Firstly I had better explain – some countries call it hiking, we call it tramping in New Zealand. So if you hear “Great tramp last weekend” we aren’t discussing homeless people…! So whatever you like to call it – we are all talking about going for a walk and experiencing the great outdoors!
In New Zealand we are so lucky to have literally thousands of wonderful free walks all over our stunning country. Some of the most beautiful places can only be accessed by using your feet, and I think that this extra effort to get there makes them even more beautiful and of course un-touched.
The Department of Conservation – or DOC, are in charge of maintaining most of the public tracks around the country. They have a wonderful website – http://www.doc.govt.nz, which has heaps of information about all the tracks and the facilities available along the way.
These tracks can be anything from a sealed walkway suitable for prams and wheelchairs, right through to alpine crossings for mountaineers. They can be as short as a 2 minute stroll from the road to a waterfall or as long as ten days or more. There are also many commercial operators who can assist with your hiking/tramping experience. They can offer anything from transfers to get you in to the parks, accommodation en route, guides, gear, day trips and much more.
On many of the longer walks DOC have huts which the hikers can use. These huts can be as small as a two man “bivvy” through to a huge hut which sleeps 50 or so people. The details for each hut are clearly listed on the DOC website, but they all generally have sleeping platforms with individual mattresses (you can be sleeping shoulder to shoulder with strangers…) there is usually a fire place with a stack of wood nearby. There is usually running water – but this sometimes needs to be boiled before you can drink it. There might be some candles. There is a kitchen area – but you need to bring your own camping stoves. There is usually no electricity. There is usually a long drop toilet somewhere nearby – bring your own toilet paper! To use the huts you need to purchase hut passes. Prices vary from NZD$5.00 – $NZD$50.00 per night depending on the hut and the location. The website has all the details. Usually huts are on a first come first served basis – except for the Great Walks – which I will talk about more below. So you either want to get there early – particularly on long weekends, or alternatively take a tent or a bedroll with you in case you miss out on a bed! There are often campsites nearby to the huts. There can often be a hut ranger located there as well so make sure you have pre-purchased your hut passes to hand over.
When you are using a hut, the general rule of thumb is to leave the place tidier than you found it! This means that you need to take all your rubbish out with you (there are no rubbish bins in the huts) Leave your tramping boots outside – sweep the floors when you leave and wipe the benches and tables down. There is always a book which people are encouraged to write in, making a note of your intentions for the following day (that way there is a record if you go missing and it gives the search and rescue teams some clues on where you might be) Be considerate of other trampers – i.e. try not to make too much noise when others are asleep.
If carrying all your gear, staying in the huts or camping sounds all just a bit too rough for you, then sometimes there are other options provided by commercial operators. For example, we stayed on a backpackers boat in the Abel Tasman to save us from carrying bedding and food. There are sometimes boats that will carry your gear from one place to the next. Sometimes there can be private houses or resorts you can stay at instead – for example on the Queen Charlotte track, Abel Tasman and Milford. Or alternatively you can sometimes get boat transfers to drop you off in the morning and pick you up from another place in the afternoon and then you can go back to your comfy motel overnight. The DOC website has got details for these operators. There are also numerous other short walks you can do as little side trips when you are touring around the countryside, so you don’t have to do the overnight walks if you don’t want to!
The weather in New Zealand is unpredictable. It can get very wet and cold even in the middle of summer, so you need to dress appropriately and check the weather forecast for the area you are going to before you leave. Sometimes there are river crossings which may become impossible to pass through which could mean you get trapped. Have a plan for what you would do if this happened to you. Make sure someone knows where you are going and when you are likely to return. Have some spare food, and always take some warm and waterproof clothing with you – even if it looks like the weather is going to be great!
There are sometimes also estuary crossings which can only be done when it is low tide. So this all needs to be taken in to account when you are planning your trip.
Here is what you will need to bring with you:
- Pack – that sits comfortably on your back. Get a pack cover if you think it is going to rain.
- Pack liner – can be as simple as a big rubbish bag – to keep everything inside dry
- Sleeping bag (and a sleeping mat if you are camping or think that you might miss out on a mattress in the hut)
- Warm clothing – merino or polypropylene and a waterproof jacket – even if it is the middle of summer!
- Comfy tramping boots and decent socks – spend the money and buy good boots. Blisters can be crippling and good boots help support your ankles
- Gaiters – can be really handy to help keep your feet dry if you are crossing rivers or streams
- Food and snacks for your entire trip and an extra day spare in case you get stuck – there are no shops along the way to buy anything! Back Country cuisine freeze dried food tastes pretty good and is light to carry.
- A cooker – I recommend the Jet Boil – they are amazing! Boils water in just two minutes, and they are light to carry, everything fits inside (remember you can’t fly with the gas canisters in your luggage) Flash Personal Cooking System, Carbon
- All cooking and eating utensils, and a tea towel
- Insect repellent (the sandflies are brutal!), bite cream, sun screen, sun glasses, a hat, a small first aid kit
- Personal Locater Beacon – handy if you are going really remote.
- Your camera – close at hand
- Drink bottle – you can get one that filters out some of the contaminants in the water making it safe to drink from rivers – otherwise do not drink from rivers as they can potentially make you sick.
- Toilet paper
- Baby wipes – ahhh these are heaven as there is not usually any showers!
- Ear plugs and an eye mask – very important as inevitably there is a snorer somewhere close by!
- A torch – there is usually no electricity in the huts, and the toilets are usually outside!
Other things to consider
- Plan your trip – check the DOC website for all the up to date details of the track. Sometimes the track can get washed out with bad weather or a slip for example and it can take some time to repair. Check the website for up to date details.
- Figure out if you have any estuary or river crossings, check the tide and weather conditions and plan accordingly
- Liase with a commercial operator if you need transfers in to or back from the park. Many of the walks are one way, so you will need to get back to your car or transport somehow!
- Pack well – get advice from locals, the local DOC office. Make sure you are well equipped for the track
- Get fit beforehand and test your gear. You don’t want any injuries, blisters etc along the way. If you aren’t confident with river crossings or navigating – choose a track that is a little easier. You can be in a very remote area and rescuers aren’t just around the corner if you get in trouble!
- Stay on the track – don’t get lost!
- Write in the hut book and make sure someone knows when you should be back.
- Buy your hut passes or camping passes in advance. Details are on line
- There are also many private walks which go over private land and you can stay on the farms etc. The Kaikoura Coastal track is one and so is the Banks Peninsula Track.
- The Great Walks are a collection of popular New Zealand tracks. The huts sometimes have better facilities and you need to book your beds in advance so you are guaranteed a spot which is great! Check out the DOC website for all the details of these walks.
- Remember there are no snakes or poisonous spiders or anything like that in New Zealand!
So in summary – We have some spectacular scenery in New Zealand and some of it can take a bit of extra effort to get to. So get your boots on, check the conditions, know your limits, be prepared and get out there to discover some of the treasures that we have in this amazing country of ours!