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I’ve been fortunate enough to see and explore some of the world’s best offerings of backcountry hiking, from the plains of the Scottish Highlands to the dramatic tops and ridgelines of South Africa, but amongst all the highlights, most of them have come from trips and hikes done in New Zealand. It’s undeniably stunning, as safe as hiking gets and if you’re willing to earn a view, then you’ll be rewarded in abundance. Exploring the ‘Land of the long white cloud’ is full of promise, with much of the country comprised of specially preserved National Parks and reserves; it really is an explorer’s playground. So, if you’re scratching your head on where your next hiking adventure is going to be, it really should be at the top of your agenda to get on a trail here in New Zealand.
One enhancing factor about enjoying the outdoors in New Zealand is how safe it is. With no potentially harmful creatures or animals, you can hike through the forests and along backcountry trails stress-free, a rare phenomenon compared to other major hiking destinations. I’ve always found the well-known and also less-renowned trails to be well marked out and never experienced any difficulties navigating. Even so, the nation supports it’s outdoors through significant funding going towards rescue helicopters and initiatives to ensure hiking is a safe hobby to partake in. So, if anything were to occur, there is an established support network there to assist, a reassuring measure to anyone taking on a challenging adventure here. However, be sure to prepare as much as you can by taking steps such as packing the right equipment and clothing and notifying someone of where you'll be going and when you're due back. For more details on how to play it safe in New Zealand Outdoors visit the New Zealand Mountain Saftey Council Website. https://www.mountainsafety.org.nz/activities/tramping-walking/
When passing through diverse landscapes of native forests, blue lakes, snowy mountain tops and deep valleys, New Zealand's landscape really is ever-changing, one minute you could be driving through glacier-cut valleys and then the next through ancient beech tree forest. Due to this, the climate is different across the country and the weather unpredictable at times. While the far north is scattered in golden sandy beaches and turquoise waters, experiencing a sub-tropical climate; the south, with its scaling fiords and high-alpine regions, gets hit regularly by winds drawn in from the south, giving it a much colder climate in comparison. The one significant factor about this stark contrast of changing landscapes and climates is that there is an incredible amount of choice to suit everyone’s taste in an adventure!
Taking on the great outdoors can be considered for many ‘a step outside the comfort zone’ so it’s essential to know your limits and where not to cross them. This is where I feel New Zealand really comes into its own – offering something for everyone because that’s what nature should be about right? The good folk at the Department of Conservation do a fantastic job of detailing routes on their website, noting difficulty, what to expect, how long it will take etc. So you can factor in that information when deciding which hike it is you want to do. Even better, local to most parks and reserves is an ‘I-site’ or ‘Information Centre’ where you’ll always find an abundance of maps as well as track information, if not, I can guarantee there will be a helpful Kiwi around who can offer you some priceless local knowledge.
So far, I bet you’re thinking, ‘this all seems too easy and too easily organizable to be true, so It must be expensive surely...’. Well, you’d be wrong. Hiking New Zealand’s backcountry is actually very reasonable, accommodation, hut passes and transport all achievable for an affordable price. For sure, if you want to take on any of New Zealand’s prestigious ‘Great 9’ walks, then you’ll be expected to pay an extra tourist levy, which is why it sometimes pays to go with a tour operator that can take care of all these potential dilemmas for you.
Spoilt for choice, New Zealand is very unique in the sense that there is a vast network of Backcountry huts, which most, are owned, operated and run by the good sorts at the Department of Conservation. We’re literally talking over 950 huts/lodges dedicated for the use of tramping and exploring meaning, just about anyone can get outdoors without necessarily being a highly experienced ‘outdoors person’. One better, this eliminates the concern of sleeping in the rain, being too cold at night, or having to carry all kinds of expensive equipment, furthermore, opening up the door for so many more people to experience New Zealand’s incredible backyard! Many of these huts cost $5-$15/night (an absolute bargain by the way) with the majority not requiring any booking in advance.
If you see yourself taking partaking in multiple hikes, you could save yourself a bit of coin by purchasing a Backcountry Hut Pass for $122 (or only $100 through YHA outlets). This gives you access to nearly all the backcountry huts in New Zealand and FREE access to many of the Great Walks in the offseason; Sweet as! Check out the DOC website and information for the planned hut you wish to stay in, as some huts contain certain amenities like pots/ pans and even cutlery, saving you carrying any unnecessary weight. Every gram counts, right?
Places to stay
Long-distance hiking can be a logistical nightmare, with accommodation, rental vehicles and track transport all becoming significant issues. Major routes don’t always run in a ‘loop’ or ‘circuit’ and often run one-way, meaning you’ll be finishing in a different location to where you began. If you haven’t planned ahead, you may need to hitch-hike to get back to your car, not exactly something to look forward to after a long multi-day hike!
Much to the relief of hikers, many companies across NZ provide logistical support for explorers in their outdoor exploits, in the form of ‘relocations’ or track transport. They offer logistical solutions to carry you from when you finished, back to the start where you have left your vehicle. It pays to know that when you finish at the other end, you have a vehicle waiting or transport back to where you started. In most locations, there are hostels, lodges or bed & breakfasts available for you to get a good night’s rest either before/after your trip. Sweet as!
As tourists, which yes, we’ve all been one, we sometimes overlook particular natural phenomenon’s because we simply don’t understand what they are or how they came to be. Local guides and tour operators possess a wealth of experience and knowledge that otherwise, you simply wouldn’t know. As much as I feel comfortable in otherwise uncomfortable surroundings while exploring the outdoors, It pays to know you’re in safe hands or for the fact you know and understand the environment around you, thus giving you a much more fulfilling experience. Not to mention they take care of all the little details you'd usually have to keep in mind all the time.