Pyrenees Traverse, France | Cape Wrath Trail, Scotland | Zillertal Alps, Austria | Tongariro Northern Circuit and Heaphy Track, New Zealand | Cordillera Apolobamba, Bolivia | Overland Track, Australia | Sarek National Park, Sweden | Rolwaling and Khumbu Valleys, Nepal | Polar Route, Greenland | Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia
New Zealand's reputation as a trekker's paradise is well-deserved: The hut system is unmatched, the scenery stunning, and the terrain wildly diverse. The only problem is choosing where to hike. Our solution: Trek the North Island's Tongariro Northern Circuit and the South Island's Heaphy Track for a one-two punch that delivers the full range of Kiwi highlights in nine perfect days–and without the conga line crowds you'll find on the more famous paths.
Start with the 31-mile, four-day Tongariro loop; it circles the symmetrical cone of 7,516-foot Mt. Ngauruhoe while traversing a dynamic volcanic wilderness of bubbling mud pots, fumaroles, and steaming craters. Emerald crater lakes dot the moonscape, and white foxgloves and yellow buttercups bloom improbably from hardened, sculpture-like lava flows.
Life-list moment: Pause and contemplate what lies deep underfoot as you cross the steamy rim of Red Crater, in the shadow of 9,177-foot Ruapehu– which last erupted in September 2007. While the loop traditionally begins in Whakapapa Village, start instead at Mangatepopo Road–with a clear forecast–to ensure views on the spectacular first day from Mangatepopo Hut to Ketetahi Hut.
Next up: the South Island's Heaphy Track, which makes a 51-mile, five-day crossing of Kahurangi National Park amid scenery with more personalities than Sybil. The trail dives into dense forests of beech, pygmy pine, and 200-foot-high evergreen kahikatea. In summer, it tunnels through brilliant red flowers of gnarled rata trees. Rainforest gives way to limestone caves and arches, open tussock hills, and swinging-bridge river crossings. The Kiwi highlights tour concludes with secluded beaches shaded by nikau palms and a swim in the Heaphy River lagoon.
Life-list moment #2: a nap.