It is a 1. 5-hour drive to the Jurassic-like rainforest of Whirinaki Forest Park. This park covers an area of 60,000 hectares and is famous for its podocarp trees, an ancient off-shoot of the conifer family that evolved before flowering plants. It is thought that forests like this once covered the super-continent of Gondwanaland more than 150 million years ago. This is where the BBC ‘Walking with Dinosaurs' series was filmed. Step back in time as you hike amongst weeping ferns, forest giants and rare birdlife.
On our way back to the vehicle we keep an eye out for the rare Blue Duck that are sometimes seen in this river. En-route to Taupo we visit Waiotapu Thermal Reserve, where you can walk at your own pace through this fascinating thermal wonderland of geysers, bubbling mud, steaming ground, expansive vistas, huge volcanic craters and sinter terrace formations. We'll visit Huka Falls before arriving in Taupo, situated on the shores of the largest lake in New Zealand; which was formed by a series of massive volcanic eruptions over the last 2000 years (B/L).
A 1-hour drive gets us to the Tongariro National Park. Established in 1887, it was New Zealand's first National Park, gifted to the people of New Zealand by a Maori chief (Tukino Te Hue Hue) who saw this as a way of protecting the tapu (respect or sacredness) of the land - in particular the summits of the active volcanoes. It is also a dual World Heritage Area, a status which recognises the park's important Maori cultural and spiritual associations as well as its outstanding volcanic features.
Enroute to the Park, we enjoy a short 1 hour hike through stunning forest around the slopes of Mt Pihanga and to the mystical Lake Rotopounamu (Lake of Greenstone). The next two nights are spent in a hotel on the edge of the park, providing a great opportunity for you to explore the area at your leisure. In the afternoon hike to Taranaki Falls, cascading 20 metres over a 15,000 year old lava flow (L).
This morning we drive west beside the mighty Buller River to the rugged West Coast. At Cape Foulwind we take a short walk to view a seal colony. The New Zealand fur seal pups are born in December and January. We might see the young pups frolicking around in rockpools sheltered from the heaving waves that pound this part of the coast. After lunch we start an overnight hike in Paparoa National Park. Amongst the largest remaining tract of coastal native forest in New Zealand are towering limestone cliffs, caves and rivers - an ideal area for hiking.
Starting at the mouth of the Fox River, we take a historic pack-horse route to Dilemma Creek, and then follow the river upwards to the Ballroom Overhang where we spend the night. Your guide will show you river crossing techniques and you will be thankful for your proper hiking boots, which are essential in this terrain. The Ballroom is a large limestone overhang which shelters a serene campsite just above the Fox River. The evening is spent sitting around the campfire and enjoying a delicious meal (B/L/D).