New Zealand’s famous Coast to Coast event has thousands of people cycling, kayaking, and running up one Southern Alp and down another. On the other hand, tens of thousands of people don't go to those extremes. They take the gentler option of walking. In New Zealand, if you walk carrying a pack, wear boots, and splash through rivers rather than float down them, you call yourself a tramper.
The magic of tramping is always (in the poet Kipling’s words)
Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges -
Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!
Usually you camp out overnight or several nights, bringing warmth and food and shelter to your tiny corner of the wilderness. Next morning you leave not a trace as you move on.
Although tents don’t weigh much, huts are everywhere. That is to say, “if you can keep going for one more hour, the hut is just around the corner.” Trampers’ huts range from bivvies or bivouacs, life-saving shelters high up on a pass, through shepherds’ and tramping-club huts, made years ago from sheets of corrugated iron painfully carried up by horses and people, to modern insulated lodges designed by architects and deposited on-site by helicopter.
Sometimes you cook with gas, sometimes you battle with an iron stove and a possum in the chimney, and sometimes you balance your billy on three rocks.
It’s a great feeling to experience the wilderness. Before we get too poetic, however, let's reflect that tramping itself, let alone cooking in a billy, requires skill and fitness. Skill comes with experience. Why not join a local group while you are in their area? All NZ tramping clubs welcome visitors. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have experience, as long as you seek advice and follow the rules.
What about fitness? If you're unfit and can't keep up, you’ll be unhappy. There's no such thing as being too fit for a trip, however: you’ll find such trips very enjoyable. Here are the levels of activity that tramping clubs generally agree on.
For Easy trips you need general good health, and you will enjoy walking, sometimes uphill, four or five hours a day, carrying your own gear and some party gear on tracks generally in good condition.
Moderate tramps keep you going six to ten hours a day over more interesting terrain. The leader will check you out on an easy trip before agreeing to take you on a ‘moderate’.
Moderately Hard tramps require teamwork and judgement. The weather and available daylight affect each day’s plan. You’ll ignore exposure, that is, empty space around and beneath you, and you’ll be okay with crampons, ice-axe, and 12 hour days if necessary.
Anything Hard or above generally requires an invitation and serious planning. As always, the point of planning is to get maximum enjoyment and to keep all the safety rules.
Your party won’t rely on cellphone coverage. There’ll be a Search and Rescue homing beacon for emergencies. In the normal run of things, a trusted contact at home has the standard Outdoors Intentions form with all the party’s plans on it, and the leader confirms that you’re all back safely to civilization. If the leader doesn’t clock in by the specified time, the Trusted Contact immediately tries to call them. If they don’t respond, then the Trusted Contact notifies the police.
New Zealand has professional guides who offer expert leadership at any required level. Remember, too, that you’ll find tramping clubs in most cities, and that local residents know what to look for, weather-wise. So, acquire some boots, leave the car behind, and - let's get poetic again - keep searching beyond the Ranges,
Till you hear the mile-wide mutterings of unimagined rivers,
And beyond the nameless timber see illimitable plains!