Winter hiking – take a good book (or a lover?)

Looking for an alternative outdoor activity to skiing and snowboarding this winter? Have you tried winter hiking?

You could be conned into believing that the only outdoor New Zealand winter activities at your disposal are skiing and snowboarding. But have you given a thought to hiking in winter, or tramping as us kiwis like to call it? Winter tramping is different, because so is winter. However, if you’re adequately prepared (good equipment and information), you are rewarded with empty trails, quiet huts and stunning snowy landscapes.

If you can time things right, winter tramping conditions in many areas are not so different to summer. However, you do need to be prepared for the worst just in case. Here are some winter tramping tips:

  1. Review your gear – make sure it’s up to the job. Take stiff boots if you need to kick a few steps in the snow. Ice axe and crampons are required if you’re heading over passes. A full set of thermals and breathable shell outer layer are essential. For most higher areas we’d take three warm layers plus thermals and a couple of warm hats (no cotton allowed - you can pick up second-hand thermals and fleeces cheaply from opportunity shops if you need extra gear). If everything gets wet, you can always curl up in your sleeping bag in the hut while your clothes dry in front of the fire. If you’re just planning to tramp in Abel Tasman or do the Queen Charlotte walk, or tracks in Northland, you won’t need this degree of gear.
  2. There are less hours of daylight – account for this when selecting your route. Take a good book or a lover for those long candlelit nights in the huts!
  3. Conditions can be different in winter – is there an avalanche risk? Seek local advice. Some avalanche chutes cross lower altitude tracks (eg. the Routeburn track and the round Mt Egmont track). Expect maximum day time temperatures in South Island lowland areas of 8-12 degrees Celsius. Budget on losing about one degree Celsius for every one hundred metres of altitude gain. Frosts can get down to minus eight degrees Celsius in the centre of the islands. Thaw out your frozen boots with hot water before you head off or you’ll be walking like a cowboy. The West Coast of the South Island has great weather in winter as it’s protected from the southerlies by the Southern Alps.
  4. Research the weather thoroughly – don’t get caught out. Always sign in and sign out of the local Department of Conservation centre when heading out on a hike. DOC staff have an exceptional amount of experience and give balanced advice, and will take into account the amount of experience that you have.
  5. Remember that most Great Walks offer less hut facilities during the winter season. You will need a cooker and probably pots and pans. We notice that the Heaphy track huts have plenty of pots but this is not universal. There are less likely to be any hut wardens as well. The bonus is that the huts are cheaper in winter.

If all of this sounds like a lot to consider, think about taking a guided tour. Most companies operate in summer but Hiking New Zealand runs a few winter trips as well.

Crisp sunny days, frosted landscapes, cosy hut fires, deliciously warm hotpools, sizzling comfort food and the thrill of shared adventure are all highlights of winter hiking. You can’t experience remote and beautiful wilderness from your living room.

Why not give winter hiking a go?

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