A Park Ranger's Pick: 5 Under-The-Radar Adventures In New Zealand

Explore some of the most rugged terrain on the planet.

By: Crystal Brindle + Save to a List

If you’ve seen photos of New Zealand’s snow-crowned mountains, impossibly steep glacial valleys, and rolling golden hills, then the country is probably already on your travel to-do list. If you’re planning a visit, one look at this landscape will have you packing your backpacking gear in a hurry because New Zealand is crammed full of backcountry huts, trail systems, and epic scenery. In addition to the Great Walks and well-used trails, a vast array of more challenging adventures reveal the complex beauty of this land. Here are five treks ranging from moderate to advanced difficulty that fly under-the-radar of most who visit New Zealand and provide unparalleled experiences in a country known for outdoor adventure.

1. Climb Mount Olivier Above the Mueller Hut

Photo: Crystal Brindle

Unprecedented mountain grandeur surrounds you from all sides on the rocky summit of Mount Olivier overlooking the bright red Mueller Hut in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park on New Zealand’s South Island. Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park holds the tallest mountains in New Zealand and is home to substantial glaciers, icy lakes, and roaring rivers. The 5.2 km (3.2 mile) track leading up to the Mueller Hut and the scramble to Mount Olivier above reveal these stunning natural features in a show-stopping panorama of scenery. The route to the Mueller Hut is marked and straightforward in summer – affording a unique opportunity to experience the alpine realm of this park without mountaineering skills. Overnight in the hut for an authentic New Zealand tramping experience and watch the light show over the mountains and crumbling hanging glaciers at sunset and sunrise from Mount Olivier. Learn more.

2. Backpack to Adelaide Tarn in the Heart of Kahurangi

Photo: Crystal Brindle

This remote and idyllic alpine tarn in the depths of New Zealand’s second largest national park is known only to locals and committed visitors who do their homework. Kahurangi National Park spans the northwest Nelson region to the wild West Coast and is home to designated wilderness, challenging terrain, unique forests, and hidden lakes. One such gem is reached by routes beginning near Bainham in the Aorere Valley and the Anatoki River near Takaka. Adelaide Tarn hosts a tiny four-bunk hut nestled between the lake and surrounding mountains and is an ideal destination in its own right or serves as a base camp for excursions to the peaks above. Plan at least two nights to reach this hut and return to the road-end or include Adelaide Tarn in a larger traverse of its bordering mountain ranges. Spectacular landscapes are guaranteed and solitude is easy to find. Learn more.

3. Scramble Above the Barker Hut in the White River Valley

Photo: Crystal Brindle

The Barker Hut in Arthur’s Pass National Park is known among backcountry trampers as one of the best in a country of over 1,000 huts of varying shapes and sizes. After walking through the Waimakariri River to the Carrington Hut and on up the White River Valley you’ll reach this tiny red hut that stands out in its precarious position as a sentinel above the White River. For the ultimate alpine experience, spend the night in this 10 bunk hut - it's the highest in the park complete with sheer peaks, incredible views over the river valley, and the company of the world’s only alpine parrot – the kea. Scramble to the summit of the unnamed peak directly behind the hut for one of the best sunset viewing spots in the Southern Alps. Learn more.

4. Sleep in Esquilant Biv Perched Beneath Pikirakatahi

Photo: Crystal Brindle

A hut with a view is a common find in New Zealand but a structure that melts into the very walls of the Southern Alps is a privilege to experience. The Esquilant Biv in Mount Aspiring National Park fits the bill with a heart-pumping 6,000 foot climb from the Rees Valley over rock, alpine vegetation, snow slopes, and the Birley Glacier to a high basin beneath Mount Earnslaw/Pikirakatahi and the mystical Pluto Peak. The semi-circle basin beneath these summits tumbles away in icy waterfalls and jumbled rocks and makes for a fine view from the door of the hut. The jagged outline of Pluto Peak is distinctive and commanding in front of a backdrop of endless mountain ranges. The Esquilant Biv is positioned for functionality to assist climbers on the way to the summit of Mount Earnslaw/Pikirakatahi and to take advantage of the most dramatic mountain scenes imaginable. Bring your ice axe, crampons, and mountaineering experience to reach this one-of-a-kind locale. Learn more.

5. Follow the Untracked MacPherson Creek to Lake Barra

Photo: Crystal Brindle

If you’re ready for an advanced challenge to suit any adventurous spirit and have the skills to navigate complicated terrain then the narrow MacPherson Creek drainage on the fringes of Mount Aspiring National Park may grab your interest. Diving in from the MacPherson Creek bridge on the Haast Road just a few kilometres west of Pleasant Flat, bush climbing and crawling dominates the first half of this approach to the rugged and seriously remote Lake Barra. Despite being only a few kilometres from a major road, this entire river valley sees very little visitation as it is completely untracked and difficult to travel through. A one or two night journey into the high reaches of this valley provides opportunities to climb MacPherson Knob, visit Lake Barra, and climb Mount Campbell. The only other tracks you’re likely to find in the snow are from the resident alpine-dwelling chamois who peer down from the rocky outcrops they call home. Learn more.

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