New Zealand Tramping & Hiking Safety Information for Backcountry New Zealand Great Walks, National Parks, Tracks, Hikes & Routes. See New Zealand’s Milford Track, Routeburn Track, Kepler and Stewart Island tracks. New Zealand Tramping and hiking section provides the tramper and hiker with essential tramping and hiking information to safely enjoy the New Zealand Outdoors. Tramping and hiking information includes:
Short Walks, Day Hiking & Day Walks
Most recognized walks of up to a day’s duration are briefly described in a short- walk section of any publication. However it is often difficult to distinguish between days walks and sections of longer tramps, and it is wise to consult the tramping track and route guides of each tracks publication. Each short walk is listed with the approximate time taken to complete the walk, and it is stated whether this is for a return trip by the same track, a round trip on a loop track, or a one-way trip. These times are approximate and should only be used as an estimate – it is essential to allow for significant variations when setting out on a walk. The grading system detailed below is used to indicate the condition of each track. If a short walk venture into alpine areas allowances must be made for seasonal variations and bad weather, and a record of your intentions must be left with park staff. Always carry adequate clothing and food.
The times given for each section are approximate only. There are too many factors that influence the speed of a party (ie large parties are slower than smaller ones, fitness, weather conditions) for them to be consistently accurate. Use these times as an estimate only and allow for significant variations when planning a trip.
Track and Routes
Within New Zealand national parks there is a great variety in the standard of paths that trampers and hikers use. The term”track” refers to a path that has been cut, often formed and marked in some way. In the forest, this is by either red and white metal slats (made of permolat, or Venetian blind material), round orange discs, or occasionally by blazes cut into sides of tree trunks. In open areas, wooden poles or metal standards are used, as well as cairns, small piles of rocks stacked in a rough pyramid. The term “route” is used primarily to describe a path which is not cut or formed and often not marked at all. It is also used in a general sense when referring to the direction of travel.
Tramping & Hiking in New Zealand National Parks
All trampers, hikers, visitors and tourists who use our national parks should never forget the inestimable value of these splendid and inspiring areas. Every tramper or hiker has a personal responsibility to respect and support the ethics of preservation that underlies our national parks systems. To keep the impact of your presence to a minimum and to adhere to national park regulations, remember:
all native animals, plants and natural features are protected
animals may not be brought into a national park without permission
keep to formed tracks where provided
keep party sizes reasonable
avoid taking bottles or cans tramping, bury food scraps, burn paper rubbish and carry anything else back
bury all toilet wastes if there are no toilets
use portable stoves for cooking wherever possible
if you must use wood fires keep them small, use only dead wood, extinguish them after use, dismantle built-up fireplaces and bury ashes
keep campsite constructions to a minimum, use existing campsites where possible and respect other campers’ privacy
firearms may not be carried in a national park without a permit
Most national parks have a headquarters and one or more visitor display centres, as well as ranger stations. At all these places up-to-date information, tramping advice, maps, publications, weather forecasts and firearm and hunting permits are usually available, and hut fees can be paid. This is also where clear records of your tramping intentions must be left before beginning your trip, and just as importantly, where you must check out when your trip is safely completed. Failure to do this may result in an expensive and unnecessary search and rescue operation. In the event of an emergency, contact park rangers as soon as possible. Report any damage to park facilities to park staff as well.
All national parks run summer and holiday programmes for parks visitors. They are an excellent way of learning more about the park and usually consist of guided walks and other outdoor activities, talks and slide or film shows. Details of these programmes can be obtained from park headquarters.
Altitude is given for the starting and finishing point of each section, as well as for any major ascent or descent. This is an important indication of the difficulty of the tramping – obviously steep climbs require more energy and time. Generally, as a rough guide only, an average tramping party takes about an hour to climb 300m and about half an hour to descend 300m.
The brief tramping track and route guides in pamphlets and publications are designed to be used with topographical maps, and it is essential that maps are always carried. Consult maps regularly when tramping or hiking and learn to read them. In more difficult country carry and know how to use a compass. Details of the relevant maps for each national park are in the information section of each track. The Department of Survey and Land Information produce and sell maps in New Zealand, and maps are also available from all New Zealand National Park headquarters and DOC visitor centres.
Grading System Tracks & Routes
All New Zealand tracks and routes, both short and long, are graded according to their condition. This is judged according to the nature of the track surface, gradient, clarity of track or route, and the presence or absence of bridges. This grading system is intended to give only one indication of the likely difficulty of a trip and must be considered alongside other factors, such as the ascents and descents encountered. The grades are:
True Left & True Right
The terms “true left” and “true right” are a standard language used by trampers to avoid confusion when talking about the different sides of a river or stream. The true left or right of a river is established by looking downstream.
Shelter & Hut Systems National Parks
One of the stamps of the New Zealand national park system is the extensive network of huts in each park. Huts range from large multi-room huts to small rudimentary bivvies with two bunks and no facilities. The basic information about each hut is given in brackets in the track and route guides. The abbreviations indicate the authority in control of the hut, in most cases the relevant New Zealand National Park. In some instances, clubs operate thus in national parks, and outside park boundaries, they are normally owned by the Department of Conservation (DOC). The number of bunks is listed, as well as the cooking or heating facility present in the hut. As the forest around many huts is becoming depleted of firewood, and there may not be any cooking facility at all, cooking stoves should be carried.
All backcountry huts in New Zealand national parks operate on a “first come, first served” basis, with no bookings, except for New Zealand Great Walks. During holiday periods huts are often full and at these times it is wise to carry a tent. All national parks charge a fee to stay in their huts, and this is payable at all DOC headquarters, DOC visitor Centres and ranger stations, or to the warden of the hut if one is in residence. When using New Zealand national park huts remember to:
record your progress and intentions in the hut book
if there is a wood stove or open fire always leave a supply of dry kindling and firewood
if fuel is provided ( ie wood, coal, gas) use it sparingly
ensure the hut is dry, clean and tidy while there and before leaving
to prevent rusting, leave all billies, pans and buckets clean and upside down
ensure that fireplaces and stoves are swept and clean before leaving
check that all windows and doors are securely shut before leaving
In some New Zealand National Parks there are rock bivvies which be used, normally overhanging boulders or cliffs that provide shelter from the weather, and are often quite comfortable and characterful.
It is important when using tramping or hiking publications and pamphlets always to allow for the possibility of seasonal, natural and man-made changes to tracks under snow. If the route guide states that alpine experience and equipment are necessary this means that ice axe, crampons and rope should be carried and that trampers or hikers should have the experience and skill to use them. Flooding, common in New Zealand often makes tracks and routes temporarily difficult or impassable. It also causes washouts, landslides and the destruction of bridges, and along with windthrow and avalanche damage can create drastic changes to backcountry tracks and routes. Upgrading and modification of tracks, bridges and huts are ongoing in New Zealand National Parks and this should always be remembered when tramping or hiking.