracks. In a region known for its sunshine, the Abel Tasman Coast Track boasts regular sunny days during autumn and winter. This makes it easy to combine your walk with a kayak or boat trip to really take advantage of the area's splendid scenery. If you're feeling brave, take a bracing dip at Anchorage beach, just maybe have a hot chocolate on standby.
April through September is prime time for wildlife spotting here. Fur seals and dolphins are spotted regularly on the coastal track. As far as birdlife goes, it's not uncommon to spy shags or a penguin in the waves, while the soundtrack of kererū, fantail and weka lights up the forest.
Considered by many New Zealanders as the best time to visit the Nelson-Tasman area, mid-winter provides regular crisp, sunny days and mild evenings, and there are opportunities to light campfires if you do feel the chill.
Rob Roy Track, Otago
10km (3-4 hours)
Easy walking track
Located in the walker's paradise that is Mount Aspiring National Park, Rob Roy track is a must-do while visiting the Otago region. Classified as an "easy" grade, minimal effort leads to great thrills on the Rob Roy. With snowfields, glaciers, sheer rock cliffs and waterfalls, the scenery is dramatic and awe-inducing.
The track has recently reopened after a slip forced its closure in July 2019. The Rob Roy Track is one of Mount Aspiring's most popular day walks, so keen walkers will be happy to see its return. There are some seasonal restrictions - access is restricted to the lower lookout when there's the potential for avalanches (May to November).
If weather permits, stay longer and check out some of the other terrific tracks available. Of course, one bonus of walking in Otago is that you'll be in close vicinity of the region's wineries. Stretch the legs then relax with a glass of pinot – a perfectly well-rounded day out, if you're so inclined.
Key Summit Track, Fiordland
3.4km one way (3 hours)
With expansive views over mountains and alpine lakes, Key Summit Track is a fabulous option for those wanting to give the Routeburn a whirl. The walk begins on the Routeburn Track and then signs will direct you to veer off on the Key Summit.
Located in Fiordland National Park, the climb to Key Summit offers rewards of sweeping views across the Humboldt and Darran Mountains. Bird watchers can keep their eyes open for robins and bellbirds, as birdlife is prolific around these parts. For those not wanting to commit to the full Routeburn multi-day trek, this is the perfect option.
WALKING IN AUTUMN AND WINTER
Although these tracks are officially open all year round, winter weather can cause unpredictable conditions, so always check the current forecasts and advice before you set off. Ensure you have all the appropriate gear and sustenance you need and tell a trusted contact, who is not walking with you, where you plan to go and when you expect to be back. Adventuresmart.nz has a New Zealand Outdoors Intentions form, which you can fill in and give to your contact - this allows you to enter the key information Search and Rescue would need in the event you don't return home as planned.