Sustainable Staycations: Tramping in New Zealand

Joanne Sim
Jul 23, 2023

This post is a contribution from guest blogger, Joanne Sim. We are keen to encourage more bloggers and individuals working in tourism, conservation and sustainability to reflect on their experiences while providing suggestions and tips for future GOOD travellers. If you'd like to share an idea that you believe incorporates GOOD values and practices, please email us at We look forward to sharing more guest posts like this one!

Although the current pandemic has shone a spotlight on the fragile nature of the international tourism industry, great opportunity exists in increasing the sustainability and thus resilience of the sector. Unearthing the value that lies in discovering our place, our New Zealand, is one such opportunity highlighted by GOOD Travel’s sustainable tourism research. For a country that has built its tourism industry on the natural environment, we look to a type of sustainable staycation, that if managed correctly, encourages the protection of the natural world, species and cultural heritage and fosters an appreciation and understanding of the inherent values of different cultures and societies. 

Discovering Our Place 

‘Tramping’ is a term familiar to most in New Zealand but in other parts of the world, hiking, trekking, bush-walking or rambling may be better known. In their book, ‘Tramping: A New Zealand History’ (2014), Shaun Barnett and Chris MacLean describe what they believe the act of tramping to mean to New Zealanders: 

“Tramping is not simply walking but something with a more deliberate intent, offering an element of adventure and demanding a higher leave of mental and physical effort.”

With this intent in mind, tramping can open up opportunities to connect with culture, land and heritage. The first trampers in New Zealand were Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. In the South Island, the Lewis Pass was well known to Māori travellers who built tracks through valleys and over mountains to the West Coast, creating a route for transporting pounamu (greenstone or jade). Pounamu carvings have an important role in Māori culture with different pounamu types embodying an identity relating to the world Māori lived in, with stones named after flora, fauna, locations and pakiwaitara (legends). 

With a need and opportunity to place more value on travelling locally and in a responsible way, we explore a variety of tramping tracks based in the Lewis Pass, a rugged and picturesque mountain environment. 

Welcome to the World of Tramping 

Lake Daniell Track

If you’re new to tramping, or keen to head out on an adventure with all the whānau (family), Lake Daniell Track provides a great starting point. Situated at Marble Hill Campsite on the SH7, the track - a combination of flat and slightly undulating terrain - is well maintained, meandering through spectacular red beech forest. The halfway point at 8.4 km reveals an incredible view as the forest opens up to expose Lake Daniell and the surrounding mountains - a time to simply stop and admire. The lake is a popular lunch stop with the opportunity to cool off in the water. Whilst easily walked in a day, returning back the same way, those with little legs or time to stay longer, can enjoy a night (bookings required) at the new Kōhanga Atawhai Manson Nicholls Hut. Re-built with features such as board walks to the composting toilets and bunks and benches at lower heights for tamariki (children), the hut is now more accessible for a wider range of people. Take note however, solar lighting and double glazing are not typical of back-country huts. 

Tip: Horopito shrubs and trees can be spotted along Lake Daniell track. Traditionally used in Māori medicine to treat aches and pains, the leaves can also be used in cooking, spicing up dishes with its peppery, chilli-like taste - great for campsite curries or chilli hot chocolates. 

Off the beaten track 

Duffy's Creek Track

Victoria Forest Park, between Reefton and Springs Junction, hosts a number of short but slightly more challenging tramps. Although only 4.4 km long, Duffy’s Creek Track easily becomes overgrown with vegetation, and with the odd tātarāmoa (bush lawyer) to watch out for, legs will appreciate protection from long pants or gaiters. Fallen trees create obstacles along the way so be sure to follow the orange triangular markers and stay on track. Arriving at the half-way point, trampers are treated to satisfying views of a large ephemeral lake, granite cliffs and in the warmer months, buttercups fill the valley with nothing but cheer. 

Lake Stream Route, a slightly longer track at 7.2 km, can be accomplished in a day or as an overnighter. Either way, a stop at the charming Lake Stream Bivvy is not to be missed.  With only two bunks, this tramp is the perfect couples' staycation. Adventure on this track comes in many forms, including the multiple stream crossings (be prepared to get your feet wet) and the option to navigate your way through the bush to the mountain tops.

Tip: There is no physical toilet at Lake Stream Bivvy, but a spade is provided. Following the Leave No Trace principles, dig your hole 6-8 inches deep (the length of your hand) and 200 feet (70 steps) away from water sources, do your business and re-cover with the original earth you dug out - you got this! 

Time to summit

With some kilometres under your belt, perhaps you’re ready to embark on an uphill tramping adventure? Home to a number of magnificent mountain tops, Mt Norma and Mt Haast are two favourites situated along the SH7. Both routes involve steady, steep climbs to the bush line followed by a further uphill traverse to the tops. Accessed from the Nina Valley Track and only a short drive from the Boyle River, Mt Norma is an impressive 1722m. Mt Haast lies further west towards Springs Junction and stands proud at 1587m. Both mountains are challenging day walks of around six hours but the panoramic views of the South Island's Main Divide is a hard vista to beat. 

Tip: Although a believer that tramping should involve little technology, mobile signal at the top of Mt Haast allowed for a spontaneous video chat to share the view to family on the other side of the world - a special connection amidst Covid-19. 

The ultimate staycation 

Itching to explore the back-country for longer? The St James Walkway is a 66km track which can be walked between three and five days. Most trampers choose to start from the Lewis Pass Picnic Area, finishing at the Boyle River Campsite but the track, suitable for all ages and abilities, can be walked in either direction. 

Through beech forest to open alpine fields and plains of tussock, over Anne Saddle and into the Boyle Valley, the walkway roams through a diversity of landscapes and scenery. Ngā manu (birds), such as Kōmiromiro (tomtit) and toutouwai (bush robin) may greet you on the track with binoculars useful for sightings of the not-so-common Kākāriki (New Zealand parakeets). The St James wild hōiho (horses) and their foals are also known to frequent sections of the walkway. 

Tip: The Boyle River Outdoor Education Centre can assist with shuttles, car parking and accommodation when planning your St James tramping trip.  Spend local and show your support for this small non-profit which provides sustainable outdoor education and recreation opportunities for tamariki (young people) and community groups. 

Discovering Oneself 

Whether a novice or seasonal tramper, the South Island’s main divide has something for everyone - adventure, history, culture, wildlife, diverse landscapes - and whilst an outdoor activity that creates opportunities to discover and connect to our place, tramping can too encourage the discovery of oneself. 

What do you think we can learn about ourselves through the exploration of the place we call home? 

July 23, 2023
5 min read