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Trekking Into The World Of God (Part 2) - 5 top new zeland walks

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Wilderness and wedding trees

Sporting pink lipstick, pink T-shirt and a pink, skunk-like streak in her hair Nicky McArthur greets us on the steps of Shearwater Lodge with a basket of warm muffins and a cool drink. This is luxury hiking; not a wet tent or outdoor Dunny in sight.

The outdoor table is set with fresh fruit and nibbles, while through the window I can see the inviting glow of a roaring fire and I know that a hot shower awaits us. Set in a magnificent alpine valley, Shearwater Lodge sleeps a maximum of 12 guests in six rooms. With a cosy guest lounge, communal dining and outdoor deck this is down-to-earth luxury at its comfortable best.

As well as being the owner/operator of Shearwater Lodge, McArthur also runs Kaikoura Wilderness Walks, is a committee member of the Hutton's Shearwater Charitable Trust and, most importantly, is a trained cordon bleu chef. Over the next few days we indulge in locally sourced venison, salmon and crayfish, field mushrooms, vegetables from Kaikoura, cheeses and local wines. The salt, though comes from Nepal, "Connecting two great mountain ranges," says McArthur.

Description: Wilderness and wedding trees

Wilderness and wedding trees

On day two, we head up the Surveyor Peak, where a series of steep zigzags and switchbacks has me clutching at Lance like a howler monkey up a tree. The chance to add my small pebble to the rocky cairn at the summit makes all the pain and perspiration worthwhile. On the return we descend through a green valley to find that Nicky has laid out an afternoon tea under a mountain ribbonwood. Nicky calls the tree `a wedding tree' because in January it sheds white flowers like confetti.

As I watch the honeymooners share a private moment under its boughs I'm reminded of another of Nicky's notes, about the responsibility of each generation to look after the land for the next, "Mo tatou, a mo ka uri a muri ake nei - for us and our children after us".

After a second night at Shearwater Lodge we make our descent on day three, past the spectacular Beverley Falls, soaring beech forests and ancient Totara trees and finally, back to Puhi Peaks station. Taking one last look up at Te Ao Whekere I vow to continue to combine my quest for fitness with a deeper connection to the land - there can be no greater achievement than that.

The writer was a guest of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism.

5 top new zeland walks

1.    Kaikoura wilderness walk

Description: Kaikoura wilderness walk

What: Two-day or three-day guided walks through the Puhi Peaks Nature Reserve.

Where: Seaward Kaikoura Ranges, South Island.

When: October to March.

Leg-burn level: Medium.

Details: kaikourawilderness.co.nz

2.    Mildford Track

Description: Mildford Track

What: A 53-kilometre (four-day) hike across the heart of NZ's water-filled fiord country.

Where: Glade Wharf to Milford Sound, near Queenstown.

When: November to mid-April is best, though the track is still open during winter (subject to weather and avalanche conditions).

Lea-burn level: Medium.

Details: doc.govt.nz

3.    Tongariro Northern Circuit

Description: Tongariro Northern Circuit

What: A 3-4 day circumnavigation of Mount Ngauruhoe taking in volcanic craters, glacial valleys and coloured lakes.

Where: Tongariro National Park, North Island.

When: Late October to end of April.

Leg-burn level: Medium to hard.

Details: doc.govt.nz

4.    Abel Tasman coast track

Description: Abel Tasman coast track

What: 55-kilometre (3-5 day) coastal walk (can also be kayaked).

Where: Abel Tasman National Park, top of the South Island.

When: Open all year (check track condition after heavy rain).

Leg-burn level: Easy.

Details: doc.govt.nz

5.    Routeburn track

Description: Routeburn track

What: A 32-kilometre (2-4 day) track crossing NZ's Southern Alps.

Where: Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks, near Queenstown.

When: Best November to mid-April but the track is open in winter (subject to conditions).

Leg-burn level: Medium.

Details: doc.govt.nz

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