New Zealand is a well-known destination for adventure sports and adrenaline junkies. From skydiving to ski-touring, from glacier walking to rock climbing to hiking and trekking, the South Island of New Zealand, in particular, has lots to offer the intrepid traveler.
What is less known is that you need not be a veteran mountaineer or experienced adventure seeker to enjoy the great outdoors of New Zealand. Many of the hikes in New Zealand can be done in just one day. This suits the beginners to hiking who want to ease themselves into the activity, or for the more seasoned who just want to do some training hikes.
In preparation for our 5-day expedition in March 2018 to Rabbit Pass in Wanaka https://www.wildfirexpeditions.com/lessons-waterfall-rabbit-pass-new-zealand/ , we tackled Scotts Track for higher intensity gradient training. Having hiked mostly tropical mountains thus far, I was captivated by the beauty of the alpine scenery of the Arthurs’ Pass National Park. Compared to the lofty peaks of the Himalayas, the mountains of New Zealand can seem deceptively small. But the challenge is not so much in altitude as terrain, dramatic changes in weather and microclimates. As a first-timer hiker in New Zealand, here are my lessons learnt:
1) Always check the weather forecast at the local Department of Conservation (“DOC”) i-site
New Zealand has a number of Great Walks and the DOC has done a wonderful job of supporting these routes with plenty of useful information and tools for the independent hiker. The weather forecast in New Zealand is remarkably accurate. Tuning in will enable you to plan your route well, prepare the necessary gear and keep dry.
2) Safety first
In the words of famed American mountaineer Ed Viesturs ”Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory”. Always make a plan and set a turnaround time and pay close attention to the time. Look out for signs of impending weather changes. A point of caution is that the weather can change very rapidly in New Zealand. We have made the decision to turn back just an hour shy of the end point when the visibility turned bad and the clouds started rolling in. Our mantra is: Live to hike another day.
3) Prepare your gear
Always waterproof your bag. You never know when the sky will suddenly open up. Take rain gear, warm clothing, rain cover and enough food and water for contingency. A torchlight or a headlamp should be a mainstay of every tramper’s packing list. Pack light, pack smart, pack efficient. You do not want to be weighed down by unnecessary luxuries when you are only doing a day hike. Place snacks, water, light, rain cover, rain jacket at easily accessible points, preferably enabling you access without having to remove the entire pack to save time and for ease of access on the go.
4) Do not feed the animals
Through our day hike, we encountered many Kea, those beautiful birds indigenous to the South Island of New Zealand, the world’s only alpine parrot. Known for their curiosity, Keas can be very friendly and approach hikers to a close distance. We have been warned by the locals not to feed them. Although keas are not aggressive by nature, hikers have changed their behavior. Some hikers have been feeding the keas encountered on the trail, leading to these birds now recognizing hikers as food source and sometimes pecking at their backpacks or trying to snatch food when hikers stop for a snack break. Do not feed the animals. Respect Nature as you see it.
5) Smell the roses and have fun
Well there are a number of considerations in preparing for a day hike, they should not detract from the main purpose – to have an enjoyable time. The slopes of New Zealand are beautiful at any time of the year. If it is your first time, pick a good season where the weather pattern is the most stable, when the paths are clear of snow and ice. Do your research and plan your trip. Visit the DOC website and do a walk in the day before your planned start to check for updates. Once you hit the trail, pay attention to what’s around you. Breathe in the fresh, crisp air. Luxuriate in the wonders of Nature and have fun.