7 iconic routes for your next hiking trip

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When you hear mention of "iconic routes", which ones come to mind? We visited the four corners of the world, discovering routes that invite us to explore. Here is an overview of our favourite routes!

LA CARRETERA AUSTRAL 

The southern route, also called National Route 7, was inaugurated in 1986 and created at the instigation of Augusto Pinochet. It was called "La Carretera General Augusto Pinochet" until 1989. It is the continuation of the famous Pan American and winds its way between the Cordillera of the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. It was built to link the isolated province of Aisén, which until then had been very poorly served by road due to its particular geography and difficult climate. To reach the villages of this remote land of Chile, they had to pass through fjords, impenetrable forests, marshes and a succession of cliffs. After twenty years of work and more than 500 000 kilogrammes of explosives, this titanic project opened up the territory and heralded the arrival of water and electricity, as well as education and health to the people of Aisén.

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This mythical route is also a godsend for cyclists and trekking enthusiasts, many of whom use it. Although strictly speaking it’s a road, it is often considered a track, because it’s very narrow. On this highly authentic route, there are lots of stony dirt sections, so hikers aren’t disturbed too much by the passage of motor vehicles. But most of all, it’s the incredible surroundings bordering the Carretera Austral that appeal to nature lovers so much. Parks and natural reserves, fjords with turquoise waters, mountains and their glaciers, lakes to be crossed by ferry, forests of alarces, the cypress of Patagonia, are your companions along this southern route. Another charming feature of this journey are the small villages you pass through – great for refuelling. For the more motivated and enthusiastic walkers, you can continue your journey by crossing the Andes towards Argentina.

Armed with her backpack and tent, Lucie Miloche, product engineer on thermal protection at Quechua, travelled through part of the Carretera Austral in December 2011: "We left Puerto Montt and headed down the National 7 to Río Ibáñez to reach Argentina via Lake Buenos Aires. I advise people who want to go to Patagonia by land to take the Carretera Austral, which is more interesting than Route 40, its parallel on the Argentine side. The varied landscapes are magnificent (hanging glaciers, volcanoes, forests, lakes...). The numerous parks along the road are worth a visit, especially Pumalin Park, where we were all alone in the world, and the impressive Cerro Castillo National Park. If you can spare several days to visit them, you won’t regret it. Another useful tip: make a relaxing stop in one of the many hot water springs."

 

THE 9 GREAT WALKS

This country in Oceania has numerous hiking trails, but 9 of them stand out: the Great Walks. These unmissable treks allow you to discover at your own pace the many different facets of New Zealand's nature: its landscapes, its fauna and flora. But immersing yourself in nature also means adapting to climatic conditions. Here, you can encounter snow even in summer, which means that good preparation is a must. The vast majority of the Great Walks are open all year round, but in winter no one goes hiking without crampons, an ice axe and the trio of shovel, probe and avalanche victim detector. To ensure your safety, all these trails are marked and interspersed with numerous shelters and campsites.

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1/ LAKE WAIKAREMOANA - 46 km: For those who want to enter a world of tales and legends. Staying in Lake Waikaremoana, you’ll be plunged into New Zealand’s virgin forests the land of the Patupaiarehe. According to Maori mythology, these are fairy creatures similar to elves. 

2/ TONGARINO NORTHERN CIRCUIT – 43.1 km: For fans of the Lord of the Rings. In the midst of geological formations and a still active volcano, this hike passes by Mount Ngauruhoe, which is none other than the Mountain of Destiny in Mordor's Kingdom! This circuit is reputed to be quite difficult because of the rapidly changing climatic conditions and rocky soil.

3/ WHANGANUI JOURNEY - 145 km: For canoe-kayak enthusiasts only! There's no need to walk here, just to paddle! Aboard a raft, you’ll descend the tortuous Whanganui River, known for its wild beauty. Along the way, you can stop off at the "bridge to nowhere", a large bridge that crosses the river but which, as its name suggests, does not lead anywhere!

4/ ABEL TASMAN COAST TRACK – 54.4 km: For those who don’t want to climb. This trail runs along the coast of the Abel Tasman National Park, which explains its low elevation change. Before exploring the coves of the Tasmanian Bay and their translucent waters, be sure to check the tide times, to avoid being caught out.

5/ HEAPHY TRACK – 78.4 km: For nature lovers and mountain bikers. This is the longest hiking trail, which has the distinction of being accessible to mountain bikers between May and September. It’s also on the Heaphy track that much of the country's endemic fauna is to be found. Expect to come face to face with giant carnivorous snails.

6/ KEPLER TRACK - 60 km: For those looking for a panoramic view. Built from scratch, this hike allows you to enjoy all the delights of the Fiordland National Park: valleys carved by ice and mountain ranges interspersed with waterfalls and rivers. The magic is complete when you reach the Luxmore Pass, at an altitude of 1400 metres.

7/ MILFORD TRACK – 53.5 km: For those who are well organised! One of the most famous hiking trails in the world due to its vertiginous mountains, breathtaking views and crystal-clear lakes, you won’t be alone on this route. It seems that the lodgings are fully booked up 1 year in advance ... So booking is obligatory.

8/ ROUTEBURN TRACK - 32 km: For those who want to discover New Zealand’s Alps. A beautiful alpine adventure awaits you. On the menu: immense wooded valleys, high-altitude lakes and waterfalls. A little extra: a moderate height-gain in a mountain setting. 

9/ RAKIURA TRACK - 32 km: For those who wish to watch the kiwis. Amid authentic landscapes, lush forests and golden sand, it’s on this southern island where traces of the Maoris are still visible that you’re most likely to see a kiwi, this famous little southern bird that’s the symbol of New Zealand. 

 

THE GR20

When you’ve seen the landscapes of this island located to the south of France, you’ll quickly understand why Corsica is nicknamed the isle of beauty. And to discover all its wonders, what could be more appropriate than a crossing from North to South by the main mountain massifs via the famous GR20! The first route was created in 1972, just after the creation of Corsica’s Regional Natural Park. The objective was then to deal with the desertification of the interior of the island and to make the most of the transhumance paths and the old summer pastures of Corsica’s shepherds.

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Subsequently, the shelters adjacent to the GR20 were developed and are now really popular, especially in July and August. But be careful, not everyone should take on the GR20. The breathtaking views of the sea, scrubland crossings, crests and mineral landscapes are worth it! But it’s not for nothing that this route is often cited as one of the most difficult treks in Europe. This is a tough challenge for any good hiker. This journey is usually done in 15 stages, which is equivalent to 15 days’ walking, with approximately 7 hours of hiking per day. Each day ends with a night in a shelter where you are served drinks and meals, or a night under canvas. For this option, it’s imperative to make proper inquiries about the places where you can pitch your tent. As for direction of travel, there are two possibilities. Start from the North, which means from Calenzana, which is the most demanding part of the trek. You can expect some tough climbs and descents there, but with the advantage of being in your best shape. Or, if you prefer to progressively increase the difficulty, start with the more gentle, less technical mountains of the South. Whichever option you choose, it’s about 13 000 metres of elevation change that’s waiting for you over terrain where slabs and unstable rocks form most of the trails. This route may be iconic, but it’s certainly not relaxing. If you don’t feel up to it but the Corsican sunsets set you dreaming, you can do just part of the GR20, an experience that will be just as unforgettable ... And if you’re lucky, as well as the extraordinary landscape, you may come across two animals which have become icons of the Corsican mountain range: the mouflon (a type of wild sheep) and the bearded vulture.

Julien Guillerault, faithful reader of our magazine, did the GR in June 2013 with 2 friends: "I’m used to the GR routes of the French Alps, and I find that the GR20 stands out for its difficulty. You have to watch where you’re putting your feet at all times. But the contrasting landscapes it offers, mixing the rocky feel of the North and the greener South, are worth the effort. Although we travelled the path almost completely under our own steam (only lunch was taken in a refuge), we couldn’t resist trying the Corsican beer and cold meats at the end of each stage! Three sections particularly stood out in our adventure: the Col de Capitello, the highest point on our trek, Lake Nino, a haven of greenery, and crossing the Aiguilles de Bavella by the Alpine route." 

 

SALT ROUTE

route-du-sel-niger-randonnees-treksThe salt route isn’t specific to a particular country. In view of the importance of this ingredient in people’s lives, it exists throughout the world. The one we are particularly interested in is in Niger. It leaves from Tenere, the desert of all deserts, and ends at Bilma, near which are several salt-works. The Tuareg and their caravans of camels have travelled more than 1000 km for centuries to extract this salt, a trading commodity. 

 

THE KING’S ROUTE

route-du-roi-jordanie-treks-randonneesOf the three routes through Jordan from north to south, the King's Route is certainly the oldest. Linking Amman to Aqba, this caravan route has seen a succession of Jews, Christians, Muslims and Nabataeans pass through. Depending on the sections, this route can be done by car, mountain bike, on camel-back or on foot. From the Dead Sea to the Red Sea, a whole wealth of riches is yours to enjoy: Mount Nebo, the city of Petra carved into the rock, the desert of Wadi Rum where cliffs and caves intertwine, and the Dana nature reserve, a hiker’s paradise. (We recommend you check the state of the geopolitical situation before planning your trip).

 

THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL

pacific-crest-trail-randonnees-treks-etats-unis-ouest.This wilderness hiking trail of approximately 4200 km is accessible to walkers and horse riders. It runs along the entire west coast of the United States, from the Mexican border to the Canadian frontier, crossing no less than 3 states: California, Oregon and Washington. It provides access to some of the most picturesque landscapes in the country. To complete it in its entirety takes about 5 months. In addition to its length, the difficulty of the PCT rests within the many periods of isolation and total immersion in nature. So you need to plan in terms of your water and food requirements.

 

THE GARDEN ROAD

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This is one of the most popular routes in South Africa. Wedged between mountains and the Indian Ocean, this road that connects Cape Town to Port Elizabeth is ideal for families with young children. It can be done by car, it provides access to 3 old national parks and so to numerous walks through idyllic places, and finally, it lets you observe whales close up! What’s more, the climate is pleasant all year round and the ecosystem is very varied.

 

Have you ever had the chance to travel these iconic routes? 

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