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Hiking in New Zealand: useful tips for preparing your hike

New Zealand – The longing dream destination of many travellers on the other side of the world. A country where roadtrip lovers and adrenaline junkies find their costs repaid. A trip to New Zealand promises freedom, adventure and pure nature. A promise that the country can keep!

A few days after I landed in Christchurch in January it happened: I fell in love with the country! As I love to be active while travelling I love hiking and believe that New Zealand is the perfect destination for hikers. Below I’m going to tell you, why I thinks so and how you prepare best for your hiking activities in New Zealand. 

Hiking New Zealand: a paradise for mountain lovers

January, Christchurch: As I love being in nature and active I was not able to stay in the city for longer. Three days after my arrival I took a bus to get out of town. My goal: Hiking up the nearby Mt. Cavendish, which is, by the way, also accessible by the Christchurch Gondola. This first short hike in New Zealand was enough to sweep me off my feet. It happened right there: I fell in love with New Zealand!

At this time, I knew nothing about the radiant blue lakes, the glaciers, the scanty and at the same time fascinating volcanic sceneries, the tropical beaches, the deep blue fjords, the rough mountains and the blustering waterfalls that make every single hike in New Zealand an unforgettable experience.

After a few days in the country I changed my flights. With the tourist visa you’re allowed to stay up to 90 days in New Zealand, and I wanted to make the most out of this time. Until the last second. I took my time and enjoyed the one thing, New Zealand has the most to offer: a unique and untouched nature. There is no other country in the world that is so small and has such a diverse nature.

As I said I love being active on my journeys and I’m especially very much into hiking. So it is not very surprising that I spent 40 days out of the 90 I stayed in New Zealand with hiking. I walked more than 400 kilometres, because: New Zealand is the perfect destination for hikers!

I would even go further and persist on saying that New Zealand is a real paradise for hikers. A network of well developed hiking paths spreads over the North and the South island. If you want to go on a hike for several days you will find numerous huts that are distributed over the whole country.

Yes, you are right: New Zealand lies at the other end of the world and you need quite a few hours of flying to get there. However, you can trust me: It will be worth it! Especially if you love hiking as much as I do.

By the way: Hiking is called tramping in New Zealand.

So, why is New Zealand the perfect destination for hikers?

1. Unique and untouched nature

The nature in New Zealand is really unique and varies incredibly. You can scale mountains in alpine areas or train your balance while walking on bold cliffs high over the wild sea. You can hike along a beach – which is, by the way, more exhausting than I thought – or you decide to go for a hike in the densely covered rain forest. In New Zealand you can climb up an active volcano or you go tramping along deep blue fjords. In New Zealand no hike resembles the other.

Moreover, the conservation of the environment is very important to the New Zealanders. Many parts of the country have a particular importance to the Maori, the natives of New Zealand. Therefore the nature in New Zealand is intact and protected. A fact that you will notice while hiking.

2. Good conditions for hikers

Another reason, why New Zealand is the perfect destination for hikers: The conditions are ideal.
I already hiked a lot in different countries all over the world. Many times, I had to take a guide. Not because of the difficulty of the hike, but more because of the bad or non-existing infrastructure and the missing sign-postings along the way. Nothing of that will happen in New Zealand.
In New Zealand the so called DOC, Department of Conservation, is responsible for the protection and the preservation of the environment, and the nature of the country.

Specifically this means that the DOC looks, amongst the rest, after the maintenance of the footpaths and the huts, as well as the sign-postings on the trails. The DOC takes this responsibility very seriously. For example, in marshy areas they have established footbridges and in very steep areas they have built stairways to make it easy accessible for hikers. These measures have primarily been implemented to protect the nature, but of course they suit us trampers a lot. Of course the DOC is not able to look after all paths with the same effort as the network of hiking paths is too large. But they do a great job and I never had to turn back on a hike in New Zealand because of impassable paths.

The sing-posting of the footpaths in New Zealand is also excellent. This means you don´t have to buy any hiking maps and carry them around with you. Really, this is not necessary! During my whole stay I haven’t owned a single hiking map for New Zealand because there is a sign at every junction. It is impossible to get lost.

Do you think you might feel insecure without any maps? I know that feeling. This is why I recommend you to download a New Zealand map on your Smartphone. During the hike the GPS always shows your current location, even if you are offline. I use the app App OsmAnd. In the paid version you can download the contour lines as well as all hiking trails of New Zealand.

3. It is easy to find suitable hikes

To find a suitable hike in New Zealand you do not need much time to figure out the next hiking trip. Are you already in the country and you like a certain area? Then you will find certainly more than one trail in this area. You have two options to get information about the trails while you are already in New Zealand. The first options are the i-Sites, which are the tourist information centres. The second – and better option for hikers – are the DOC visitor centres.

After all anticipation is half the fun, and you might want to look for suitable trails already at home while preparing your journey to New Zealand. Therefore the DOC has a very detailed website with ALL hiking trails in New Zealand. On the website you need to click on the category “walking and tramping”. There are several filters that make it very easy to find trails you like and which relate to your skills.

My recommendation: Simply take your time on a rainy afternoon to browse the DOC website. As soon as you have found a hike you like – and you will probably like more than one – download the PDF provided by the DOC right away on your computer or, even better, on your Smartphone. You can slowly put together a list of hikes before you hit the road.

4. There is a suitable trail for every hiker

Due to the huge amount of hiking trails it is no wonder that hiking in New Zealand always pays off. No matter if you hike with great relish, if you are an experienced mountaineer, a family with children or an absolute hiking beginner.
Moreover, besides the different levels of hiking trails in New Zealand the different landscapes have also something to offer for everybody. While some of you are absolutely fascinated by barren volcanic scenery, for others it is the most beautiful thing to hike along golden sandy beaches with the turquoise-blue sea right next to you.

The four most popular hiking regions in New Zealand are Canterbury, Fjordland, Central Northland and Egmont Nationalpark.

Canterbury (South Island)
The Southern Alps of New Zealand are located in the region of Canterbury. The mountains with its snowy 3.000 meters summits are a real paradise for hikers and mountain lovers. A recommendable hike in this area is the Mueller Hut route in the Mt Cook/Aoraki National park. The way up and also the way down are relatively demanding, however, the fantastic view of the rugged mountains around are definitely worth the effort.

Fjordland (South Island)
Another popular region for trampers is Fjordland. The region is located in the Southwest of the South Island of New Zealand. The area is very remote and nearly unpopulated with a beautiful scenery. You can expect deep and dark-blue fjords, roaring waterfalls, steep cliffs and untouched rain forest.
It is very likely that you already know Fjordland from countless pictures as the worldwide famous Milford Sound is located in this area.

Central Northland (North Island)
The scenery of Central Northland was shaped by three active volcanoes: Mt Ruapehu (2.797m), Mt Tongariro (1.967m) and Mt Ngauruhoe (2.287m). Hikers will find numerous trails in this area, among others, one of the most famous single day hike of New Zealand: the Tongariro Alpine crossing. I will tell you more about this hike later.

Egmont National Park (North Island)
Egmont National Park is located on the west coast of the North Island, close to the harbour town of New Plymouth. The park is dominated by the sight of Mt Taranaki. Mt Taranaki is a perfectly shaped volcano whose sight stirs every hiker’s blood. If you are an experienced hiker, I recommend you to climb up the volcano on the Summit Track. Unfortunately, I was not able to reach the summit. Due to an approaching thunderstorm I had to turn back down. However, there was no visibility anyway. For me a good reason to travel back to New Zealand sooner or later though!

Are you convinced yet that New Zealand is the perfect destination for hikers? Unique nature, perfect conditions, you can easily find suitable hikes and hike in a landscape and on a hiking level that fits perfectly to you – that sounds awesome to me!

As I already mentioned it is very easy to find suitable trails. However, to be well prepared there is a little more you have to keep in mind. Therefore I put together five useful tips for your hiking preparation so that you won’t experience any bad surprises.

5 tipps for preparing your hike

1. You need equipment for all kinds of weather

The weather in New Zealand is unpredictable. It is quite often forgotten how far in South New Zealand really lies. The temperatures are very mild in the summer months. You will hardly experience more than 25°C. These are perfect conditions for hikers. However, if the sun doesn´t shine, the wind is getting stronger or you hike on a higher altitude, the temperatures can fall very fast. Furthermore the weather changes very quickly in New Zealand. In the morning you start your hike with nice and warm sunshine while in the afternoon you get surprised by an ice-cold wind and a hail-storm – this has happened to me on one of my hikes.

So please, be prepared for all kinds of weather. You should only wear short trousers and a t-shirt if you can be absolutely sure that the weather conditions will not change during the day. In many cases you won´t get a guarantee of stable weather in New Zealand. The proximity to the sea is the reason why the weather is so unpredictable.

Long hiking-trousers, a fleece pullover and a water proof jacket should always be in your backpack. According to the hike you are planning you should also consider to take gloves and a beanie. I used them more than once.

In New Zealand many hiking accidents have already happened because hikers, experienced hikers just as beginners, have underestimated the weather conditions. Please, don’t be one of them and always take warm clothes with you!

2. Know your hiking skills and rate them realistically

It is very important that you rate your hiking skills realistically. Especially if you are not an experienced tramper yet. Increase the level of your hikes slowly and figure out, which hikes you are capable of doing before you start to go on really difficult trails.

There are several hikes in New Zealand which are famous world wide as the tourism board advertises them with great effort and you also find them on every New Zealand Top 10 list. But not all of them are suitable for beginners. During your holiday preparation for New Zealand you will for sure come across the so-called Tongariro alpine crossing.

From my own experience I can tell you that the crossing is one of my favourite hikes in New Zealand. You can expect unreal and barren scenery which to me felt at the same time incredibly fascinating and also frightening. I am pretty sure that you already know the national park from the famous “Lord of the Ring” movies as the film set of Mordor. Almost every New Zealand traveller wants to see the famous park and therefore the crossing is one of the most popular hikes of the country.

However, the crossing is a total of 19.4 kilometres long and you have to hike up and down more than 1.000 meters in altitude. The most part of the trail is prepared very well but still there is a part leading through alpine area and which is only suitable for experienced, fit and sure-footed hikers.
Don’t feel secure just because there are a lot of other hikers on this trail. Self overestimation and the wrong equipment have lead to many accidents on this track. It is very important that you estimate your skills realistically and hike this trail – or others – only when you are confident you can handle the hiking level.

3. Find out about the current situation on the hike you are planning to do

In New Zealand there are different reasons why footpaths can be closed. Most of the time it’s bad weather or the trail is in a bad and dangerous condition or there are risks of avalanches and volcanic activities.
Shortly before you start a hike you can find out more about the current situation on the DOC website. You should check the trail status prior to your walk. If there is warning you see a red triangle on the top of the page saying: “Current alert for the track”. Alternatively you can call or visit the next DOC visitor centre. Here is a list of all centres incl. phone numbers.

4. Get all necessary permits

The trails in New Zealand are principally open and free for everybody. You just have to pay for the overnight stays in the huts. However, some trails in New Zealand run over private land. If you are on such a trail, always keep on the path – that goes without saying. Some of the landlords charge a fee for using the trails on their land. Check the DOC website or the nearest DOC visitor centre to more information weather you need a permit or not.
A hike I missed unfortunately (well, next time when I am in New Zealand) is the Cape Brett Walk. A fee is raised on this hike.

5. How to prepare for a Great Walk

In New Zealand you have numerous possibilities to go hiking for several days with overnight stays in huts. The best known hikes of this kind are the so-called Great Walks. In New Zealand there is a total of nine Great Walks.

Great Walks North Island:
Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk, Tongariro Northern Circuit, Whanganui Journey (Remark: The Whanganui Journey is not a hiking trail but a kayak tour on the Whanganui River)

Great Walks South Island:
Abel Tasman Coast Track, Heaphy Track, Routeburn Track, Milford Track, Kepler Track, Rakiura Track

Does one or more of the mentioned names sound familiar to you? The Great Walks are very famous around the world and the tourism board of New Zealand advertises them very well. Numerous tour operators worldwide offer the walks and guided group tours are possible on this trails. This is the reason why the Great Walks are often fully booked far in advance.

On the other side, the Great Walks are the flagship when it comes to hiking in New Zealand. You can assume that the trails of the Great Walks are prepared exemplarily and the huts are in excellent condition. Due to the crowd that is coming each year it is no problem to book a suitable transfer as most of the Great Walks are no circular walks.

Of course not all the Great Walks enjoy the same great popularity. For your preparation you should consider: The Routeburn Track, the Milford Track and the Kepler Track are the most popular Great Walks. You have to book the huts at least half a year in advance! In regards to the other great walks it´s possible to book a sleeping-place more on a short-term.

During my time in New Zealand I hiked three of the Great Walks.
Rakiura Track on Stewart Island in February. Reservation: two weeks before. Part of the Abel Tasman Coast Track at the beginning of March. Reservation: one and a half weeks before.
Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk at the end of March. Reservation: one week before.

My recommendation: There are several alternative hikes to the Great Walks. For example the Caples and Greenstone Track in Fjordland. If you combine the two trails you get a nice and really recommendable four day round trip.

Now you know why New Zealand is the perfect destination for hikers and with my tips you are well prepared for your hikes!

About guest author Steffi

Steffi is the author of the German travel blog a daily travel mate. A travel blog for everyone who loves to be active during their travels. Her motto: Every day can be a journey. You can follow her journeys on Facebook or Instagram.

Sebastian Canaves
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