If like me, you have a penchant for finding secluded stretches of trail to get your stride on, you’ll find no better country than New Zealand.
A country renowned for the great outdoors and lush landscapes, the trails have meticulously crafted stretches with but a few other runners in your path. Here is your list of New Zealand trail runs for time away with nothing but a simple pair of trail runners.
Long Bay Regional Park: Okura Walkway
A coastal drive to just 30 minutes North from the Auckland Harbour Bridge is the Long Bay Regional Park. This is a spectacular stretch of sandy beach which despite it’s popularity still remains largely uncrowded in the tropical North Island Summer heat. There’s a protected marine reserve, snorkelling and swimming opportunities with clear green waters and flat surf.
Beside the beach is a large grass area that typically sees family birthday parties or day time b.b.q sessions, and at the end of the car parking area is the beginning of a short out and back trail. The trail form here is reasonably short, gravel, steady inclines, and has no cover. There’s an idea that it can join onto the far better trail (Okura Walkway) but it’s not the best for running so this one is better as a rest day on a trail runners training schedule.
The real gem is reached by driving down Haigh Access Road until you reach the cul de sac at the end, area for car parking, and a sign marking the trail entrance. It’s not recommended to leave valuables in your car here; there are regular break ins.
The trail is a 15km out and back that begins with a short run across a beautifully made wooden bridge crossing a small water estuary. At the edge of the bridge is a mandatory cleaning station for the prevention of didymo spread into the native bush land. Brushes and didymo spray is provided and it only takes a few seconds before you’re back into a truly stunning run.
Ascending wooden steps and traversing the coastline under canopy’s of native bush, the trail takes you to the top of a small hill for coastal views. Then there’s around 100 wooden steps to descend and it’s at that point you can return or continue along the coastline for a shorter climb of the second hill. There’s plenty of opportunity for challenge; if the inclines aren’t enough, and the terrain less technical for your preference, this track has plenty of opportunity to get a steady pace on. A tough one to beat when thinking of New Zealand trail runs.
Crater Rim Trail
Bordering Christchurch city from the port of Lyttelton is a hill range affectionately known as The Port Hills. A popular playground for walkers, hikers, and mountain bikers, The Port Hills are riddled with tracks and trails connecting and intertwining with one another. There are countless trail options of varying distances and intensity levels, and enough to prevent boredom because you can chop and change sections of them every time.
The Crater Rim trail is the one which runs along the top of the Port Hills range from East to the West. Its a narrow dirt track which is well trodden and surprisingly bereft of steep sections. The Crater Rim trail provides views over the entire city and out to The Southern Alps on one side. The other side captures the port town of Lyttelton Harbour.
While the Crater Rim is part of the best trail run up here, there are two real gems. Either begin at Boulder Bay (park at Taylors Mistake car park) and head around Godley Head to join onto the Crater Rim or head up Rapaki Track, and along Harry Ell track to descend through Victoria park.
Harry Ell is probably the only trail on the Port Hills which is covered in trees providing shade form the heat, and it has a convenient water fountain on it too. Rapaki Track is a gravel mountain bike track with some steep sections and the sun beats heavily on this track so be sure to wear sunscreen.
The Crater Rim track from East to West is a total of 30 km. Rapaki and Harry Ell are both around 4km each way. All tracks in the port hills can be made into longer runs with a variety of inclines.
Te Henga Walkway
On the Western coastline of Auckland is one of new Zealand’s most iconic walk ways, The Hilary Trail, stretching a distance of 84 km. From Murawai to Bethells Beach is a smaller section known as the ate Henga Walkway, and one of new Zealand’s most scenic trail runs.
Park at the track entrance, on Constable Road Murawai and follow the trail from North to South along the coast. The total track distance is 16.5km, and is not a loop so you’ll need to turn around at any point and return to your car. Some sections are narrow unmanicured goat track, while some a meticulously well kept with wooden edging, and flat ground. The terrain varies in incline encompasses areas of darting from ledge to ledge. Busy periods may require giving way to walking groups; its recommend to avoid these times as constant stopping can be frustrating.
Trail aside; what makes the Te Henga Walkway remarkable is the sensation of running along the edge of New Zealand high along cliff faces, far away from the city. The views are spectacular.
Mt Kau Kau
Its only a short trail – 4.2km ascend – but it is a truly stunning New Zealand trail run, and being close to the city makes it easily accessible. Park your car at the parking area and trail entrance on Clark Street, in Khandallah. You’ll begin under canopy’s of native tree which can be cold and dark, and a dirt floor that can be muddy after rain. It isn’t long before you come into clearings but the entire 4.2km is upward and there are plenty of well maintained wooden steps. After climbing over a stile you’re almost at the top with a steep paddock sprint to the power pylon and city lookout.
Here you simply must stop to take in the 360 degree views over Wellington City, the Cook Strait and on a clear day you can even see the South Island. Here you can truly appreciate how green New Zealand’s capital city is.
Once you have enjoyed the view then head past the pylon to descended as a loop back to the car park.The trail entrance for descending is to the right of the pylon and begins as a steep, wide, gravel track. Follow the track downward, taking path signs that read “Sistal” and “Clark”. You’ll end up on a track similar to the one you begin on; under canopy’s with some wooden steps and mud under foot. The track will spit you out in a clear grass field but carry on straight through, up a short steep foot path and you’ll come out at Clark Street.
At just 4.2km the ascend is solid slog, and the descent requires some careful footwork making it hard to get a good pace on.
But wait, there’s more…
New Zealand is known for “9 Great Walks” which are a series of world class trails for hiking, or tramping. The Nelson Striders hold races along some of these walkways, inviting runners the rare opportunity to enjoy running on their spectacular walkways. Abel Tasman, Queen Charlotte, and The Routeburn are some of these incredible tracks.
New Zealand trail runs are scattered all over the country, taking in some of the best coastlines in the world, and some of the best landscapes in the country. Enjoy!