New Zealand winter hiking tips

Department of Conservation —  13/07/2017

 “The mountain’s not going anywhere. If I play it safe today I can always come back and try again and again” – Sorrel, Ranger, Egmont National Park Visitor Centre

Exploring New Zealand’s winter wilderness is an experience like no other. You’ll probably have the place to yourself, and be able to explore miles of track without seeing another soul. Plus, you’ll be exploring breathtaking landscapes.

Hookey Valley, Hooker River anf Mt Cook, with Hooker Valley track winding up it

Hooker Valley. Photo: David Sagar

Winter hiking (or tramping as we call it in New Zealand) does come with some challenges, as Mountain Safety Council‘s CEO Mike Daisley points out:

“New Zealand’s known for very changeable and often very localised weather changes. People heading outdoors over winter need to prepare for the worst, take extra clothing layers and spare food. If you get caught out and have an ‘unexpected night out’ you’ll get very cold” said Daisley.

To help you get the most out of your winter adventure, follow these five questions:

1. Which way will you go?

Plan your trip

Seek local knowledge and plan the route you will take and the amount of time it is likely to take.

A great place to start is the DOC Visitor Centre closest to where you want to explore. DOC rangers have in-depth local knowledge to help you plan your activity.

If you can’t visit them in person, give them a call or flick them an email.

Ranger tips:

“Always talk to the Visitor Centre staff before heading out into the backcountry. They receive feedback from other trampers about track conditions and can warn you of any issues on the track (i.e. snow conditions, firewood supply, windfall etc.)” – the team at Nelson Lakes Visitor Centre

“Haste makes waste – if it’s a long trek, start your day early to ensure there’s enough daylight hours to complete your trip safely” – Sonya, Ranger, Tititea/Mt Aspiring National Park Visitor Centre

Carrying a PLB* (or hiring one from the local DOC Visitor Centre) can be a life-saver – especially during the winter season” – Rossi and Margaret, Rangers, Paparoa National Park Visitor Centre

*PLB = Personal Locator Beacon

Loic Lassuser 2

Photo: Loic Lassueur

2. How will help find you?

Tell someone your plans

And we don’t mean by posting photos on social media.

Tell someone where you’re going and when they should expect you back. Use the Outdoors Intentions process to leave information with someone you trust.

Even with the best preparation, things can still go wrong.

“Remember, if nobody knows you’re in trouble, you could be waiting a long time for help to arrive. You need to let someone you trust know where you are going and when to expect you back. That way, if something goes wrong, there is someone who can raise the alarm.

If you’ve followed the Outdoor Safety Code you’ll be in a better position to survive the night if something does happen, but in most cases ‘unexpected nights out’ are completely avoidable” – Mike Daisley, Mountain Safety Council

Video – Tell Someone

Mt Hut, Canterbury. JoannaPedzich-Opola

Mt Hut, Canterbury. Photo: Joanna Pedzich-Opola

3. What’s the weather doing?

Be aware of the weather

New Zealand’s weather is notoriously changeable, often being described as having “four seasons in one day”. Check the rural and mountain forecasts where possible and expect weather changes. You should always take a jacket regardless of the weather or length of your trip.

Looking down Wakefield Drive during the snow strom two weekends ago

Aoraki Mount Cook Village during a snow storm. Photo: David Sagar

Ranger tips:

“Always check the avalanche forecast and familiarise yourself with the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES) on our website” – the team at Nelson Lakes Visitor Centre

“When you are caught in a white-out/blizzard on the alpine ridges, make sure you have the skills/knowledge to know where to go safely. Where you think the track is might in that case not necessarily be the safest place to walk” Karin – Ranger, Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre

“Make sure to pack your tramping gear into a thick waterproof plastic pack liner inside your pack, as well as carrying a good waterproof pack cover.  There is nothing worse than arriving at your hut or campsite to find a wet sleeping bag and clothes!” – Marion, Ranger, Nelson Visitor Centre

VIDEO – Be Aware Of The Weather

The weather you’re preparing for will depend on you destination. Our Rakiura/Stewart Island rangers have some insightful tips for visiting their neck of the woods:

  • “Watch out for the mud” – Steve, Ranger, Rakiura/Stewart Island
  • “It’s Stewart Island, it is going to rain” – George, Ranger, Rakiura/Stewart Island
  • “We are really close to Antarctica!- be prepared for wet, wild & stormy conditions at all times- if it’s anything better consider it a bonus” – Di, Ranger, Rakiura Visitor Centre
Kerry Adams

Photo: Kerry Adams

4. Are you feeling up to it?

Know your limits

Always make sure your trip will be within your physical limits and experience level.

New Zealand has lots of different types of tracks – from high quality easy paths with clear track markers to very challenging routes with no track or markings. Before you go, make sure you’ve selected a walk/hike that’s suitable for you and your group.

Fantham's Peak. Egmont National Park

Fantham’s Peak, Egmont National Park

Ranger tips:

It’s okay to turn around – it’s as much about the journey as the destination” Sophie, Ranger, Tititea/Mt Aspiring National Park Visitor Centre

“I often plan my winter hiking trips around huts not too far apart” – Rossi and Margaret, Rangers, Paparoa National Park Visitor Centre

VIDEO – Know your limits

5. Got the right gear?

Take sufficient supplies. Having the right gear and supplies will be the difference between having an ordeal, and having an adventure.

Ranger tips:

Chillin at Red Tarns

Photo: David Sagar

“Going on a winter tramping trip, I make sure to take extra food and clothing.
You need to keep warm and refuel your body burning more calories during those
colder temperatures” – Rossi and Margaret, Rangers, Paparoa National Park Visitor Centre

“Ensure you have a good torch with spare batteries” – Justin, Works Officer, Rakiura/Stewart Island

Take newspaper to light the fire – rather than rip pages from the hut book!
Most backcountry huts have fire places, but don’t assume there will be newspaper” – Helen, Ranger, Arthur’s Pass National Park Visitor Centre

Always have a map as cell phones may not work in cold/wet conditions” – the team at Nelson Lakes Visitor Centre

VIDEO – Take sufficient supplies

Just above Red Tarns.jpg

Red Tarns. Photo: David Sagar

For more information check out Mountain Safety Council’s Get Outdoors with MSC video series, and make sure you #MakeItHome.


3 responses to New Zealand winter hiking tips


    some great sensible tips there