Summer is the perfect time to get outdoors and explore our beautiful country. New Zealand is brimming with hiking opportunities and you never have to go far to find one. If you have never hiked in our stunning country before I have some top tips for hiking in New Zealand that will make you a pro in no time. Chur!
Kiwiland terrain is very different from other countries and as such, hiking here can be a different experience than hiking in say America or the United Kingdom.
Top Tips for Hiking in New Zealand | Learn the Lingo
Even though we speak English, us Kiwi’s have invented our own spin on it.
- Tramp/tramping: Hike/backpacking. Although it conjures up other not so pleasant images, a tramp in New Zealand is a hike.
- Undulating: pointless ups and downs. Our trails tend to undulate. A lot
- Zigzag: Switchback. Though you won’t find these often. We prefer the no-nonsense approach of ‘straight up the hill’
- Sidling: walking sideways and clinging precariously to the hillside. This is common on our trails, where erosion and wet weather often causes slips and disappearing tracks
- Tussock: long and thick grass that isn’t green. A bitch to walk through.
- Metal roads: unpaved/gravel roads.
For more ‘Kiwi-isms’ check out this handy guide on how to speak Kiwi.
Top Tips for Hiking in New Zealand | Signs
New Zealand’s hikes tend not to be measured by distance, rather by time. A 6-kilometre walk can differ drastically from one hike to another. Factors such as terrain, difficulty and altitude gained are all taken into account when calculating a tracks time.
In saying that, take the times with a grain of salt. Sometimes it seems DOC has measured a toddler waddling through the bush. Other times a trail runner.
Other factors such as your fitness, the weather and your experience will determine the trail time for you.
Top Tips for Hiking in New Zealand | Type of Walk
There are six types of hikes in New Zealand, generally you will see a little symbol at the trail head along with time taken to hike. The little people represent the type of track you will be attacking that day/night.
Easiest: Easy access short walk
These are easy walking, under an hour. Suitable for all abilities, wheelchairs, buggies and strollers with even surfaces, well formed with no steps or steep sections. The streams and rivers are bridged and there are no track markers as the track is impossible to miss. Walking shoes will be suitable for this type of walk (or barefoot if you are my child…).
A great easy access short walk is Tokaanu Hot Springs
Easiest: Short walk
Again, easy walking under an hour and suitable for people of most ages and fitness levels. The track is well formed and there may be steps. Streams and river crossings are bridged though. Again, there are no track markers as the trail is well defined and walking shoes are suitable.
Tracks include Marokope Falls, Triplex Hut, Beehive Creek and Alice Nash Memorial Heritage Hut
Easy: Walking track
These are longer than the easiest short walks, ranging from a few minutes to a day. These types of tracks are suitable for people with low to moderate fitness and abilities. The track is mostly well formed, though some sections may be steep, rough or muddy, however, stream and river crossings are bridged. The track will be clearly marked where necessary with orange triangle (ignore the other colours as these indicate biodiversity work areas). Above the bushline, you will see marker poles. Light hiking boots will be suitable.
Example tracks include: Rangiwahia hut, Tawa Loop Track and Bell Rock Loop Track
Intermediate: Great Walk/Easier tramping track
Comfortable multi-day hikes that are suitable for people with limited backcountry experience. These tracks are generally well formed, although some sections may be rough, muddy or steep. The tracks are well marked and major stream and river crossings are bridged. Light hiking boots are suitable for these hikes.
The Great Walks are included in this category as well as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and Field Hut
Advanced: Tramping track
Challenging day or multi-day hikes that are suitable for people with moderate to high-level backcountry skills and experience. Navigation and survival skills are required. These tracks are mostly unformed and may be rough and steep. The track has markers, poles or rock cairns when necessary but expect unbridged stream and river crossings. Hiking boots are required.
Tracks include: Shorts track/knights track, Atene Skyline Track, Mt Karioi, A-Frame Hut, Deadman’s Track, Platinum Mine Loop, Coppermine Creek, Iron Gate Hut and Deerford Track
Challenging overnight tramping/hiking that is only suitable for people with high-level backcountry skills, experience, navigation and survival skills. Complete self-sufficiency is required. These tracks are unformed and natural, may be rough, muddy or very steep. The tracks generally have markers, poles or rock cairns and expect unbridged stream and river crossings You will need sturdy hiking boots for these hikes. I haven’t tackled any of these yet but they are on my list.
Top Tips for Hiking in New Zealand | Sun Protection
Never underestimate NZ’s sun. The Earth’s orbit takes us closer to the sun than the Northern Hemisphere, there is little air pollution and there is a lovely hole in the ozone layer sitting right above us.
Always pack sunblock, sunglasses and a hat. The burn time in our wee country can be as little as 10 minutes in the height of summer.
Top Tips for Hiking in New Zealand | I hope you like hills
Us Kiwi’s tend to be blunt and straight to the point. Much like our trails. Why zigzag nicely up the hill when you can go straight up it? and then straight back down the other side.
You will be hard pressed to find a hike without hills. New Zealand’s landscape is rolling and rugged.
Top Tip: Trekking poles are a must on the majority of hikes. Save your knees and use them. They come in handy during the many river crossings you will need to navigate as well.
Top Tips for Hiking in New Zealand | You’ll get your feet wet
If you like dry feet, New Zealand hiking probably won’t be for you. Chances are, you are going to get your feet wet, especially in the South Island.
River crossings are aplenty, when I did Kapkapanui Hike I counted 13 creek crossings in one day. It can also rain. A lot. Fiordland gets 6800mm of rain over 182 days a year so the odds are against you of staying dry.
Top Tip: If you don’t feel confident tackling river crossings, there are plenty of organisations that provide free or relatively cheap training. Check out the Te Araroa Safety Courses for more information.
Top Tips for Hiking in New Zealand | Use your noggin
Changeable weather, river crossings, alpine terrain and isolated rugged backcountry all equate to some sometimes dangerous conditions.
If you have ended up out of your depth or feel unsafe, turn around and go back or choose an alternative route. No one will think less of you. But they will thank you for getting home in one piece.
Top Tips for Hiking in New Zealand | Keeping the Hangry away
You won’t find a convenience store (or a dairy) nearby on any of the hikes in NZ. Food should be lightweight, fast cooking and contain high energy value ingredients like:
- Breakfast: grain and fruit cereal, firm high grain bread, honey or other spreads.
- Lunch: cracker biscuits, jerky, cheese, salami, dried fruit, nuts and mixes, margarine, jam/jelly, fruit.
- Dinner: instant soup, dehydrated mashed potato, dehydrated meat, tinned fish, pasta or rice, dried vegetables or fruit, cheese or dehydrated (freeze-dried) meals.
It’s a good idea to take lots of water, easy to access snacks, chocolate bars, biscuits, muesli bars, electrolyte-rich powdered drink mixes, tea or coffee, and emergency food in case of any delays on the track.
Top Tips for Hiking in New Zealand | NZ isn’t very ‘people-ly’
As a rather small nation, we don’t take up that much room on our wee isolated islands. Unless you go on one of our Great Walks or more popular hikes, chances are, you won’t see many other people if any at all. When I did Shorts Track/Knights Track, the whole 10 hours I was on the trail, there was not another soul there.
Apart from the birds which was rather nice.
Top Tips for Hiking in New Zealand | The wildlife
Speaking of birds, New Zealand has quite a few of these bad boys. From lazy ones that prefer not to fly, to clumsy ones that crash through the bush (my spirit bird) to cheeky birds that steal tourists passports. We have them all here.
In saying that, don’t be alarmed if you see dead possums or stoats on your hike. We prefer them that way. They like to eat our native birds for din dins and ruin our plant species.
The lovely thing about hiking in New Zealand is that you don’t have to worry about dangerous animals like snakes, bears or crocs.
It’s our land that will try and top you off with the floodings, earthquakes, avalanches, weather, live volcanoes and so on rather than the wildlife.
Top Tips for Hiking in New Zealand | The Great Walks
The Great Walks are named aptly. They are simply stunning, varied and offer a world-class hiking experience that shows of our diverse country beautifully. From alpine meadows to ancient forests, these walks have it all.
One of the biggest mistakes visitors to New Zealand make is assuming you don’t have to book the Great Walks in advance. New Zealand may be a relatively small country, but its Great Walk network attracts thousands of people each year so it’s best to plan ahead, popular tracks such as the Milford Track book months in advance, so it pays to book as soon as you can.
Note: you cannot pitch a tent just anywhere on any of the Great Walks, you must book either a night in a hut or designated campsite.
Top Tips for HIking in New Zealand | Backcountry Huts
If you’re looking for a path less travelled, New Zealand’s network of nearly 1000 huts throughout its backcountry provide a variety of terrain and intensity levels.
Many of these huts cost $5-$15/night and most don’t require any booking in advance, but it pays to double check first in case you get caught short. If you’re planning to stay in quite a few huts, you can save money by purchasing a Backcountry Hut Pass. This gives you access to nearly all the backcountry huts in the country.
The facilities at the huts and campsites can vary depending on the track. Great Walks are known to be much more fully serviced, with running water, stainless steel cooking benches with propane stoves, running toilets (summer season) and solar lighting.
The backcountry huts can vary dramatically from tiny four bunk shacks to larger more modern buildings with basic facilities. Be sure to research what is available before heading out so you pack properly and aren’t surprised when you arrive.
Related Post: Backcountry Hut Etiquette
Top Tips for Hiking in New Zealand | Best time to go
There is no ‘best time to go’ when you are hiking in Kiwiland, every season has it’s own merits and it’s own unique spin. You could tackle a track in every season and you will get a different hike.
Mid-December to late January – High season brings many thousands of people to many of our tracks. The sun is high and mighty this time of year so bring that sun protection. Tips for hiking in summer can be found here
January to March – February is a great time to hit the trails as the weather is still nice and warm. The high season is winding down here so the tracks tend to be a bit quieter. This is a great time to head up to the Tongariro Alpine crossing.
June to August – Winter in New Zealand means that many of our tracks are covered in snow. This is one of the most picturesque times to hike, however, you need to be an experienced hiker to tackle the mountain trails. Tips for hiking in winter can be found here
September to December – Just before high season, spring is a great time to dust off the boots. Be aware of high rain fall and swollen rivers and creeks from the snow melting. Find out how to hike safely in the spring here.
From snowcapped peaks to golden stretches of beach and all of the lush beech forests in between, New Zealand is hard to beat when it comes to hiking. There’s a bit of everything to keep everyone happy
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