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One of the charming things about New Zealand's Great Walks is the varied scenery - you can be hiking through sub-tropical beech forest one day, across sub-alpine tarns and tussock land the next and over high alpine passes after that! With such varied landscapes comes varied weather and it's essential for your safety and enjoyment that you are prepared.
Generally the weather is warmer and a bit more settled in our summer months from October to March, which coincide with the busy hiking season, but even at this time of year, it's not unusual to receive snow on the trails. The following list of clothing, equipment and food is by all means not exhaustive, but it covers some of the most important things you should consider packing.
Remember, food cannot be purchased while on any of the Great Walks, so it's important to be completely self-sufficient. Food should be lightweight, fast cooking and contain high-energy value ingredients like:
• Breakfast: grain and fruit cereal, firm high grain bread, honey, vegemite or other spreads.
• Lunch: cracker biscuits, jerky, cheese, salami, dried fruit, nuts and mixes, margarine, jam/jelly,
• Dinner: instant soup, dehydrated mashed potato, dehydrated meat, tinned fish, pasta or rice, dried vegetables or fruit, cheese or dehydrated (freeze dried) meals.
It's a good idea to take lots of water (although, drinking water is available at each hut and often along the trail), easy to access snacks, chocolate bars, biscuits, muesli bars, electrolyte rich powdered drink mixes, tea or coffee, and emergency food in case of any delays on the track.
Let's start by talking about what's best left behind! Jeans are definitely not good for hiking - you'd be surprised how many people would think otherwise. Cotton clothing and heavy wool are also not practical choices.
You will need at least one set of clothes to walk in, depending on the number of days to plan to hike for (we’d suggest one set is good for up to three days). And another set of clothing to change into at night; it’s hard to dry clothes in the huts, so take materials that dry quickly and are comfortable and warm to wear even when damp, such as merino wool.
• Socks: wool or polypropylene are best
• Under layers: top and bottom merino wool or polypropylene
• Shorts: quick dry material. It's a common sight here in New Zealand to see hikers with short shorts and polypro 'long jons' underneath
• Mid-layers: merino wool, thermal or polar fleece or other similar modern synthetic materials
• Over trousers: wind and water proof
• Extra socks, underwear, shirt or lightweight jersey
• Warm hat and gloves, sunhat and sunglasses
• Raincoat: waterproof and windproof with a hood - expect at least one rainy day and to need a change of clothes just in case of a river crossing or rainstorm. Many Kiwis choose a hiking jacket that is longer than your average jacket, so that it doesn't ride up when you're carrying a backpack and keeps your shorts dry as well.
The trick here is to resist the urge to get carried away with shiny, ‘must-have’ gadgets that all the outdoors shops do so well to market. The lighter you can travel, the more enjoyable the experience will be!
Obviously you’ll need a decent hiking backpack. Make sure that this is properly adjusted for your body and stick with a good, well-known brand. It’s the type of item that you should only have to buy once or twice in your lifetime. A waterproof liner is also a very good idea, to ensure everything stays nice and dry inside.
• Hiking boots: comfortable, reasonably waterproof, provide plenty of support and tread, and well broken in
• Sleeping bag: good quality down or hollow fill. A silk liner is also handy for extra warmth and to keep your sleeping bag clean. A sleeping bad or therma-rest is not needed if you plan on staying in a DOC hut
• If you plan on camping (rather than using the DOC huts) you’re required to bring a tent ground sheet and please be aware that gas cookers are not permitted on the Milford Track
• Drink bottle: minimum 1 litre capacity, it's important to drink regularly during the day. A bottle with a loop is handy, so that you can connect it to the outside of your pack
• Eating and cooking utensils: knife, fork, spoon, can opener (if you’re taking cans!), plate, cup, pot pan or billy, and cleaning kit. There are plenty of environmentally friendly cleaning detergents out there these days, so please remember to hike responsibly
• First aid kit: insect repellent, sunscreen, blister kits, pain relief, antiseptic cream and assorted bandages
• Survival kit: survival blanket, whistle, paper, permanent marker, bright coloured ribbon, pencil, high energy snack food
• Matches or lighter in waterproof container (a small vegemite jar or similar works well for this)
• Toiletries: soap, toothpaste, small towel. Please remember not to wash or use soap or detergents in lakes or streams
• Torch/flashlight and spare batteries
• Optional extras: camera, lightweight shoes for the hut, ear plugs for communal bunkrooms - you‘ll be sharing huts with up to 40 other hikers
It’s good practice to tell someone what your intended itinerary is before leaving on your hike. It’s also a good idea to leave a note in a hut guest book (or donate your own) with a note about where you’ve been and where you are heading to.
Always carry spare warm clothes, a spare small flashlight that you only use for emergencies, and dry matches.
If you are traveling with a guided tour, you won’t have to think about any of this, but it is still a nice idea to leave a record of your visit, and any great tips for fellow hikers.
If you’d prefer to hike with a smaller backpack, with a local guide to share their stories and knowledge of the area and with some added luxuries such as a hearty, home-cooked meal at the end of each day’s walk, check out Active Adventures for a range of New Zealand hiking tours.
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If you wish to concentrate on hiking the iconic tracks of New Zealand and like your creature comforts, we've crafted this trip just for you.
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