Long-time walker, first time hiker

Anonymous DOC Blogger —  26/12/2020 — 4 Comments

Some people have an ‘appreciate from afar’ approach to nature. But this year, with all the encouragement for New Zealanders to explore Aotearoa, more of us nature newbies are biting the bullet and heading out.

By Anonymous DOC Blogger

An adventurer taking a time out on a trip. This is not me, but it could be. 📷: DOC✏️: annotation author’s own

It’s not that I don’t walk. I do. I walk home from work, I go on walks around my city, I spend most Sundays meandering along the waterfront stopping to pat strangers’ dogs. I’m reasonably adept at all those.

But there’s walking, and then there’s walking.

Earlier this year in Aotearoa, COVID-necessitated lockdowns prompted a new appreciation for the great outdoors.

My job pertains to nature, but I’m one of the office-bound ones, not the rangers with the amazing work stories, or scientists with the awesome field innovations. A good day for me is when Outlook loads all of the folders.

But as the great Joni Mitchell prophesises, you don’t know what you got til it’s gone.

Locked down in my very urban, very concrete abode, I missed nature a lot.

Being able to live stream the Northern Royal Albatross colony helped, and so did the really awesome nature soundscapes that went out on our social media, but still, I found myself jonesing for muddy tracks, panoramic views and the opportunity to scold a kea for trying to steal my stuff.

Kea reaching for a hiker’s shoelace 📷: Andrew Walmsley ✏️: annotation author’s own

Which is weird, because as I say, how could you miss something you’d never had?

But I missed the idea of it.

I pictured myself exploring Aotearoa’s Great Walks, Day Hikes, Short Walks and the little-known gems in between. Skilfully climbing hills and popping selfies. Simultaneously.

I’ve been out adventuring in nature before (and was inspired to write about periods in nature as a result,) but I’ve always stayed quite close to home and never done a big big trip.

Luckily, among my colleagues there are a number of outdoor experts, many of whom must enjoy the idea of my continued existence on this planet because they gave me a lot of advice for staying safe on Public Conservation Land.

Or, more likely, they just don’t want anyone getting injured in nature.

Both things can be true at the same time, right?

The view from Godley Head 📷 and ✏️: author’s own

Book sharp

I watched with keenness when bookable huts and campsites opened up and made my summer plan accordingly. Not all of our facilities are bookable, and many of the ones that are get snapped up very quickly.

But the Bookings page on our website saw me right.

Hiking/tramping/trekking had never been my world, but when we went down to level 2 and this option was back on my weekend menu, I was raring to go.

Move over Bear Grylls, there was a new explorer in town.


The first rule for planning an adventure in nature isn’t to ensure you have snacks (although that’s key) and to tell someone where you’re going (definitely do that too). Those things come later.

The first thing is to know your limits.

I’m a newbie adventurer. There’s no way in 2020 hell that I should be anywhere near a track that is categorised as Expert, Advanced, or Intermediate. I simply don’t have the experience or the fitness.

Two hikers on the Tongariro Northern Circuit Track, which is an Intermediate level track, AKA not for the likes of me 📷: Daniel Deans, DOC✏️: annotation author’s own

The kinds of walks I’m suited to right now are categorised on our website under Easy or Easiest.

Luckily that’s a filter I can apply.

Adventurers make their own decisions about where they’re at, after all, no one knows your abilities better than you; but you need to be honest with yourself.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Most of all, don’t think that because someone else shared an amazing shot on Instagram of them nailing a difficult alpine ridgeline track, it’s all a breeze. Because it’s definitely not, as search and rescue callouts prove.

Plan well. Plan honest. And refer to our handy ranking guide for clarity. 


My next new hurdle was the not-so-simple matter of gear. Because of course, I had none.

Undeterred, I set about borrowing from all and sundry.

Friends I hadn’t spoken to in years (let alone kept in touch with during lockdown, when my social circles rapidly shrunk to the few people I could still talk to for hours despite a clear lack of anything to say) got a Facebook message from me, asking for various items.

Hiking pack flatlay 📷: DOC✏️: annotation author’s own

There are plenty of resources on our website, as well as packing guides and listicles.

Me, I love a list. I have lists for everything – groceries, chores, potential dog names (I don’t have a dog),  … you name it, I’ll list it.

There are lots of tools to help you make your packing list for heading out on a hike.

Other need to know info

You can only have dogs in some places, your drone needs a permit on public conservation land or near marine mammals, and fires are pretty strictly regulated so check before you light.

The weather is fickle – sometimes friend and sometimes foe, so make sure you check it; pack more food than you need in case of emergency, and having a distress beacon can save your life.

Plus, the uncomfortable truth of this outdoor business is that I might have to carry my business.

It’s important to make use of the loo when there is one, and if there isn’t, dig a hole well away from people and water, or bag it up.

The options are spelled out

L: toilets in the bush, R: a path near a stream 📷: DOC✏️: annotation author’s own

The best outdoor tip I’ve received is not necessarily the most important (because obviously they’re all important) but it’s the one I never would have thought of on my own: take a real map.

I’m very used to relying on my phone, but phones can die, so I’ll be taking a paper map as a backup. Local Visitor Centres are used to helping with map quests.

Accept your newness

If you’re new to outdoor adventure, or it’s been a while, there’s no shame in that. You can still get your adventure on as long as you stay safe. Be new, not a moron.

Read up on what you need to know and take sensible precautions.

A seasoned tramper cautioned me about ‘bush feet’ (which apparently is not a fungal infection, even though it sounds like it).

I’ll let her explain:

“Even if it’s a good track, new trampers are a lot slower than they think they will be because they don’t have the acquired reflexes to quickly choose where to put their feet on rougher terrain. I call it ‘bush feet’. A tip for newbies (and for when you’re getting tired) is to follow a more experienced person and walk in their footsteps. Makes it much easier on the brain and feet for thinking about where to go.”

Experienced DOC hiker

Immediately after getting all of this advice, I felt very overwhelmed and had to go and scroll through our Instagram to reinvigorate myself vis a vis the whole nature situation.

And now that I have made my lists and done my bookings and scaled my expectations, here’s where I landed:

  • Be prepared
  • Understand the weather, it can change fast.
  • Pack warm clothes and extra food
  • Share my plans and take a distress beacon
  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Give wildlife space
  • Follow the rules about fire

Start here

My ultimate advice is to go to the DOC website www.doc.govt.nz for good information about tracks, preparedness and places to go.

There’s heaps of information to be ferreted out on our site (I’m so sorry colleagues, but kiwi’d out doesn’t have the same ring) and if you’re a newbie like me, you simply must start on the what you need to know for summer page.

Happy adventuring.

Stay safe.

Trident Summit in Kahurangi National Park 📷: Crystal Brindle, DOC ✏️: annotation author’s own


4 responses to Long-time walker, first time hiker


    Thank you so much for sharing this! This piece is awesome. Following up the links and tips now. Looking forward to starting Easy level walks next week.


    Can you let me know how much the gear costs?

    I have been putting off a trail because of the upfront cost. But covid has made me realize the importance of outdoors and want to finally complete it.

    Any idea regarding the gear cost?

    I have to start from scratch since I have never covered a trail before.


      Hi Manish. Join a tramping club and very likely some kind people will lend you some of the gear reducing the cost. It doesn’t need to be very costly for a start, and it is best to go with others as there is a LOT to learn.
      For starters you’ll need a good pack, sleeping bag, a good rain coat and warm, light clothing. Not cotton! You don’t need big heavy boots. Running shoes are fine for a start so long as they’re not too tight fitting – your feet swell when you walk.
      Get out there, safely, and have fun!

    Peter Hallinan 26/12/2020 at 9:42 pm

    Upon hearing a friend’s witty joke, Oscar Wilde is reputed to have said something like, “That’s really funny… I wish I’d said that!” To which his friend is said to have replied, “Don’t worry, Oscar, you will…”

    Which is how I felt on reading this blog – thanks for articulating my own feelings so well, Anonymous 🙂

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