World Travel

World's top five walks

Julie Ihle
Matterhorn Base Camp

If you're planning a holiday of high-octane hiking, we've got five top trails to explore.

From a rush of rainforest to multi-day mountain adventures, you'll want to dust off the walking boots and make tracks.

Routeburn Track, New Zealand

Fancy Sir Edmund Hillary's favourite New Zealand walk? The Routeburn Track, baby brother to the famous Milford, is a three-day wander through Mt Aspiring National Park in the scenic South Island.

The walk starts near Te Anau, walking through pristine beech forest, which looks like it has just been cleaned by track elves. But the trail quickly does away with niceties and embarks on a series of punishing switchbacks.

The payoff is scenery straight out of Heidi, identikit rows of snowy mountains, swaying edelweiss and tumbling streams of seriously chilled but drinkable water.

The last section, a knee-trembling downhill through silver beech and goblin moss, really whips up the appetite. Luckily the walk ends near Glenorchy Pub, with its siren call of cold beer and hot chips.

Distance: 32 kilometres over three days
Website: walk the track independently or as part of a guided group; see Ultimate Hikes or Department of Conservation

West Coast Trail, Canada

This 77km coastal hike on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island is the big daddy of coastal treks — trailing through a kaleidoscope of cliffs, beaches and unreconstructed wilderness.

Starting from Port Renfrew in the south, it's a good track to escape the bear-jam camcorder crowds and breathe in lungfuls of salty air.

Marinated in history, Canada's indigenous people made tracks here, followed by sea dog fishermen and shipwreck tales abound. Be warned this walk is not for the faint-hearted. Accommodation is camping only and if the weather's wet you will get muddy. Very muddy.

The real decor is the scenery. The trail swoops over swingbridges before dipping in and out of gloriously old growth forest and secluded beaches, with blockbuster coastal views.

Distance: 77 kilometres
Website: see Parks Canada for camping reservations

Kumano Kodo, Japan

Calling all those who want to combine sweat with spirituality. Kumano Kodo in Japan has a sumo-load of sacred sites, not to mention awesome views. A mystical mishmash of Buddhism and Shinto, it follows the path of emperors, who in the 10th century, started the pilgrimage craze. They trekked to three sacred shrines high in the Kii Mountains, near Osaka.

In 2004, it became the world's second only UNESCO-approved pilgrimage walk, after Spain's Way of St James.

With more options than a karaoke bar, there's not so much a single track, rather a collection of three main routes and multiple sub-tracks, peppered with protector shrines and tea houses. To do the whole pilgrimage would take around six weeks, but popular walks centre around Hongu shrine.

Take the two-day trek from Takijiri-oji to Hongu, or the cut-down 7km version, through old soul elm forest, then soothe aching muscles in a hot spring.

Distance: take your pick, multi-day treks to short walks or join a guided tour
Website: Kumano Kodo, the official tourist site; for organised and tailored self-guided walks see Kumano Experience

Matterhorn base camp, Hörnlihütte, Switzerland

Banish all thoughts of base camp's rehydrated noodles and flapping tents. At Hörnlihütte cabin, at 3260m at the base of the Matterhorn, it's all about glogg and hot chocolate. That is not to say you haven't earned it. This 8km walk may sound a cinch but is a cellulite-busting scrabble uphill over boulders, steps and ladders.

After taking a chairlift to the top of Zermatt village, follow the clearly marked trail. In this pocket where France, Italy and Switzerland collide, be prepared to greet people in at least three different languages.

Once at Hornlihutte, ogle mountaineers who by lunchtime start to trickle in from their Matterhorn summit. On the way down, view Zermatt's wraparound mountainfest of Zermatt Valley and glacier.

Distance: 8 kilometres return
Website: Zermatt, the official site

Mt Gower, Lord Howe Island, Australia

It may be a speck on the map but Lord Howe Island, off NSW's east coast, oozes ecology, and is one of Australia's most strenuous day walks. This puff-worth epic throws everything at you: ropes, ladders, wildlife, punctuated by glittering sea and spongy rainforest.

The walk starts innocently enough at the beach before disappearing into bush. A short way in, stand by for a Lara Croft moment when walkers cling to a rope while crossing a sheer cliff face.

Traipse through Kentia Palm forest, keeping an eye out for the Lord Howe Island woodhen before hightailing it to the top. The summit view is like putting on a pair of 3-D specs: a shag of jungle and sublime views of the coral-rimmed island.

Downhill is a thigh-busting slog through rainforest nirvana with sneak peeks of Ball's Pyramid, a spiky outcrop offshore.

Back on the beach, civilisation island-style runs to a few restaurants and beer on the beach — perfect!

Distance: 14 kilometres return
Website: Sea to Summit Expeditions or Lord Howe Island Tours

Related video: Another great walk: Victoria's George Bass Coastal Walk

User comments
oh my little friends, don't be so caught up in which walk is better than another. There is pure beauty in all of our living forests. You cannot say one is better or more beautiful than another. Just because one can enjoy spectacular vistas from one walk that appear more dramatic to the naked eye than another does not mean one walk is better rated. If you can learn to understand that real beauty is present at every moment then you will surely find all of the walks mentioned and so many more just as enjoyable as each other. If you are too focused on the view then you are missing out on what is right in front of you...Living beauty! Good luck my fellow wilderness creatures and may you all find happiness in our great living planet every day.
The Author should come to Nepal. He is obviously referring to sites he may have been to but then he should not make such a "best in the world" claim. Frankly, for hiking, it is very hard to beat Nepal at various location, not just the Annapurna range. Do some research first buddy, it is your job after all.
I too am amazed Nepal was not mentioned. The Everest base camp walk was amazing and the people were the friendliest I've known and such a rich culture Also the walk to Macchu Piccu in peru, how could that walk not be mentioned
I agree the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal is fantastic It is one of the best treks I have done so far. It is so beautiful and challenging and I highly recommend it.
The writer has obviously not been to Papua New Guinea (and no, not the Kokoda Track). Take a walk to Mt Wilhelm (14,800 ft )and then to Goroka for example.
What about the Annapurna circuit in Nepal? This is truly an amazing walk through some of the deepest gorges in the world.
Seriously .... Is that the best you can do? Sheez, you need to get out more.
The South Island's Milford Track is the most famous trek in New Zealand which means it can get crowded, though a crowd in this country could barely fill a hall in another.
I am pleased the Kumano Kodo is included. However Ms Ihle’s description of the Kumano Kodo as a "mystical mishmash of Buddhism and Shinto" is inaccurate. Shinto and Buddhism are Japan's two major religions which have co-existed for centuries, influenced each other and complemented each other. Most Japanese consider themselves Buddhist, Shintoist or both. Mishmash is defined as a confused mess, hotchpotch, muddle or jumble which doesn’t apply to these religions. The magnificent Kumano Kodo is part of the UNESCO World Heritage “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range”. Most Christians wouldn't use such terms as "a sumo-load of sacred sites” and "with more options than a karaoke bar” to describe the other UNESCO World Heritage pilgrimage route “The Route of Santiago de Compostela”. I highly recommend the well-planned Kumano Pilgrimage Trail Tour run by Japan Holidays (tel 07 3300 2396) which offers a great variety of experiences unique to this tour.
Annapurna range in Nepal- Amazing scenery, amazing people, amazing Pokhara right nearby. Lots of different combos in the trails so there is one whether you want to walk for a few days or a few weeks. Take a guide.