New Zealand’s alpine environment offers some truly unique experiences that can’t be found anywhere else in the world! Due to the climate, the geographical position and the history of the country some things have simply developed in a different manner than in similar areas like the European Alps. For example, did you know that prior to human settlement New Zealand had no warm-blooded mammal predators? Check out our list of five unique alpine experiences in New Zealand!
The New Zealand Department of Conservation has selected nine multi-day hikes and has designated them the Great Walks of NZ. Five in the South Island and four in the North Island, these walks are especially beautiful and have been chosen to portray to visitors the huge variety of terrain that the country has to offer. The setting of these hikes range from beautiful coastlines with beaches to dense rainforests and alpine terrain. For the ultimate alpine experience choose either the Heaphy Track, the Routeburn Track, the Kepler Track or the most famous of all, the Milford Track. All of them are situated in the Southern Alps, the Heaphy Track takes trampers from Golden Bay to the West Coast; the Kepler Track starts in Te Anau and leads through forest, over ridgelines and into rocky mountain areas; the Routeburn Track takes off from behind Glenorchy and links Mt Aspiring National Park with Fiordland National Park; finally the famous Milford Track starts with a boat trip on Lake Te Anau and leads trampers over wetland, rainforest and up to higher peaks overlooking Fiordland. No matter which walk you do all of them offer the magical experience of New Zealand’s wild nature, absolute silence and nothing around you but mountains, rivers and beauty.
As mentioned earlier New Zealand’s wildlife can definitely be called harmless. The absence of predators and dangerous animals makes it easy to explore New Zealand’s nature and animals without any risk. The absence of predators has also caused some very interesting species to survive and evolve over time, for example, non-flying birds like the iconic Kiwi. The Southern Alps is home to the tallest kiwi species in New Zealand, the great spotted kiwi, which can grow up to 45cm tall. Experts believe that the high altitude of their terrain has protected the great spotted kiwi over time because the harsh conditions in the mountains make it difficult for cats, stoats and ferrets to go there. Another very interesting resident of the mountains is the Kea, the mountain parrot is unique to New Zealand and the only one of its kind. The birds are known to be extremely intelligent, there are confirmed cases of Keas learning to use tools to set off stoat traps to get to the eggs and also developing techniques to strip rubber pieces off cars. One Kea even managed to lock a mountaineer inside the toilet at Mueller Hut! Other wildlife that can be found in the New Zealand Alps is rock wrens, chamois, skinks and many more.
New Zealand’s Alps offer overnight accommodation for all kinds of budgets and needs. The Department of Conservation manages a network of over 950 huts, some of them have a hut warden and offer cooking facilities and beds while others are designed to offer refuge from bad weather and a shelter far away from the common tracks. There are also many campgrounds, some on the shores of lakes, some right in the middle of a forest. If you are looking for something more luxurious and extraordinary, Whare Kea Lodge might be a good option. The Wanaka based lodge has a chalet located at 1750 metres and only accessible via helicopter. From the house, you can enjoy uninterrupted views of Mount Aspiring and even Mount Cook!
Due to its size, New Zealand’s alpine environment is never far away from the ocean. In some places, the mountains reach right into the sea! Franz Josef and Fox Glacier offer a very special experience that combines both elements in the best possible way. Take a helicopter up to the glaciers and on a good day, you can see the ocean right below you, mountains around you, ice under your feet and the Tasman Sea in front of you? It certainly doesn't get much better than that, truly a view to remember!
Due to the remoteness of New Zealand and the limited light pollution, there are many places in the country to have an amazing stargazing experience. On the South Island, New Zealand has established the first dark sky reserve, the biggest on our planet. The area covers 4300sq km and includes Aoraki/ Mt Cook National Park, Lake Tekapo, Twizel and Mt Cook Village. Extensive testing has shown that this region has the clearest, darkest and most spectacular night sky in New Zealand. There are several companies that offer stargazing tours which allow guests to see the Milky Way, the Magellanic Clouds and sometimes even the Aurora Australis, the famous Southern Lights.
Of course, there are many more unique experiences hidden in the alpine environment of New Zealand. So what are you waiting for? Get out your hiking boots, your tent and survival kit and make your way into the beautiful mountain world. Adventure is waiting for you...