New Zealand has a rich selection of back country trails ranging from wide, well-serviced pathways to narrow tracks and unmarked routes. Whatever your experience or skills, adventure awaits you. However, it's easy to come unstuck: inexperienced and unprepared trampers die in the wilderness every year. Don't be another unnecessary statistic. Choose the right track for your skill level, prepare properly, and have a good time.
If you are coming from overseas and you have experience elsewhere, be careful not to underestimate New Zealand conditions. On the one hand, you won't encounter any bears, mountain lions, snakes or poisonous spiders here. On the other, many tracks are very basic and require a high level of sure-footedness, self-reliance and experience. Weather in New Zealand is unpredictable, and you must be prepared for severe weather changes. Rivers, hypothermia, and falls are the big killers here.
Find out more about safety: Beginners' guide to...staying safe.
A good way to start tramping in New Zealand is on the Great Walks. These track lead to some fantastic places on highly-maintained tracks. The tracks are busy so you are never too far from somebody else if you get in trouble. Choose a Great Walk, sort out your gear, bookings, and some friends to go with. Get your fitness up before hand carrying a day pack on local walks, and you'll enjoy your experience more. Remember that several of these tracks lead into alpine environments so you must be prepared for extreme weather: that means a wind and waterproof layer, plus layers for warmth. Finally, don't be tempted to save money on the Great Walks in their off season. Off season, these tracks have avalanche and ice hazards. Bridges are often removed and safety facilities are downgraded. Don't take the risk. It's just not worth it.
The Great Walks are crowded pathways in the wilderness, and not for everybody. You might be looking for a more low key, authentic experience. If that's you, then try out the Track finder, looking at the easy day tracks. Walk a few of these with a good sized-pack. Then, when you're ready, look for an easy overnight track. Check in here in the forums or ask somebody you know who has walked it. Better still, get them to take you! Identify the risks in advance and decide how you are going to manage them. Avoid tracks with river crossings or alpine zones. Don't go in winter.
What to take?
Everything you pack is load on your back.
On the one hand, you need to manage the load your are carrying, while on the other, you need to be prepared for adverse weather conditions. To do this, you need to make smart choices about what to pack:
- Clothing should be layerable so that in the coldest conditions you are wearing all of it! A costume change is a luxury for urban life.
- Don't carry unnecessary water. Take dried food, which is much lighter. Drinking water is important, but heavy. Only carry the drinking water you need. For many tracks in New Zealand, water is readily available along the way as you walk.
Larger towns and cities all have outdoor stores that can sell you packs, tents, sleeping bags, cookers, boots, thermal clothing, and other gear.
Starting out, look for lighter weight boots that don't need so much wearing in. If you have a pack already, make sure it is comfortable when fully loaded, and add a liner so that gear inside stays dry. For your first walk you might want to skip a cooker completely. Hot food is strictly optional!
This gear list is a starting point for an overnight summer tramp:
- Tramping backpack lined with a survival bag
- Sleeping bag
- Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack food, powdered hot drinks, powdered milk
- Water bottle
- Cooker and lighter
- Billy with detachable handle
- Bowl, mug, cutlery, pocket knife
- Plastic bags for rubbish
- Toilet paper, hand sanitiser,
- Toothbrush, toothpaste
- Insect repellent, sunblock, small first aid kit, personal medications
- Torch or headlight
- Boots and woollen tramping socks
- Nylon shorts, synthetic tee shirt
- Two thermal top and one pair long johns (merino wool or polypropylene)
- midweight polarfleece jacket, woollen hat
- rain coat
If you are camping, add a bedroll, and if you are staying in a hut, add earplugs.
Some trampers pack hut shoes (sports sandals or "Crocs" and clothes. You may need gaiters, waterproof pants, and a sleeping bag liner.
Items like compasses, ice axes and crampons may be necessary for off-track and winter tramping, but are well beyond the scope of this basic list.
What to eat?
The longer your trip, the more thought you need to put into food -- on an overnight trip, you may like to relax about weight and simply pack pre-chopped fresh vegetables, but on longer trips you need to think about dehydrated food.
Here are some food ideas:
- Flavoured couscous with fried garlic pita bread
- Instant rice, fast-cooking pasta and dried ramen noodles, and noodle block meals
- TVP (available from Asian supermarkets) hydrates quickly and adds texture to meals. Pre-mix some spices for flavour.
- Dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, apple, apricots, for example). Note that dried fruit can be rehydrated for dessert by soaking in boiling water.
- Energy bars and muesli bars
- Nuts, chocolate, and mixes, known as trail mix or "gorp" in the United States and "scroggin" in New Zealand.
- Dehydrated coconut milk is available and ideal for making a Thai curry.
- Rice and corn thins (large wafers for lunch)
Test out your recipes at home, have no-cook options, and pack an extra meal.