Free Hikes

Heather Jock Hut

Heather Jock Hut, Mount Judah, Glenorchy, New Zealand, Free Huts

Just a few km outside of Glenorchy is a right hand turn for the Whakaari Conservation Area.  A very little used backcountry area consisting of a series of old scheelite mining tracks to a few free basic and standard backcountry huts.  The track to Heather Jock Hut gradually leads up 1,400 meters to the hut.  This free basic hut is a blast form the past with 3 beds, no heating, and no facilities, except a drop toilet.  On the way up, you'll pass old mining huts and work sites.  It takes about 2.5 - 3 hours to reach the hut.  It's very low key, with amazing views of Mt. McIntosh and the glaciated Centaur Peaks out of the front French door. 

On the other side of the valley is a very easy climb to recently refurbished McIntyre Hut (2 hrs, 5-Bunks, $5pp/pn) However, if you do decide to hike, on this side, we would recommend heading up to the other awesome free, basic hut, in the area, McIntosh Hut (3 hrs, 4-bunks, free). This hut sits right on the saddle of Mount McIntosh, and has far superior views than McIntyre Hut below.  

If you're looking for something off the beaten track in the Glenorchy area and don't want to pay a fortune to walk the Routeburn and still want to access some overnight huts, the Whakaari area is a great option for you.  We didn't see anyone on the track both days and had the 3 bunk hut to ourselves on a Saturday, in early march. 

Roy's Peak Overnight Camping

Roys Peak Camping, Wanaka, New Zealand

The track to Roy's Peak is just a very short drive, bike ride, or hitchhike from Wanaka town center.  The trail is a wide series of switchbacks all the way up to an amazing look-out.  This is a good place to take a break or even pitch a tent for the night.  From here the trail goes straight up, until you reach the Summit of Roy's Peak (3hr - Hard).  There are more options for camping once you reach the summit if you walk further along the trail.  Our plan was to see the sunrise, sunset, and night skies so we decided it would be best to carry in our camping gear.  The trail is not very exciting and is not easy on the ascent.  Carrying camping gear, plus camera equipment, doesn't make the trail any easier.  The morning view out of the tent window is worth every step and it was an amazing experience.  

There is only one overloaded drop toilet a few meters up the track, so please come prepared for #2's.  Camping here is prohibited.  So, camp at your own risk.  NZ is cracking down on "freedom camping" these days and Roys Peak is a controversial place to camp.   Staying here is frowned upon by the locals so please leave no trace so others can share this experience as well. 

In the busy season, expect people to be walking up basically all night.  Also, don't be surprised if you hear a group of young Germans boys bumping techno at 4am.  This is a very popular hike we headed up at around 5pm and had no problem finding an amazing campsite. Also we parked in the carpark at the trailhead and had no issues.  Whether you choose to do Roy's Peak for a day hike, a sunrise hike, or an over-nighter, it shouldn't be missed while in the Wanaka.  

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Five Activities You Don't Want To Miss on the West Coast.

Mt Brown Hut West Coast New Zealand. Remote Huts

New Zealand's West Coast isn't a primary tourist attraction for most travelers, unless your opening up your wallet for expensive heli-rides to the glaciers.  However, I reckon most of these people aren't stumbling across our wallet friendly blog anyways.  So, we put together five of our favorite activities on the west coast that are affordable or free.

Remote Huts -  If you're an experienced hiker and are keen to get into the wild wilderness of the West Coast, you'll find this region to be a Mecca for tracks off the beaten path.  You may find yourself trekking for a few days without even seeing a humanoid.  The tracks to the West Coast huts aren't for the faint of heart. Be ready to get muddy, bit by bugs, bush whack, and climb up steep terrain using roots as ladders.  There's tons of info and topo maps for the vast system of remote huts here www.remotehuts.co.nz.  It's important to know what you're getting into before you head out. GPS/maps are wise to have as DOC doesn't maintain many of these tracks and they are done through permolat, a community organization.  Also, must huts run from donation to $5 per night.  Honesty pays at these huts. So remember to pay it forward. 

Hokitika Gorge - While this is more of a major tourist attraction, it's definitely worth checking out.  Glacier melt and other factors make the water an amazing blue hue.  We highly recommend jumping into the cold water, off the rocks or the swing bridge, if you're brave enough.  Also, scrub your body with the rich mineral sand and rinse off in the cool waters to exfoliate your skin.  It's literally like spending a day at the spa after being deep in the West Coast wilderness. 

West Coast Glaciers - See them before they are gone.  The Franz Joesph Glacier is definitely the more impressive Glacier.  However, we preferred the scenery of the less popular Fox Glacier.  There are tons of tours offering chances to get on the glaciers, but since they have receded so much in the past ten years the tours are not as worth it since access is now so difficult.  A few of the tours literally go as far as a brave tourist can go in past the ropes.  We just recommend checking out the tracks at each glacier. There are some really cool and dense plant life and scenery. 

Matheson Lake - just a few kilometers outside of Fox Glacier is one of the most picturesque places in all of New Zealand.  On a clear day, more likely during sunrise or sunset, you can see amazing reflections of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman off the lake.  While most people hang out at Jetty point, we recommend walking around the lake to the Island Viewpoint or the View of all Views for less chances of being hit by selfie sticks.  If your lucky enough to catch the lake on a clear day, you will be enchanted by one of the most amazing sights and sought after photographs in NZ. 

Copland Track -  A 19 kilometer track up the Copland Valley will bring you to the Welcome Flat Hut, a 31 bunk two-story serviced hut.  The most attractive part of this Hut is definitely the hot pools right outside of the hut.  After a long hike, treat yourself to the West Coast best thermal pools. It's one of the best treats after a hike.  Although the Copland Track isn't the most scenic, it is quite long and really isn't recommend to people who don't have much backpacking experience. There are two river crossings and multiple swing bridges to cross.  Booking are mandatory and should be made well before either online or at an iSite either in Fox Glacier or Haast, as there is absolutely no service or other means to book in between the two places.  The hut is $15 per person, per night.  Bookings can be made at www.doc.govt.nz .

Two of our Favorite Campsites on the West Coast - We also found two awesome camp sites in the area while we weren't staying in huts.  The first one, Kapitea Reservoir. It is free and is on the way down from Arthur's Pass before you reach Greymouth.  This site is on the lake overlooking the Southern Alps. It is a free campsite on a reserve. In order to keep it free, make sure you leave no trace and encourage others to do the same. These spots are quickly disappearing because of irresponsible campers.

The next camp site we found, although not free, was incredible bargain. The Hari Hari Hotel accommodates all types of travelers with a hotel, bar, backpackers, and powered/unpowered campsites.  The best part about staying here is camp sites have access to the backpackers area for hot showers, wifi, and kitchen area, which was a blessing after 10 straight days on the road hiking through dense and humid west coast forest.  The campsites were around $12pp and was on of the best places we've come across on the South Island. Usually, places charge extra for showers and wifi. This was all in one package! Really nice people running the joint too. As a lot of free campsites have been shut down in this area, this place fills up around 3-5 pm. So get in and get a reservation as soon as you get to Harihari.

Torongario Crossing

Torongario Crossing New Zealand North Island Trecking

Walking the "World's Greatest day hike" for free.

In winter months, due to the snow,  this is a guided tour. So, I am not sure if there is a way around fees. But, in the summer months, this 20 something km hike is a Freedom hike. You are welcome to start at the shuttle start point, Mangatepopo or the shuttle end point, Ketetahi. There is a paid shuttle is available for $30 dollars per person back to the start point car park.  We are here to help you avoid that shuttle and the crowd of people it drops off. We hate crowds of people especially when you make an all day effort to be out in nature. No joke, after 11am, be ready to encounter heaps of inexperienced hikers all over the trail.

1. Two car option

If you're hiking friends that also have a car and you're keen on doing the entire hike from start to finish, drop one car at the Ketetahi car park and drive back to Mangatepopo car park and begin. Sounds simple, but for some reason huge groups of people are still shelling out money for that shuttle together. I would do this very early in the morning if you want this place all to yourself for a couple hours. Make sure you're on the trail by 5-6am and you should be perfect.

2. Start at the "end point"

Second option for those that only have one car....Start at the end point, Ketetahi car park. You won't do the entire hike, but you will see all the good stuff and you won't see a single person until the summit (Red Crater), if you start your hike at 5-6am. (Risky tip: If you park and sleep in your car at Ketetahi and get up and on that trail by 5 am, you will catch the sunrise over the Rotoaira Forest and Lake on the trail just as you pop out of the trees. Yeah, it isn't allowed to park at the car park overnight, but who is going to catch you if you're up that early? The parking attendants come at 6am. They will knock on your steamy window and shake their finger at you. They were pretty chill.) Once you've seen all the good stuff and summited, u-turn and head back the way you came in. The hike is a tiny bit longer this way, but we did it in 7 hours with walking around the lakes, taking pictures, and sitting and eating our packed meal. If you aren't the fastest hiker, allow 8 hours.

3. Camping nearby 

If the risky tip in number 2 was too risky for you, don't worry we have 2 legitimate free campsites nearby. Waikoko Valley Campsite and Kaimanawa Roadsite Camping. They are both about 20 minutes away from Ketetahi Car Park. If you don't mind being around a bunch of backpackers, park at either and get up early. There are about 6 parking spots at Ketetahi. Odds are people have dropped their car there the night before already or slept in their car there. So there won't be any spots. You will have to park on the side of the unsealed road you came in. Overflow parking lines the East side of the entire road all the way toSH47. It starts on the left side (East side) about 50 meters after you u-turn and find no spots in the 6 car lot. Look for the blue P sign with the arrow pointing in the direction you came in. It's easy to miss, but it's there. Sometimes there are cones right by it.

4. Going old school. Hitch hike.

Last option, start at the starting point park your car and do the entire hike. Then, go old school and hitch hike. We saw plenty of people doing it. I can't say how good your luck will be and I can't promise it will be safe these days, but in NZ, I am sure it probably is safe. When you hitchhike, always walk backwards facing on-coming traffic with your thumb up and making eye contact with the drivers, if you want to hit that soft spot in their heart. I don't recommend this tip, as you will be exhausted and you might have to walk an additional 7km to the car park, if someone drops you roadside at the turn off.

 Our Thoughts....

Alright, now that we gave you the low down on how to save some dough,  it's time to talk about that reigning title "World's Greatest Day hike." I think you might be walking thru there as confused as were were as to how they even came up with that. I've hiked in quite a few epic places that this place doesn't even touch. (Try Half Dome, in Yosemite, any day hike in Mt. Rainer, or plenty of Tassie hikes would knock this place out of the ball park). I really don't feel like this place should even be a contender, but that just might be my high expectations for New Zealand hikes and "world's best hikes" for that matter. In the car park, at the end, we heard plenty of people expressing their confusion as well. But if you are a LOR fan like me, then you'd probably wanna check out Mt Doom. I'm not at all saying this place sucked by any means. It was some of the craziest terrain I have seen and some of the craziest terrain I will probably see all in one place. With the earth steaming thru vents and crazy emerald colored pools, it sure is insane to see the power of Mother Nature,  but I still don't agree with the title it holds. I think it has a little something to do with the excellent marketing for the shuttle companies to drive you 15 minutes down the road for $30 per person. Due to it's picturesque popularity, New Zealand has become a pay to play out in Nature and this is one of the Great Walks that you can still play for free. Although I am not sure for how much longer it will be like this, it sounds like this popular hike has reached it's daily limit and might be regulated to how many people can cross the track in any given day. At that time, I don't know if there will be ways around paying to play at Torongariro.