NEW ZEALAND'S GREAT WALKS: PRACTICAL TIPS
The Great Walks are New Zealand's premier walking tracks through areas of some of the best scenery in the country. Tramping along a track for five days with a pack on your back may not sound like your idea of fun, but experiencing the stunning natural beauty of the country first hand may well turn out to be the highlight of your trip to New Zealand.
To do any of the walks you will need to know what to expect, and plan ahead. To help you do so, we've compiled the following practical tips...
- The Department of Conservation (DOC) website is a good place to start when organising a Great Walks excursion. There is information on each of the Great Walks on the site, as well as general information about hut passes and fees. DOC's regional Visitor Centres sell topographic and national park maps for use on the tracks.
- The tracks are well maintained and clearly signposted, but you will need to be fit enough to carry all your gear, including your food and sleeping bag, in a backpack weighing up to 15 kilograms for up to 22 kilometres a day, often over high mountain passes. You need to be self sufficient and well equipped, as there won't be any shops along the way.
- You will need a Great Walk Pass to use the huts and campsites on the walks. The huts have mattresses, cold water, toilets and wood stoves. In peak season, some of the Great Walks' huts have gas cookers, although on others you will need to take a portable gas cooker. The huts on the Heaphy Track and the Whanganui Journey are the only ones with cookers available all year.
- To avoid over crowding, bookings are required in peak season for the Milford, Routeburn and Kepler Tracks; and all year round for the Lake Waikaremoana Track, the Abel Tasman Coast Track, and the Heaphy Track. The peak season for Great Walks is from October 1 to April 30, but the start date is dependent on weather conditions, and may be delayed by snow or avalanche conditions. Conditions on most Great Walks are hazardous in winter.
- The New Zealand Mountain Safety Council has useful downloadable pamphlets on its website. Its 'Going Bush?' leaflet has a useful list of what to take on a tramping trip, including lightweight food and high energy snacks, warm clothes, a good raincoat or parka, cooking and eating utensils, sleeping bag, sunscreen, insect repellent, torch and matches, and a pack liner to keep gear dry. Make sure you have well worn in, comfortable footwear.
- The New Zealand bush is free of hazardous creepy crawlies, snakes, and creatures that want to eat you, and the most dangerous factor when tramping can be the notoriously changeable and unpredictable weather. Hypothermia can affect anyone when the weather is cold, wet or windy. Be prepared for sudden weather changes - pack sunblock and a sunhat, as well as a good quality windproof raincoat and warm woollen or polar fleece hat and gloves.
- While New Zealand boasts an almost complete absence of dangerous creepy crawlies (with the exception of the poisonous, but rarely seen, katipo spider), it has its own brand of particularly annoying biting creatures, and sandflies and mosquitoes have been known to drive the sanest tramper to distraction. Take plenty of insect repellent.
- Sadly, just like anywhere else, New Zealand has thieves and bad 'uns. Be wary of leaving your car at the road ends of the Great Walks and never leave belongings on view inside your car. Local operators near the road ends of the Great Walks provide transport in and out of the tracks, and will often offer safe storage of vehicles.
- If you want to experience one of the Great Walks, but lack the time or the energy for a full-scale five-day hike, do a day trip instead by walking along the track for an hour or two and then back out again. Guided walks are available on some tracks, including the Abel Tasman, the Heaphy, and the Milford, and offer the option of having your food carried and cooked for you at the end of each day, lightening your load to some degree. It's also often possible to do short, guided day trips on the tracks.
- If you sign in and note your proposed route in the intentions books at a Department of Conservation Visitor Centre, shelter or hut, make sure to sign out again at the end of your trip - otherwise a full-scale search and rescue operation will be launched to 'rescue' you.
- Follow the Department of Conservation's environmental care code: Toitu te whenua (leave the land undisturbed).