5 Reasons Why Kiwis Should Explore Their Backyard

Department of Conservation —  10/07/2020

By Ashlyn Oswalt

Our world we live in has changed so much over the last few months, with international travel restrictions and overseas backyards unwillingly displaying their ‘temporary closed’ signs, we kiwis are in a bit of a travel pickle. What do we do now!? Where do we go for our amazing adventures?!… Well, here are 5 reasons why Kiwis should explore their backyards, now more than ever, in a guest blog entry from Ashlyn Oswalt.

Tableland Circuit.
📷: Ashlyn Oswalt

The itch to travel far and wide must be a component of Kiwi blood. The New Zealanders I have met have collectively been to all ends of the earth and back.

As someone who moved to New Zealand three years ago from a country with a low international travel rate, this desire to jet-set and explore is truly inspirational. However, I can say first-hand that New Zealand is definitely a country worth exploring, too, far and wide.

I landed in New Zealand knowing little about the country, other than it was supposedly blessed with other-worldly beauty and the sheep population outnumbered people. I was outdoorsy back home and had become accustomed to having the Colorado Rockies at my doorstep. My partner, a Kiwi, reassured me that there were outdoor adventures to be had, though he wasn’t sure where exactly as his exploration of the country was limited. When I arrived, I was shocked by how drastically the landscape could change in short drives. I was fascinated, though somewhat flummoxed by my first drive from Christchurch to Hokitika. I couldn’t believe I’d reached the other side of the country before lunch and had traversed the Southern Alps to do so.

Central Christchurch and distant Southern Alps.
📷: Ian McHenry

To say New Zealanders are lucky to be brought up in a stunning outdoor goldmine is an understatement. The quick pace of scenery changes, the mind-blowing vistas, and the fairy tale like native bush is enough to declare New Zealand truly breathtaking. As I’ve explored more of New Zealand, I’ve discovered so much more beauty than the famed shots you see overdone on Instagram (I’m looking at you, Roys Peak). No, the beauty of New Zealand is what locals get to treasure, the secrets that are only unlocked with time. It’s the places you have to dig around Facebook groups, forums, or old topo maps to find, or make friends with your local DOC ranger to learn. They are the kind of treasures you discover on a long weekend, bored and wanting to go for a drive. It’s the beauty you find when you’re not in a hurry and don’t have an agenda because this is your home and there is no flight out you need to catch. 

So, New Zealanders, I encourage you to capture this beauty and savour the lusciousness of time, location, and desire to travel. But instead of hopping on a plane, explore your backyard. Here are five reasons why. 

1. Accessibility

Tourists travel hundreds of kilometres and spend thousands of dollars to enjoy the sights at our doorstep. Exploring your own backyard, or a location a few hours away can be all the reminder you need that New Zealand is a special place. Deciding between a coastal walk or a multi-day mountain tramp is a matter of a few hours drive in some cases, keeping options open for exploration. Not to mention, exploring your own country instead of jet setting somewhere further keeps your carbon footprint down and conscious a little cleaner. You’ll hardly feel like you’re compromising!

Great Barrier Island. New Zealand.
📷: DOC

2. More Than Great Walks

When I moved to New Zealand, I assumed my partner and I would tick off every Great Walk in two years, tops. We’ve completed a grand total of two so far and have loose plans for more, but the walks that have really blown me away haven’t been “great”. We enjoy off-the-beaten-track walks, often take our dog, and usually try to follow the sun, so we tend to go to much more obscure places. National Parks are off limits to dogs, so we pour our energy and time leading up to a weekend away searching for areas that will provide challenging walks for the three of us, with plenty of views and visual rewards.

Mt. Fyffe Summit.
📷: Ashlyn Oswalt

Our efforts have paid off nicely, having been spoiled with weekends away at the Wharfedale Hut, breathtaking views along Mt. Fyffe, and testing our physical limits on the Tableland Circuit (albeit without the doggo). Although finding these walks based on our limiting criteria can sometimes be challenging, we find that a little extra effort into researching our trips pays off big with a lack of crowds, unrivalled views, and a little more excitement on the track. 

3. Shoulder Season

Shoulder season is by far the best season for locals. The crowds are starting to dwindle and the weather is still marginally good enough to enjoy some nights tenting or in huts. As much as I look forward to warm summer days tramping and stargazing at camp, I really love the quieter season when there are less travellers on the road and at the trailhead. Being locals means we’re lucky enough to shoot away for a weekend whenever the weather suits. 

4. Huts

The DOC hut system is a unique and ingenious way to explore the outdoors. Nestled all around the country, these huts vary in age, structure, and price (from free – $30+/night) and are all available for public use. Some, such as the Great Walk Huts need to be booked and paid for in advance, with proof of purchase issued to accompany you on your journey. However, the real hidden gems are the first come/first served huts.

Gold Creek Hut in the snow.
📷: Peter Daly

Pour through DoC’s list of huts in the area you want to explore next and pick your destination. This can often be a fun alternative to simply picking an interesting tramping route. Some huts are worth the grueling journey, providing stunning views, cosy wood burning stoves, and true feelings of wilderness, while others are quick, simple walks that make enjoying a night camping with children or grandparents a piece of cake. 

5. Finally Tick-off Those New Zealand Bucket list Items

If I asked you right now what in New Zealand you’d like to see, you could probably rattle off a few places. Maybe you’d like to check out the Moeraki Boulders, finally head to Stewart Island, or tackle Mt Taranaki. If you’re looking for your next walk, head to DoC’s walking and tramping page to find the best place for you. Search by region, duration, and difficulty, and filter for dog friendly, and buggy/wheelchair accessibility. From there, discover the walks that’ll suit your party the most and bring you closest to destinations you’re excited to explore. 

Syme Hut – Mount Taranaki.
📷: Logan Vickers

The beauty of New Zealand can be found far and wide. From the stunning beaches to awe-inspiring mountains, New Zealand’s dramatic landscapes can leave even the hard-to-impress slack jawed. The elusiveness of far away places can be satiated with a little bit of wanderlust for your own backyard. Enjoy the beauty New Zealand has to offer and book the trip – right here.

Outdoor Safety Code

If you’re planning on exploring New Zealand nature here are 5 essential things to do before you head-out, to ensure you have a great trip and make it home: Outdoor Safety Code

2 responses to 5 Reasons Why Kiwis Should Explore Their Backyard

    Casey Spearin 29/07/2020 at 10:06 am

    Great article!
    Hey that 3rd image in the piece, looking out at Great Barrier Island, any idea who took it and from what hut? I’ve absolutely convinced myself that those are my parents in the picture.


    Beautifully written, Ashlyn. I have done lots of tramping in our 4 biggest islands but am now halted by MS but what wonderful memories! I urge everyone to explore NZ’s outdoor natural world.