Back in 2016, I spent a bit more than a year in New Zealand, The Middle Earth. So far, this country is my favorite. First, because I realized that I was driven by adventure and by photographing them. Second because it offers an endless choice of peaks, caves, canyons, rivers, waterfalls, beaches, lakes, volcanoes, hot springs… to explore and have fun. This is just a tiny pick of my favorite places in New Zealand that I discovered during a year. Enjoy!
The pinnacles (Coromandel Peninsula)
Let’s start with the North Island. This Island is where most of the 4.5 million New Zealand’s inhabitants are living. There is the Big Smoke, Auckland, but let’s get out of it even though there is some great tropical forest to explore there. Our first stop will be in The Coromandel Peninsula. There is the famous hot water beach and Cathedral Cove but we won’t talk about it here. Let’s hike up to get one of the best views for sunrise up to the pinnacles. To access it, you have to go to Thames.
Tongariro Crossing and Mt Ngaruhoe
Then we will go to one the world famous hikes, the Tongariro crossing. A must do! Due to an injury while hiking to the Pinnacles I decided not to do it and take a day off but at the end of the day the call was too strong and I decided to start the crossing at 6pm. Best decision ever as I was totally alone in the usually crowded National Park. I took my tent and slept on top of Mt Ngaruhoe as well known as Mt Doom in The Lord of The Ring. I had the very best experience and that’s where I a had a big realization about what I really wanted to do of my life. Try to get two cars, as the start and the end of this hike are 30km apart. You can hitchhike like I did but it can take you for ages especially after the full day hike. If you don’t plan to sleep in the park, which is illegal, I recommend you to start very early. If you can get the sunrise on top of Mt Ngaruhoe it will be the best. Allow 3 hours hike to be on top from the start.
From the top of Mt Ngaruhoe, you will have a very nice view on Mt Ruapehu which is our next spot! This is an active Volcano and you must be careful with the weather because it can be fatal. Strong winds, cold weather can take very suddenly. As well, don’t cross the crater, like I did. Instead, walk around the edge. It was way too dangerous and the last climb to reach the emergency hut was very unstable made of loose volcanic rocks. However, it is an amazing hike with amazing views at sunset and even better at sunrise. From there you can see all peaks of the north island standing over the clouds in the golden morning light.
Today it’s #EarthDay but it should not be just a day. We need it to live. We come from it. We must respect it. We are all connected together and earth is a part of us as we are a part of earth. We all are made by the same cells. To not respect it is to not respect yourself. Celebrate it, respect it and try to make it a better place for the future of all of us. Especially today but every other day as well.
We are moving down west to Mt Taranaki the lest of the three peaks of the North Island. Here, you must simply disconnect your brain and walk up. Start very early. Around 2 or 3 am. The hike is very steep and very consistent. The slope goes up from bottom to the summit without pretty much any flat surface to rest. The ground is made of loose volcanic stones and sand which adds to the challenge. But the reward is totally worth it. You feel like being at the top of the world and you will be able to experience the brocken spectre. It is a phenomenon happening when you are in between the sun and some clouds. A rainbow circle will appear around your shadow. Only you can see it.
Let’s go back to the north of Auckland. Whangarei is a very nice city and nearby sits the Whangarei falls, or rainbow falls. They are amazing and you can either swim and go in the huge cave behind the falls be careful the rocks are very slippery. Around Whangarei, you’ll find as well a nice cave system called Abbey caves where you’ll see glow-worms. Make sure to have your headlight! The first cave is the best because it is easy, the second and third are not crazy and you’ll find yourself with neck-deep water surrounded by many huge spiders so stick to the first cave if you are afraid of spider or black deep underground water.
One last spot not so much for photographs is Kerozene creek in between Rotorua and Taupo. It’s not very much a secret spot anymore but you’ll have a blast in this 40 degrees celsius river stream especially if it’s cold and raining outside.
I started South Island in Wanaka. A little town sitting by a lake and a huge National Park. Aspiring National Park. To make it easy to follow, I will go through from the north to the south. One more time, I’m just listing the spots I’ve been to and there is a whole lot of places that I still need to discover such as Abel Tasman National Park for example.
Kaikoura on the way from Picton to the south following the east coast is an amazing little town. Perfect for surfing you can park your van by the beach and go for a surf. If you want to, you can as well spend the night there. The sunrise from this spot is beautiful! I spent a night while cycling to the north and set up the hammock there. It remains a great memory when I opened my eyes at 5am to see the colors in the sky over the horizon.
Castle hill is a spot to not miss. On the way from Christchurch to Arthurs Pass, it is an amazing plain with huge rocks standing there. They’ve made the movie Narnia here. The light is amazing and this is the place I took a photograph which has been shared many times and published in books printed more than a million times.
Just a little further you’ll find Cave Stream, an amazing cave where you go in through a big hole in the ground. Once you are in, you’ll be amazed by the crystal clear water and the beauty of the walls carved by the water. Just don’t go if it has been raining because the water level can rise quickly and the last part, to go out might then be impossible to practice and believe me you don’t want to go backward.
Just after that cave stream, you can go to park your van nearby lake Pearson. You’ll likely being alone there. The landscape is very nice at night and the sky very clear as there is no city or town around to generate light pollution.
When you keep going to Arthurs Pass, you’ll reach Bealey Spur. just before the huge bridge. The hike is easy and you can camp on top. It’s cold at night even during good seasons. If you get some moonlight and low clouds you’ll have a great spectacle of clouds dancing through peaks.
I didn’t stop at Arthurs Pass but I know there is some great hikes.
Mt Cook and Mueler Hut
Mt Cook is an amazing National Park and the hike all the way to Mueller Hut has the best views. There are many stairs but it is so worth it! Especially when you get the whole hut for yourself because the weather has turned and everyone else canceled their trip. Depending of the season, make sure to get snowshoes. The guides won’t let you go if you don’t get them anyway.
Nature is incredible and I’m a lucky bastard! How is it possible to have a clear sky like that after such a huge snow storm for more than 5 hours and the probability to open an eye at 3 am and see this through the window… I instantly jumped out of bed with my camera and, alone in dark, hearing so many avalanches from everywhere around me, i took some photographs of that sky over Mueller hut before to go back in the warmness of my sleeping bag 👌🌛❄
On the way from Haast to Wanaka, or reverse, there are the blue pools. It is an amazing blue glacial water river. It is worth the stop! A bit further, just nearby the road toward Haast, there is a secret creek. I can’t tell you any name because there isn’t but my friend Johny Cook showed me this spot and it is an amazing gem!!
Siberia Valley and Crucible Lake
This spot is a bit more difficult to access but totally doable! Crucible lake! You have two options to reach it. By walk for three days from Makarora following the Gillespie Pass circuit track then the young river all the way to Siberia valley or by plane. I used the plane as it was part of my job for Wanaka tourism. Once the plane leaves you are then totally alone. There is no cellphone coverage, no civilization, nothing and that is the best feeling ever on an overpopulated planet! Just by writing this and remember it, I can feel the contentment and excitement shivering in my body! The lake was full of Icebergs and I tried to plant my tent on top of one of them, wrong idea and I ended up in the glacial water. The storm came and I spent the evening and night in my tent trying to get warmer in my sleeping bag while hearing many avalanches surrounding me.
Breast Hill and Isthmus Peak
When you drive back toward Wanaka, you’ll reach Hawea lake, you should definitely go to Breast Hill! One amazing trip that you can read more in details right here. Definitely worth it!
Hey!!! I’m very excited to announce that the website for my next project to go back to France by bicycle from Wanaka in New Zealand is now online! You can visit it by following this address: www.pixnbike.com Of course there is still a lot of information coming on the website: – French version – 1% for the planet association page – Crowdfunding page – Blog to follow the trip from the beginning to the end – Medias page – …. So yes still a lot to come… Stay tuned!! My pixnbike instagram is @pixnbike follow me! Photo by @mattedeanvonnee
This is a great one if not the best place on earth!
Are you ready? There are many things to say. Wanaka has it all! From Mountain biking, to Rock Climbing, canyoning, canoeing, hiking… I definitely left a piece of my heart over there.
For hiking, there are many huts to reach if you go toward Mt Aspiring National Park. As well, Roys Peak is definitely a must do! The best would be a hike on the skyline from Cardrona to Roys Peak. You can find an article about it right here.
Canyoning in Wanaka
Canyoning, you should contact Deep Canyon Nz they will bring you to the best places with the best guides! My favorite pick is Mill creek and I think it is now open to the public so you should definitely give it a try!!
Mou Waho Island
For canoeing, you should definitely go to Mou Waho island. It is an island on Lake Wanaka. There is an island on a lake on an island on a lake on an island. You’ll find out haha. As well there some very special birds on this island! They are very curious and not shy at all… but I let you discover them by yourself.
Rock Climbing in Hospital Flat
For Rock Climbing, go to Hospital Flat or a bit further along the river. The guide is a must have and you’ll see how many routes there are.
Rocky Moutains are an amazing spot for the views over the lake. The sunrise there is breath taking. Just check out this light! Note, it is not really allowed to spend a night in tent there… And just down Rocky Mountains, there is Diamond Lake and during the winter you can ice skating on it. Best feeling and fun ever!!
Aspiring National Park is full of adventures too. Check out those views on Cascade hut! From the side of French Ridge hut that I never reached due to a lack of equipment… That’s the only time I had to turn around.
This is an amazing place! after a 26km hike walking on some golden rocks, you reach some hot springs in the middle of the valley. Check this out! I spent the night in the hot springs while outside it was around 2 degrees celsius. Best views!
Glenorchy and Paradise
Glenorchy and Paradise are awesome places to go for hikes but be careful because there is no phone coverage or anything here so you are totally on your own. I recommend you to go to Earnslaw burn! It’s 9 hours hike one way, then there is a cave where you can set up the camp and come back the day after. Be prepared it’s tough! I had rain all the way all clothes wet and all the wood was wet to make fire. But when you reach the glacier and are surrounded by thousands of waterfalls, you’ll realize it’s worth it!!
milford sounds is another world! On your way you must take two stops! 1st, at the chasm breathtaking waterfall. There is a very narrow path in the bush on the right side of the official track go for it in the jungle and you will find the gem.
Then, make sure to hike up to Gertrude Saddle! You’ll have the view on all the sounds!! If you go during the winter, be careful as there are many avalanches paths on the way up. Josephin actually wrote an article about it right here.
Finally, go to the Milford Sounds and just let yourself be amazed!
I’ve been in NZ for a bit more than a year and it is the best place on earth. Even though I roamed all around there are still so many things to discover so go and explore, you might find some treasures that are not listed here yet. Finally, download the app “Wikiamps New Zealand” you’ll find most of those spots listed if you look for the names on it.