Tips for Walking and Hiking in New Zealand
You might have heard, but hiking is kind of a big deal in New Zealand. It’s the way to soak in the scenery and even get to many of the country’s iconic natural attractions. Plus, hiking will help you save a ton of your precious travel budget, as almost all hiking trails are free to walk. But what do you need to know about hiking in New Zealand? Find out the must-know hiking tips for New Zealand in the list below. Trust us, by the end of your trip, you’ll be a seasoned hiker!
1. Hiking in New Zealand is Ideal for Beginners
The term “hiking” might invoke visions of route-finding and scrambling over tough terrain, but that’s rarely the case for hiking in New Zealand. The Department of Conservation (DOC) manages more than 1,000 walking trails across the country, each following a standard of regular signposts stating how long the trail is, as well as well-maintained gravel, dirt or boardwalk trails where it’s almost impossible to get lost. Only when you get to the more “backcountry” hikes do you find poles to mark routes where no trail exists. But for beginners, it’s unlikely that you’ll get that far – there are much more short walks in New Zealand than there are long walks and multi-day hikes.
2. Stick to the Trails – Only Follow the Orange Arrows if There are Any
Relating to the point above, DOC has made it so easy for hikers that it’s virtually impossible to get lost if you stick to the trails. Most trails are gravel or well-trodden so it’s clear where you need to go. However, on occasion, you may find poles or orange arrows to keep you on the trail if it gets harder to follow. We must stress: only follow the orange arrows; not the blue, pink or whatever other coloured arrows you find. Other coloured arrows or tape are intended for DOC workers to find pest traps, for example, which will take you off track.
3. Wear the Right Clothing
No; leave those jeans at home! It’s important to wear the right clothing when hiking mainly because the weather in New Zealand is so changeable. Quick-dry hiking pants, thermal layers, a rain jacket and waterproof hiking shoes/boots are the bare minimum for a hike in New Zealand. Many travellers find that they live in this attire for their entire trip around New Zealand. Check out New Zealand Packing List: What to Pack for New Zealand for more recommendations.
4. Take the Right Gear
Not only should you wear proper hiking clothes but you should also take the right gear. On a walk that’s more than an hour, you should take a day pack with enough water to sustain you for the duration of your hike (and a little extra), snacks (and lunch for longer hikes), extra layers, a mini first-aid kit, your phone and/or camera and a waterproof backpack cover to keep it all dry in case it rains. Multi-day hikes require a whole new level of preparation, so head over to How to Prepare for a Great Walk in New Zealand for packing tips.
5. Check the Weather
Although we have mentioned that the weather can change quickly while you’re out hiking in New Zealand, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t check the forecast before heading out. If it’s forecast for heavy rain all day or rain/snow/gales on any hikes you might be planning in an alpine region, then it’s probably best to reschedule. If you’re unsure about the forecast, ask if the conditions are suitable at a DOC visitor centre.
6. Share Your Intensions for Longer Hikes
Speaking of DOC visitor centres, these are also good spots to share your intentions before heading out on full-day hikes or multi-day hikes. They tend to have intentions forms to complete, so they know to call for help if you don’t return at your expected time and/or date. If there isn’t a DOC visitor centre, then you can inform your accommodation or even a trusted friend or family member. Find out more in our guide to Outdoor Safety When Hiking in New Zealand.
7. Multi-Day Hiking Can Be Expensive
While hiking can be a free way to experience New Zealand’s natural beauty, multi-day hiking often includes a few costs – some rather expensive. Multi-day hiking trails in New Zealand have huts to stay in, most costing around NZ$15 per person but huts along the New Zealand Great Walks cost up to a whopping NZ$110 per person! While taking a tent can be cheaper (and free along trails except for the Great Walks), campsites still have a fee from NZ$5-$32 per person. As many multi-day hikes are one-way, you are likely to also need to factor in transport costs to the start/end of the trail. Check out Multi-Day Backpacking Trips in New Zealand: A Complete Guide for more typically prices.
8. Take the DOC Timings with a Grain of Salt
As mentioned, the DOC puts up signs on their hiking trails to show how long the trail takes to walk, as well as signs along the trail to indicate how long it takes to walk the remainder of the trail. These are not always accurate. Different DOC departments take different approaches across the country, with some timings being much longer than what most people walk to take into account all fitness levels, while other timings are more accurate for faster hikers. Use the DOC timings as an indication of how long it will take, but if you’re ultra-fit, don’t be too disappointed if you finish the walk in half the time.
9. Learn the Hiking Terms
What do Kiwis call hiking? “Tramping” tends to be a term only used when referring to multi-day hiking, which is what Americans might call “backpacking”. But “backpacking” in New Zealand means people travelling on a budget and staying in hostels. If someone says “going bush” or “backcountry”, this tends to be going off-trail, most likely for hunting – not the type of hiking that tourists do. And a “flat” walk isn’t necessarily all flat, so there could be some gentle uphills on a “flat” walk. Finally, as we’ve already mentioned, “DOC” is how most call the Department of Conservation. Find out more about what they do in What is The DOC?
10. Know Your Trail Etiquette
To not offend your fellow hikers and keep the environment clean, be aware of the trail etiquette for hiking in New Zealand. Of course, littering is an absolute no-no! It’s customary to say hello to walkers that you pass, as well as stand aside and let fast walkers pass who are behind you. If you’re a fast walker and the group ahead doesn’t let you pass, it’s likely they haven’t heard you approaching so politely ask if you can pass and say “thank you” to anyone that does.