To really get to know New Zealand, you have to do less and take in more…
New Zealand is the indisputable thrill-seeking capital of the world. And if you want a rush, there’s no place better on the planet. But if you want to get off the bus, smell the native flowers and eat kai (food) fresh from the river or bush, you will be the richer for it.
Slow travel in New Zealand starts four hours south of Auckland in a deep and tranquil pool where the sun shines a spotlight on the surrounding bush.
Fly-fishing may be the ultimate slow sport and there is no better place for mindfulness than standing in the Tongariro River, stalking a thumping great trout. Equally, there is no better way to get to know Kiwis than sitting in a bar with a cold beer, talking tackle with local anglers. The historic town of Turangi is the trout-fishing capital of the world. Across the road from the river is Lake Taupo where fat rainbow trout are in abundance.
In the South Island, Lochy River, near Queenstown, offers fishers a different kind of adrenalin hit. There are only two ways into the river - by helicopter or boat across Lake Wakatipu. Notoriously skittish wild brown trout and rainbow trout shelter behind rocks in the clear waters that run through the folds of the Eyre Mountains. A local guide is essential.
The antidote to fast living is slow food. And travellers who sign up for the Kai Waho Experience – translated as ‘outdoor cuisine’ – will experience first-hand the bounties of the bush and stream slowly steamed, seared and served beneath a star-crusted sky. Tom Loughlin, of the Tuwharetoa iwi (tribe) takes visitors on authentic cultural experiences focusing on food, culture and tikanga (customs) of the sub-alpine wilderness. Food includes a picnic in the woods and a banquet cooked on volcanic rocks. This is truly the backblocks of New Zealand. Access is by helicopter or four-wheel drive across rugged tracks.
Equally secluded is Blue Duck Station, a remote eco-resort surrounded by the ancient forests of the Whanganui National Park in the Central Plateau’s Ruapehu District. Run by passionate local farmer, conservationist and historian, Dan Steele and his wife, Sandy, the Station is half working farm, half conservation park with a well-appointed lodge that sleeps up to eight as well as backpacker accommodation.
Guests can immerse themselves in the everyday life of the farm with a bush safari that includes a gentle kayak down to where the blue ducks roost. There are also hiking trails out to sights such as the Kaiwhakauka waterfall and kayaking down the meandering river with a jet-boat pick up for the return journey.
New Zealanders have a strong entrepreneurial streak so it’s not surprising to discover some bright spark took a disused railway line, and a bunch of golf carts and built a thriving business. Forgotten World Adventures is the ultimate slow train, running from Okahukura in the Central Plateau, to Whangamomona, a place that should have fallen off the map, but hasn’t. The town (population: 40), which declared itself a republic 25 years ago, can be accessed by road, but it’s much more fun to take the golf cart.
The carts have been adapted to run on rails and are self-driven. There are sheep, alpacas and wild berries along the way and you can stop at any time during the eight-hour journey. At the end of the 83-kilometre line is the Whangamomona Hotel, which claims to be the most remote pub in New Zealand.
The Whanganui River is one of New Zealand’s most beautiful waterways. Rich in history, it was heavily trafficked in pre-European times and offers an off-road glimpse of sites where early Maori settled. Most river travellers paddle their own canoes, but those less fit can now enjoy a more languid trip with extra legroom.
River dories are wooden boats with an up-swept bow and stern and a flat bottom, similar to old Portuguese fishing boats. Trips last from three to five days, starting from Taumarunui, Ohinepani or Whakahoro and finishing at Pipiriki.
The best way to see a country slowly, of course, is on Shanks’ Pony aka your own two legs. New Zealand is a walking person’s happy place. There are long walks, short walks, steep walks and deep walks. The Great Walks of the South Island are legendary. But some are strictly for the fit.
Hollyford Track, in the heart of the Fiordland National Park, is slightly less strenuous, but just as grand as its more famous sisters – Heaphy, Milford and Routeburn. The scenery is native beech forest, full of ferny undergrowth with streams to ford and birds to spot. And spectacular waterfalls. The hardy carry their own gear and stay at Department of Conservation huts. For those who want the wonder of the walk, plus wine at the end of the day, local tribe Ngai Tahu run glamping tours, with gorgeous lodges.
While bush walks are beautiful, so are walks across New Zealand hill-country farms, staying in shearers’ sheds or farmworker’s cottages. The country is criss-crossed with farmland walks that cover tussock, coastal cliffs and sheep and cattle stations. They are a great way to explore privately-owned parts of the country, and taste home-cooked scones, lamb on the barbecue and local wines. Tora Coastal Walk in the southern Wairarapa is an award-winning three-day walk across ridge-tops and beaches.
Sauntering rather than speeding through New Zealand is balm for the stressed-out soul. You see more and learn more.
How to Get There
Turangi is four hours south of Auckland and 45min by car or bus from Taupo. There are flights to Taupo from New Zealand’s main centres. Access to Lochy River is mainly from Queenstown in the South Island.
Kai Waho is accessed by helicopter or 4-wheel drive from Taupo.
Getting to Blue Duck Station is an adventure in itself. Blue Duck Station lies west of Tongariro National Park. Turn off SH4 onto Oio Road (near Owhango) and the Station is almost two hours’ drive inland.
Forgotten World Adventures is near Taumarunui, which is three hours south of Auckland.
Whanganui River Dories: Trips start from Taumarunui, Ohinepani or Whakahoro.
Hollyford Track is in Fiordland National Park. Allow two hours to drive from Te Anau. A number of companies offer an on demand service. Hollyford Track Guided Walks operates a jet boat service on Lake McKerrow in summer.
Tora Coastal Walk: The walk is 35 minutes from Martinborough. Daily bus and train services run from Wellington to Featherston (tranzmetro.co.nz). There is no public transport service to Tora. You can make arrangements with Rimutaka Shuttles to get you to and from the Tora Coastal Walk from Masterton Airport or Wairarapa railway stations.
Best Time to Visit
Spring, summer and autumn (between October and April) are the best times to undertake most of the listed activities. Some activities are closed during colder months.
In New Zealand, most trout fishing takes place between October and April.