Is Hiking in New Zealand Safe?
The “great outdoors” was practically invented in New Zealand! Both locals and travellers alike can spend days exploring the wilderness of this country made up of diverse landscapes. However, when it’s us against the elements, we need to look after ourselves by planning and preparing for activities in the outdoors.
So is hiking in New Zealand safe? Hiking in New Zealand can be very safe as long as you know your limits, have the right hiking gear and don’t take any unnecessary risks. This guide to outdoor safety for hiking in New Zealand covers the basics of survival skills for long hikes in the New Zealand backcountry.
What is the Outdoor Safety Code?
The outdoor safety code is five simple rules to help you keep safe in the outdoors. Established by AdventureSmart, there are five different rules for adventures on land, water, boating and snow. The most appropriate code for hiking is the AdventureSmart Outdoor Safety Code for Land, which is:
- Choose the right trip for you
- Understand the weather
- Park warm clothes and extra food
- Share your plans and take ways to get help
- Take care of yourself and each other.
Check out the complete details of each step on the AdventureSmart website, which lists each rule in your own language.
How to Plan a Hike: Safety Tips
When it comes to safety tips for hiking in New Zealand, some of the most important ways to stay safe is the preparation and planning before you go.
Where Are You Going?
Obviously, you need to know where you are going to go! Do you know what route you are going to take? Do some research before you leave, such as the route information on the Department of Conservation (DoC) website or ask at a local i-SITE or DoC information centre. For backcountry hikes on unmarked tracks pick up a map and compass with you. It also helps if you know how to use them too! Also, consider if you have the right fitness level for the hike you intend to conquer.
Find out more ways to plan a hike with these 9 Tips to Prepare for a Multi-Day Hike in New Zealand.
Check the Weather
Look on the MetService website to get an idea of the weather forecast. Be prepared for any weather scenario, as the weather can change quickly in New Zealand. However, you should also consider whether it’s worth going ahead with the hike if the forecast is heavy rain, strong winds or snow. Not only can bad weather ruin the enjoyment of the trip but impact your safety.
Find out more about the typical weather by month in What is the Weather Like in New Zealand?
Tell Someone Before You Go
Tell a trusted individual your plans of where you are going, who you’re going with, what transport you’ll use, and the date you are due to return. That trusted someone needs to know what to do should you not return. They should contact you directly and the people you are with on the day you’re due to return. If they get no response about an hour later, then they should call the police at 111.
For a list of things to cover when telling your trusted someone when going on an outdoors adventure, download the Outdoors Intentions Form from the AdventureSmart website.
As a side note, it’s a good idea to have a list of important New Zealand phone numbers for your hike. Take a look at our guide, Important Contacts & Telephone Numbers for Travelling New Zealand.
What Equipment to Take on a Hike in New Zealand
Of course, it depends on how long you go and how many people are on your trip. One thing is for sure, you need sufficient supplies so pack a little bit of extra food, liquid and clothing. The biggest task will be keeping the load efficient but as light as possible so you are able to manage to carry your backpack.
New Zealand Hiking Packing List
- Shelter – make sure you book the backcountry huts or campsites. With a campsite, you’ll need a lightweight tent
- A warm sleeping bag (four seasons)
- Cooking and food preparation items. If you are taking a cooking appliance, such as a butane gas canister, make sure it is not faulty and use it outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
- First aid kit, including high-factor sunscreen
- Torch and spare batteries
- Emergency survival kit, such as a whistle, matches and pocket knife
- Hire a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), find out where from beacons.org.nz
- Food – high energy value containing proteins, fats and carbohydrates, such as cheese, bread, peanut butter, scroggin, muesli bars, chocolate and barley sugars
- Clothing – waterproof and windproof jacket, clothing made from wool, polypropylene or polar fleece. Avoid cotton.
Dabble into our outdoor packing lists, such as Camping Essentials Checklist for New Zealand, What is the Best Backpack for New Zealand?, What are the Best Hiking Boots for New Zealand? and New Zealand Packing List: What to Pack for New Zealand.
Safety Tips During the Hike
You may feel insanely organised with all the planning you have done for a hike, but there are just a few things to keep reminding yourself while on the hike:
- Discuss with others on your trip (and yourself) how you are feeling. You don’t want to continue into a situation where you will overexert yourself or do something you cannot handle
- Drink liquid frequently
- Allow time for breaks
- Don’t get too hot while moving – sweat dampens clothes and increases heat loss. That said, put layers on to keep warm enough.
How to Treat Hypothermia in the Wilderness
With all this preparation and looking after yourself during the hike, issues like hypothermia should be slim but it still pays off to know how to deal with hypothermia should it occur. Hypothermia is when the core body temperature drops to 35°C (95°F) or below. Severe cases can lead to unconsciousness or death.
Symptoms of Hypothermia
Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include deterioration of hand/eye coordination, speaking unclearly, and tripping or falling without reason.
What to Do if Someone in Your Party Has Hypothermia?
If anyone in your hiking group has the above symptoms, you need to:
- Find shelter from the wind or rain
- Replace any wet or damp clothes with dry ones
- Get them into a sleeping bag
- Give them a warm sweet drink (in cold temperatures, it’s worth taking a thermos with you on your hike)
- Place them in the recovery position
- Start CPR, mouth to mouth resuscitation if breathing stops
- Call for help.
SOS: How to Signal for Help
In most backcountry locations in New Zealand, you will not get a phone signal. If, by some miracle, you do have network coverage, call 111 in an emergency. There is also the option to hire a PLB to use in an emergency – there’s a useful guide on how to hire a PLB on New Zealand Sorted.
f you have none of those options, this is what you can do: stay where you are or move a short distance to an open space where you can be spotted more easily.
By day: Mark out SOS using rocks, sticks, logs and vegetation. Create smoke with a small fire. If you hear or see an aircraft, make big movements to catch attention.
By night: Create light with a controllable fire, torch, phone light, etc.
More Guides for Hiking Safety in New Zealand
That’s it for our introductory guide to outdoor safety when hiking in New Zealand. You can study New Zealand survival skills with the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council and read more on the subject in our guide, How to Prepare for a Great Walk.
Finally, you might be interested in the 10 Must-Know Hiking Tips for New Zealand.