The long-distance Milford Track is hardly the only scenic hiking trail in New Zealand, but it's the one on every visitor's mind. There are dozens of other shorter hikes -- some quite secluded with few visitors, perhaps because they believe it requires several days of trekking to see New Zealand's natural beauty. Some trails only take five minutes, others are several hours, where you'll have the opportunity to see glowworms, glaciers, thundering waterfalls and rare penguins. These are some of my favorites:
• On the Minnehaha walk, you'll pass through a cool, lush rainforest almost adjacent to a fast-flowing glacier. Moss drapes kamahi trees and giant ferns abound as you prowl around at night with glowworms lighting your way.
• Stroll the Lake Matheson walk for ever-present views of the snowy peaks of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman. (They're visible on the mirror-like surface of the lake.)
• Less than an hour walk down an old mining trail takes you to Monro Beach where you can spy rare Fiordland Crested Penguins nesting.
• Off the road to Haast, a two-minute walk through a silver beech forest takes you to Thunder Creek Falls that gracefully tumbles some 90 feet into the Haast River. This is hardly an undiscovered locale but it's worth visiting because of the intimacy you'll have with this waterfall in this rocky gorge.
• Queenstown alone has half a dozen short, often superbly scenic, walks, including the 1,600-foot-climb through Douglas fir, mountain ash and sycamore to the summit of Queenstown Hill with 360-degree panoramic views of the surrounding dramatic peaks.
• A 20-minute walk in Paparoa National Park on the ever popular Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes trail will take you on one of the most beautiful short walks in New Zealand. One moment, you're on the blacktop road, the next you are enveloped in the coastal rainforest with giant rata and kahikatea trees; the trail ends on the rocky coast where you'll find curious limestone rock formations and the sea surges that produce some even more curious sound effects, with one sounding like a train rushing through a New York City subway tunnel. (It's best to visit during high tide and when the sea is rough to get the full effect.)
• The longest of this lot is the two-hour jaunt on the Whakapapanui trail where you'll cross a golden river bed and have views of the active volcano, Mt. Ngauruhoe, that was Mt. Doom in my favorite movie of all time, Lord of the Rings.