Travelling to New Zealand any time soon? Already live here and wanting to learn more about the New Zealand outdoor activities? You have come to the right place! This post will give you a bit of a heads up about what goes on with mother nature in the Land of the Long White Cloud and is written by someone who knows the great outdoors NZ better than anyone I know. I hope you find the information valuable and if not, maybe an entertaining read.
From the outdoor NZ adventurer himself…
Here is Evan McKenzie (Para-glider, back country skier mountaineer, marathon runner and outdoor activities enthusiast).
Travelling to New Zealand: Know what to expect in the outdoors: Take 1:
Travelling to New Zealand is one of the best possible things you can do but if you’re exploring the outdoors it pays to be prepared. Here’s a typical situation you could find yourself in, even if you’re a local!
It’s a sunny June afternoon in the mountains of NZ. You follow what looks like a track and after an hour of walking you cross a scree slope that looks like it belongs on the front page of ‘climber’ magazine. You’re buddy in front suddenly falls head over heels in a less than romantic way and punctures his/her leg on the sharp rocks. Despite some blood and a few profanities he/she is ok, but unable to walk. The sun is getting low, you went full snack-girl on your emergency bag of peanuts earlier and the first aid kit you brought from the dairy only has enough plasters for a few papercuts.
At this time you’re probably like me and wishing you went for romance option B with Pino and Brie back at camp!
It’s only a 3 hour day walk right!?
I’ll only eat half of my chocolate bar (yeah right).
Miles knows where he’s going, so I don’t need to!
It’s a beautiful sunny day. What could go wrong!
Ok, enough of the cringey cliché’s. But honestly, I’m sure we’ve all been there and if you’re travelling to New Zealand it’s quite possible you could find yourself in this situation.
I’m Evan, Lee-Ann’s loving brother – or more commonly known as brave (brother slave). Endless cups of tea, chocolate and the odd piece of writing dribble… that’s me. But no, I, like Lee-Ann, love travelling and the outdoors. The only difference between us really, despite both having the love of being free, is that one of us does a little more planning and pretends to not get lost, while the other does get lost!
Jokes aside, I’m writing this to give you some education in your pursuits of being free – perhaps like me, with Lee!
If you’re travelling to New Zealand there is one thing you need to know: The outdoors of New Zealand have no place for naivety. If you’re a local no doubt you’ve heard it before. It really is this simple, so if you can learn one thing from this post, let it be this;
Plan for the worst, hope for the best!
Firstly, congratulations for travelling to New Zealand and taking the step to get into the outdoors! I can confidently say from my own travels across Canada and America, that there’s simply no place that compares. Sure, the weather can change 4 seasons in a day and there’s no gondola to every peak, but you do have unlimited access to different ecosystems, terrain and environments all in a small area, with limited competition – it’s a wonder we Kiwi’s aren’t all hermits living in the bush!
Surf and ski, Hike and climb, or skydive and kayak all in the same day, everyday of the year if you choose! (more on that in another post!), you’re options really are limitless when it comes to New Zealand adventure, however I always have the same approach to planning and gear selection.
So you’re a local looking for advice or travelling to New Zealand and taking the next step to get some more information, great! What ever your reasons, I’ll digress into the following over a two part blog series. If you guys like it, I may even write more! Here are the topics that will be covered;
New Zealand in general (Post 1)
- Terrain & Scale
New Zealand Specific (Post 2)
Planning for the worst;
- Emergency response
- Gear selection
Travelling to New Zealand? You need to understand the WEATHER!
If you’re travelling to New Zealand I can imagine by now you’ve probably already been preached (almost religiously) to about the New Zealand weather. Is it really true though? Well if you’re talking about sheep falling from the sky, then no.
Sunny at 8, rain by 10, snow by noon. I can personally attest to this statement (not the sheep). The weather in NZ certainly is one word;
I’ve ski toured, climbed and paraglided all over the Rockies, but I am continually surprised by the weather here.
New Zealand weather is undoubtedly the biggest factor in the outdoors. Believe it or not, the majority of fatalities associated in the outdoors are not from their injuries – it’s from…
The NZ weather gods aren’t kind, but you can do a few things;
Get frequent weather updates;
You’re wasting your time with long range forecasts in NZ! I can not reinforce this enough. When Lee worked at the Abel Tasman (one of the best National Parks in New Zealand, click here to view more about this pristine paradise) she was constantly encouraging people not to cancel their kayak or boat tours because of the 10 day weather forecast! I typically only look as far out as 5 days! Most people only check metservice, and while this is good I recommend getting a basic isobar weather understanding and check multiple sources like the following;
Make sure to not only check the local towns/regions, but also the nearest National parks for the most detailed forecast.
Sure, you may not need that extra jacket now, but what if it drops 15 degrees overnight and starts to rain? I’m not meaning for you to take everything and the kitchen sink! Be practicable about it.
- Carry an extra layer, spare socks and a waterproof/windproof jacket
- Carry extra food and water
- A good first aid kit
- Emergency blankets/ some form of shelter
Of course, nothing is better than actually deciding on the day, and if you are prepared, then go for it! I’ve had many days where I have decided to go, despite the forecast and had brilliant weather!
The micro climates of NZ are impossible to get right!
TERRAIN AND TRAILS
One size does NOT fit all!
Hopefully by now you’ve got an idea, perhaps from Lee about many of the amazing destinations NZ has to offer!
Tropical beaches, yes. Native rainforests? Sure. Lord of the rings mountains? Hell yes! If you’re a local or a tourist looking for New Zealand travel ideas you will love her post about 15 awesome things to do in New Zealand, click here to view!
We really are fortunate here to have so many different environments to play in. However, it can be a little misleading.
You’d think that in such a small country it would be pretty easy to get around. Unfortunately not! The topography and limited roading infrastructure here can make for some long trips, not just on the road.
In many circumstances you can hike in and over a ridge and be hours, or even days away from civilisation, even more so if you take the wrong path into a valley.
That leads me to our wonderful trail system! Hopefully you’ve already had a chance to experience one of our now Ten great walks, they really are that – great! Lee has written about a couple of these already, check her post about the Heaphy Track one of the most varied trails in NZ by clicking here.
Although the National Parks are incredible attractions and provide some of the easiest ways to access NZ outdoors they can be a little misleading, especially by setting such a high standard – the first part of Abel Tasman is pretty much Wheelchair accessible!
You can find the great walks here ;
This is certainly not the case with the rest of them! The Department Of Conservation (DOC) do an outstanding job in managing our alpine outdoors environment here. Think Parks Canada, but with much less resources! With limited staff/funding and the sheer number of trails, it unfortunately leaves many of our trail systems in a little disrepair.
Some have a simple lack of signage, you may have one at the start, and one at camp to announce you can remove your heavy backpack at last!
Some have large forest regrowth that you need to rhinoceros your way through.
Many of the tracks act as water culverts, and as such can be very wet/muddy and deep.
Some trails even have livestock in the area, which in turn create their own trails to the best tasting grass – you wouldn’t believe how many people get lost following one of these!
You can get a mix, or all of these factors on one trail, over some pretty gnarly terrain.
The DOC website is an amazing wealth of knowledge, and very easy to use to plan your next walk!
I love the Rockie mountains. For a trained eye, even the steepest of peaks has an easy way up. Generally it’s a death cliff on one side, but a table top walk on the other.
The southern alps don’t have that luxury! They are typically more triangle shaped, with long ridge lines and deep valley systems. These mountains can also consist of all three, forest, subalpine and alpine terrain with elevation gains upwards of 2000m in a single walk. Of course, stepping off the trail can be a disaster, thick undergrowth and a cliff undoubtedly await for the unwary.
New Zealand terrain can get you in some pristine environments, however it can also be pretty intimidating, and equally responsible for exposure.
Travelling to New Zealand: Planning Advice;
You don’t however have to be an orienteering guru to navigate NZ. It just takes a little planning and a proactive approach. I recommend and do the following;
- Carry the maps, or brochures explaining the trails system and area
- Tell someone. Leave specific details to people on where you are going, and timeframe
- Know the limits of yourself and others
- Get the current weather forecast
- Be prepared to spend a night out (have the right camping gear NZ requires)
- Carry the needed emergency equipment. Personal locator beacons (PLB), a good first aid kit
- Carry a GPS, and know how to use it. I recommend the app view ranger, click here to view! You can download the topographic maps beforehand!
The Mountain safety council of NZ are a great resource if you want to keep it simple.
DOC also have an invaluable, simple planning resource which links to the Mountainsafety resource tools for planning, day walks, multiday hikes, mountain biking and much more. You can find it here;
Ok! So you’ve now got a bit of an idea on what to expect, great! I haven’t even told you about the bears yet! Err, beers I mean.
Sure, the weather and terrain at times can have you for breakfast, but with a little planning and the right gear you can show it who’s boss and get free and lost in the good sense!
Next time I’ll delve into a few more specifics on the gear and procedures you should be thinking about. I’ll talk about the outdoor equipment NZ requires that I carry, and that has personally saved my life – a little thing made of aluminium foil (not to cook a roast). I’ll also talk about typical scenarios you should be thinking about, and how to deal with them, so please tune in for the next post!
Thanks for reading, enjoy your adventure!
Evan is a paraglider, backcountry skier, trail runner and mountaineer who seeks New Zealand adventure activities at any opportunity he can get. If you’re keen to learn more from him you can contact him via his email address: firstname.lastname@example.org or instagram @ev_mckenzie.