Hiking in Hiker Paradise: Tramping Kiwi-Style

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An emergency shelter on the Kepler Track
An emergency shelter on the Kepler Track

Department of Conservation
New Zealand's Department of Conservation manages the tracks. There are D.O.C. offices in every major city, and in every national, forest, and maritime park, as well as in many towns.

Huts and camping
Some of the more popular "great walks," like the Routeburn, Milford, and Abel Tasman Coastal Tracks require hikers to have reservations and a pass to stay in the huts. On most tracks, there are tent sites for those who prefer the privacy and quiet of a tent. A "great walks" pass is required for tent sites. During the high season, reservations for tent sites may be required on some of the more popular tracks. No tent sites are available on the Milford Track. Reservations for huts and tent sites, when required, can be made through the Department of Conservation over the phone (they'll need a credit card number, and will send written confirmation).

Otherwise, hut and trail passes can be purchased at the local D.O.C. office when you arrive. Be aware that hut accommodations and tent sites are first-come, first-served.

Maps and Guidebooks
Lonely Planet's Tramping in New Zealand describes all the major treks and includes information on transportation, the location and phone numbers for D.O.C. offices, and accommodations. D.O.C. sells maps and other trail information—although some of the trails are so easy to follow, you may never even take your map out of your pack.

If you plan to stay in the huts along the Great Walks, you can leave your tent, groundcloth, and air mattress home—although in the high season, you'll want to be sure that you arrive early enough to claim a bunk.

You do need to bring a sleeping bag. Additionally, on some of the tracks, huts have stoves for cooking. You provide your own pots and utensils.

Remember that you can't carry stove fuel on planes, so you'll have to purchase it once you get where you're going. It's no problem, though: there are plenty of gear shops that carry a wide range of camping fuels for common camping stoves.

You will need good raingear, especially in the South Island's Fiordland National Park and surrounding areas. Milford Sound, for example, gets more than 300 inches of rain annually, and it is not unheard of (speaking here from personal experience) to get as much as 8 inches in a single day. After a heavy rain, the trail can in places actually be waist-deep in water! Clothing and sleeping bags should be in waterproof stuff-sacks. In addition, oversized heavy-duty pack liners are available from the D.O.C. offices. You'll need a way to make absolutely, positively certain your camera is protected—it's no exaggeration to suggest that an underwater camera might come in handy. At the higher elevations, it can snow in the summertime, so be sure you have enough layers to stay warm.

Most of the tracks can be walked during New Zealand's fall, summer, and spring months (September through June), but the lowland coastal trails like the Hollyford, the Abel Tasman, and the Greenstone can be walked all year.

In an attempt to prevent the importation of exotic and potentially pestilent species into New Zealand's unique and fragile ecosystem, visitors need to go through an agricultural checkpoint when they arrive. You will be asked if you are carrying any used camping equipment, especially tents, stakes, and boots (which might have soil on them), as well as any foodstuffs. So be sure to clean your hiking gear before you pack it, or you'll have to wait for it to be scrubbed at the airport. And if you're bringing your hiking food from home, pack it so it can be easily pulled out for inspection, because they'll want to look at everything. You will not be allowed to bring in any fresh or raw foods, including fruit, vegetables, honey, and seeds. Dehydrated and freeze-dried foods, energy bars, and cereals are permitted.

Guided Treks
Guided treks are available on some of the more popular trails, including the world-famous Milford Track. Trampers on guided treks have the advantage of knowledgeable guides who can explain the flora, fauna, and geology to you. Accommodations and food are more luxurious than at the standard D.O.C. huts.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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