The best thing about hiking trips, bike rides and long walks up steep hills? Rewarding yourself at the end. Here are 11 places to relax and unwind after an active adventure, as soon as your local alert levels allow you to get out and about.
Standing 1km tall and just 45 minutes from Hamilton, Mount Te Aroha is one mountain you can knock on the head in the morning. Starting out at the Mōkena Geyser in Te Aroha Domain, the first 45-minutes is relatively painless. Once you reach Whakapipi Lookout, gobble down a calorific snack because the next two hours are steep, rough and considerably more intense. You can lunch at the summit, which, on a clear day, boasts 360-degree views of the Waikato and Bay of Plenty and if it's a real belter, as far as Mt Taranaki and Mt Ruapehu. Descend via the same track and a few hours later you can soothe your every niggle at the No 2 Bath House, a recently renovated oasis, or Te Aroha Mineral Spas. Both spots tap into Te Aroha's natural mineral water which is sourced straight from a spring. It's a mere hop from the mountain base, so you can practically roll from the track into a hot tub.
Bay of Plenty
Those of us who have visited Mt Maunganui, or The Mount as it's more affectionately known, will already know the conundrum: to slink immediately into the Mount Hot Pools, or climb the maunga for an obligatory selfie at the top. The very definition of short and sweet (but also steep and sweaty), we guarantee completing the 45-minute ascent before an afternoon of soothing bliss is all the more satisfying. The pools, sitting conveniently at the mountain's base, enjoyed a mid-2021 refresh and are looking snazzier than ever, but don't let that lead you astray – hike first, soak second. Of course, if a hot walk closely followed by a hot soak isn't your thing, you can cool off with a chilled drop of white at Leveret & Mills Reef Winery instead. A 30-minute drive north of Mt Maunganui, the vineyard's renowned for sparkling, red, white and rosé wines.
Perhaps when you envisage Aotearoa's rugged landscape, you're more inclined to think of mud and wheels. In which case, the North Island's 42 Traverse, a shared 46km track for both hardened mountain bikers and 4WD lovers (the latter are permitted over summer only) offers a challenging terrain through the tangled knots of Tongariro Forest Conservation Area. A full day will leave riders fatigued, which makes The Old Post Office – conveniently found at the end of the track – all the more appealing. Whether the vintage abode's Great Gatsby good looks complement your gnarly, mountain biking persona is all by the by; with an outdoor spa, sauna, fire pit and a cafe at arm's reach, it makes a heavenly overnight stay after a full day's graft.
Several walking tracks in Hawke's Bay sew a route through the Te Mata Trust Park but if it's the 399m-high Te Mata summit you're looking to conquer (and who could blame you with views this spectacular), follow signage for The Peak Trail. Although steep in parts, it should take only 15-20 minutes to reach the top, and roughly 90-minutes in total to complete the loop. A brief cardio workout is guaranteed but the track is generally suitable for all ages and abilities. Walk done, it's what comes next that might require a minimum of 18 years of worldly wisdom: your post-workout reset at Craggy Range Cellar Door. Sitting under the watchful eye of Te Mata, enjoy a tour of the winery and grounds, partake in a tasting and make the most of Craggy's famously refined setting.
The Mākara Walkway is a full 16km north of Wellington but the city's trademark winds are hot on your heels. Ascending this 7km looped walk will ensure there's a persistent howl in your ears; a gust that's gladly received by the wind turbines. Your reward for an exposed uphill grunt is bucolic farmland and beach views, from where a pā site and later the World War II Fort Opau sat and scoured for invaders. Long-neglected gun emplacements will keep the inquisitive happy. Afterwards, trade in your trail mix for bubbles and cheese platters in an outdoor hot tub, courtesy of Pipinui Point. A standalone clifftop hideaway 30-minutes north, where self-catered is an option but often dismissed in favour of the personal chef, a highlight that's only – marginally – outdone by the sunset.
Just 20 minutes by car from Palmerston North, Sledge Track in Kahuterawa Valley is a natural playground of hikes, swimming holes, waterfalls and picnic spots. Divvy up your time between stream dips and short, 15-minute walks, or take on the full 8.5-hour shebang via a series of steep, looped tracks. When it's time to pull off the hiking boots, Brew Union, back in Palmerston North serves a large goblet of the gold stuff to refresh and revive. The brewery is big and industrial, with fermenters on full show and a beer garden to boot. Knock back a pint and a pizza before beelining to Quest Hotel Palmerston North. This new city centre outpost is partly owned by local iwi, Rangitāne o Manawatū Investment Trust, so you can expect slick mod cons mingling with Māori aesthetics.
For as much as it's famed for its sea-drowned valleys, Marlborough has heights to entice, too. Mt Stokes owns the bragging rights for being the highest point in the Sounds and at 1203m, the views are worth breaking a sweat for. A minefield of rocks and roots underfoot, the climb is steep and demanding. Allow at least half a day to complete, by which time a little sit down at Punga Cove will be exactly what's in order. Enveloped by nature and masses of water, strip off and jump straight in, or head directly to the spa pool. A retreat that is as much above active recreation as dead-to-the-world relaxation, use the kayaks, bikes and SUP boards, or swap your paddle for a pitcher and treat yourself to a waterside sundowner.
The Routeburn Track has been a Great Walk mainstay for decades; a three day, 32km whopper that spends much of its time above the clouds, slicing a route through glacier-carved valleys with little – if any – phone reception and the overwhelming notion that nature holds your fate in its hands. When you re-emerge, days later and newly acquainted with Mother Earth, it may seem like a slight betrayal to head straight for the nearest cash and carry. However, Mrs Woolly's General Store is rather special and an institution in its own right. It's also home to the world-famous Full Monty sundae and if anything is going to reawaken your taste buds after 72 hours of tinned goods, it's a handmade waffle cup packed with icecream, sauce and sprinkles.
Aoraki Mount Cook
What comes up, must come down. But in an area as rich in mountainous pursuits as Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, there's much ascending and descending to be done – resulting in weary legs and famished bellies. Fresh off a hike and back at base, punch Sweet Moos Twizel into your Google maps and drive 40-minutes south. As a seriously indulgent icecream parlour, partake in a classic real fruit cone or branch out with a mooburger, better described as an icecream cookie sandwich. A few doors down you'll also find Moostique Gastromarket, a boutique food emporium brimming with local New Zealand-made products and gourmet hampers – something to dream about when you're halfway up Hooker Valley with a pack of dry crackers.
If the wind is still and the bushes don't even rustle, that cold whisper on your neck might be the breath of a bygone miner. Fortunately, full-body chills are near impossible when traversing the West Coast's 85km-long Old Ghost Road. Following an abandoned gold miners' path between native forest, remote valleys and four abandoned ghost towns, it's a five-day tramp for hikers and a Grade 4 trail for mountain bikers. You'll be far too busy sweating to quake in your boots. At the track's northern trailhead is the Rough and Tumble bush lodge, where you can appease tired muscles in the bush shower and sit beside a blazing open fire with a beverage. There's also a bike wash, craft beer and homemade tucker, and most importantly, no resident ghosts in the guestrooms.
There's nothing like a brisk walk to blow off the cobwebs, energise your body and, if you're all too familiar with the 7pm zoomies, knacker the dog. Overlooking Riverton township, Mores Scenic Reserve welcomes both regular walkers and those on a leash. With four tracks ranging between 20-minutes and two hours, far-reaching coastal views stretch across the Foveaux Strait: the only divide between yourself, your pooch and Stewart Island. Back down in Riverton, walkers with rosy cheeks and panting dogs can stop at the Riverton Beachhouse Restaurant. There's a tasty brunch menu for humans and puppuccinos for your four-legged friend. Complete with dog-approved biscuits.
Check alert level restrictions and Ministry of Health advice before travel. covid19.govt.nz