Auckland - Whirinaki
11km/3 hours hiking
We head south to Rotorua, with a café stop at 9am for those who missed breakfast. Rotorua is renowned for its steaming thermal vents, bubbling mud-pools and stunning lakes. The area is also rich in Māori and early European history, including the violent 1886 Mt Tarawera eruption that buried a Māori village. We enjoy a quick stop by Lake Rotorua before heading away from the beaten track – southeast into the Whirinaki.
After a picnic lunch, we sort out gear and pack our backpacks for the hike into the rainforest. A further hours’ drive get us to the south end of this huge park.
The Whirinaki Forest is a preserved remnant of the vast forests believed to have covered the super-continent of Gondwanaland more than 150 million years ago. Our first hike is an easy one, descending 300m on a track through native beech forest, to a simple forest hut beside the stunning Whirinaki river. We cook up our meal together and relax. We either camp or stay in the nearby hut with an evening campfire and time to enjoy the surrounds. Includes lunch and dinner.
Includes: Lunch & Dinner
Accommodation: We either camp or stay in the nearby hut with an evening campfire - 1 night
Whirinaki - Te Urewera
16km/5 hours hiking
This morning we continue down the valley track. This wilderness is off the tourist trail and we rarely see others, but we do often see rare blue ducks and robins, and hear kaka (a large bush parrot)! Lower down the valley, we hike beneath giant tree ferns and some of New Zealand’s most stunning podocarp rainforest trees.
Later in the afternoon, we drive east, into the rugged forest ranges of Te Urewera. This is the traditional home of the Tūhoe (Māori tribe) and one of the last places to have been reached by European settlers.
After two hours winding through the most incredible rain forest, we reach the western arm of remote Lake Waikaremoana. We continue around the lake before stopping for the night at a camping area with sweet little cabins. Here we relax and cook a meal together in the communal kitchen.
Includes: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Accommodation: Camping - 1 night
17km/8 hours hiking
This morning we drive 20 min to the trail-head at the south end of the lake and ready ourselves for some spectacular views. We climb up the Panekiri Range through gnarled beech and bright green tawa forest ascending to a point over 500 metres above the lake.
From here, we hike along with breath-taking vistas in every direction. After enjoying a lunch stop at Bald Knob, we return back along this undulating trail, and if time permits once back at the road end, we explore the fascinating ’caves’ trail.
Includes: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Accommodation - Waikaremoana - 1 night
Lake Waikaremoana - Taupo
4km/2 hours hiking
This morning we drive to the Volcanic Plateau where we explore an extraordinary thermal park (price included), bathe in a natural hot river and view the impressive Huka Falls. Feel the spray here as the mighty Waikato River plunges 11 metres into a stadium-like pool. This is New Zealand’s longest river.
Later we arrive at Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand. Incredibly, this 600 square kilometre crater lake was formed in 186 AD by the most powerful volcanic explosion in recorded history.
At Taupo, we either grab takeaway food (own cost) or rustle up a quick ‘trailer’ meal at a lovely lake-side spot. Here we can relax on the unusual pumice beach and in summer enjoy an evening swim before continuing to our cabin accommodation in Tongariro National Park.
Includes: Breakfast & Lunch
Accommodation: Whakapapa Village - 1 night
Tongariro National Park 15km/6 hours hiking
Tongariro National Park is the oldest National Park in New Zealand and the fourth oldest in the world. In 1993, the park became a UNESCO mixed cultural and natural World Heritage Site. Although many hikers walk the busy one-day Tongariro Alpine Crossing, few explore the more remote and drier east side of this volcanic range. Enjoy our secret side trips and short cuts but rest assured we will hike the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing – considered one of the world’s finest day walks – but at a less busy time of the day whenever possible.
We sort out gear and pack our backpacks ready for our two nights away. In the late morning hike out of Whakapapa through tussock-grasslands and over the low saddle that cuts between the volcanoes Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. Late afternoon we arrive at a simple but modern hut beside a quiet stream and among patches of mountain beech forest. There are great mountain-views from the spacious common room.
Includes: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Accommodation Tongariro - 1 night
12km/6 hours hiking
The trail to the next hut takes just 3 hours, so we have the morning to explore.
Either amble (about an hour) to the splendid Ohineopango Springs and visit a historic hut and then return to hut for lunch, or we can negotiate an adventurous off-trail route over ash-moraine ridges and skirt lava cliffs to reach a viewpoint high above a remote lake. After lunch continue on, traversing stony deserts to an alpine hut at 1400m situated on the edge of an old lava flow.
We stop to enjoy fantastic views of the Park’s three main peaks: Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe. The latter starred as Mount Doom in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. It’s an extraordinary landscape of active volcanoes and lava valleys.
Evening provides an opportunity to share an alpine hut with hikers from all over the world. Oturere ‘sardine tin’ Hut is small, quite busy, but still our favourite spot. We usually sleep in the hut, but sometimes we camp
Includes: Breakfast, Lunch
Accommodation: Whakapapa Village - 2 nights
8-15km/3-8 hours hiking
We hike through a moon-like valley of lava flows and ash fields before climbing steeply to the remarkable Emerald Lakes, which have graced the covers of many guidebooks.
From here we join the spectacular Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
The next few hours of hiking take us through an unforgettable wonderland of lava valleys, steaming craters and brooding volcanoes before our descent through bonsai-like alpine foliage and alongside mineral-infused streams. In good conditions, we have the option of climbing high on the volcanic peaks.
An evening drive takes us to a lodge in the heart of the National Park – the perfect place to relax with a beer and enjoy million-dollar volcanic views before dining in the alpine village.
Meals: Breakfast and Lunch
Tongariro - Wellington 1km/1-2 Hours Hiking
Driving south, we leave the volcanoes to descend through the beautiful river valleys of the Rangitikei and along the coast to Wellington, where we arrive mid-afternoon after a café break.
Wellington is so much more than just New Zealand’s capital. It is also the nation’s stylish hub for arts, culture, cafés and politics. Enclosed by hills and a harbour, this compact city has many attractions within easy walking distance.
Options include enjoying the National Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa) or watching the political shenanigans of the ‘Beehive’ (Parliament House). Many visitors immerse themselves in the vibrant café scene and the accessible downtown area.
- Hike sections of New Zealand’s Great Walks and visit a thermal park
- Experience the volcanic wonders of the Tongariro Crossing
- Finish in Wellington, a ‘cool little capital’
- 12 seater minibus
- A knowledgeable guide
- All meals
- Therm-a-rest sleeping mat
- Cooking equipment
- First aid kit
- Safety equipment
- Grade: D
- Average 4-5 hours physical activity per day, up to 8-9 hours on longer days
- Pack weights of 10-12kgs (22-26lbs) on some days
- Altitude gains of up to 800m (2600ft) per day
- Some uneven track surfaces and river crossings
- No multi-day hiking experience necessary
- Agility and fitness required
- You need to be reasonably fit and enthusiastic
- Terrain mostly tracks. Some may be slippery or rough; some off-track hiking and river crossings
"Wild nights" vs nights in civilisation...The Ultimate North is a combination of “wild nights”, which are the nights where you are truly in the wilderness, staying in backcountry huts or camping in locations that may be several hours walk from the nearest road or populated area, versus nights in civilisation where you may stay in cabins, lodges or camp by the vehicle at Department of Conservation campsites. Some of these locations may still be relatively remote and in the wilderness but they can be reached by the vehicle.
As well as being the time to rest, refuel and recharge, meal times are also a great time to get to know your fellow travellers better, sit back and enjoy the amazing surroundings and enjoy some great food! Everybody has a turn with the preparation and cooking of meals: barbecues, salads, pancakes, curries, pasta, stir-fries, hangi... Vegetarian meals are no problem. On the "wild nights" the group will usually eat pasta and rice meals (special "secret" recipes used). There is always a lot of hiking food - chocolate, nuts, raisins, biscuits. The vehicles carry a full range of cooking equipment including gas burners, woks, frying pans and billies (cooking pot). When you go on an overnight hike the group will carry a portable stove.
There are normally no additional activities on the Ultimate North. All activities are included in the price: Thermal Park, row boats, water taxi, natural hot pools.