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In New Zealand, say tramping, not trekking. Same same.
If you love nature and the great outdoors, New Zealand is waiting for you. Beautiful scenery, landscapes – coasts, pastoral views (sheep), islands, mountains, fiords – it’s all there. STUNNING natural scenery.
Kiwis are on the whole hardy outdoorsy types, and no wonder. It’s a natural outdoor playground.
While you can ski, sail, campervan, bike New Zealand, try tramping.
My first taste
I tramped the Routeburn years ago as a totally un-outdoors, unprepared, greenie, and strangely, while it was tough, it was amazing, and I got hooked on trekking through mountains.
My friend Cass and I started with a few days in Queenstown (adventure capital of the world) one February, where we whitewater rafted, ate, jetfoiled and ogled the many outdoorsy men wandering around. Spectacularly weather and scenery!
By the time we got to the start of the trail, it had started raining. Cass had assured me that it was ‘easy’. HAH!! (she did take it back by day 2) If I’d known about the ‘luxury’ option then (scroll down), I would’ve insisted!
I was totally unfit, and had never carried a pack before. It was an alpine trail and in the Southern Alps, it tends to rain a lot. And it’s cold, being in the mountains! It rained big time on our tramp. I mean deluge. Pretty trails became raging waterfalls to wade through, big winds when we were going over the pass nearly had me toppling off the mountain.
But OH! So beautiful. And if you are blessed with good weather, I can only imagine how spectacular it would be.
While the cold soggy socks and boots you have to put on in the morning are no fun, it’s worth the grief, I promise.
Never having camped or hiked before, I laugh now at how unprepared I was. You’ll be walking for about 5 – 6 hours a day from hut to hut. You’ll be going up and down. You’ll be eating boiled freeze-dried food. You’ll need to keep your sleeping bag dry. You’ll need to tape against blisters. You need fleeces and layers. You’ll be carrying everything you need on your back (sleeping bag, billy to cook with, cutlery, toilet paper, clothes) – my pack was about 16lbs. There’s no luxury of privacy at the end of the day in the DOC hut. (I woke one morning to find a guy across the room staring at me as I opened my eyes. Kia ora!) Arriving last means getting the last choice of bunk. (but you’ll be so tired it won’t matter) No showers. Rain means you don’t get any of the spectacular views promised.
When it wasn’t raining, there were silent, wooded glens, full of ferns and fairies. There were crossings on bridges. There was the interminable climb up to the saddle (pass). And the interminable climb all the way down for 2 hours, with your destination hut never seeming to get any closer but in view all the time. There were beautiful lakeside sunrises. There were hardy Kiwi boys RUNNING the trail a few times in training for the Coast to Coast run (where they run across the alps from one coast to another – nutty Kiwis). And everywhere, people feeling sorry for me, the foreign city girl who was totally unprepared!
So what if I could barely walk by day 3? I had the time of my life.
At the end of our tramp (we cried with relief and then promptly vowed to do another), we ended up in Te Anau, the town at the head of the Milford Sound, and we kayaked the stunningly spectacular Sound early one silent, beautiful morning. The only problem was, because I could barely move my legs, I had to be violently pulled out of the kayak by 2 men like a stuck bathplug. So embarrassing.
We then took a helicopter trip to the a glacier where we landed on the ice and larked about before flying back to Queenstown.
Truly, an amazing trip!
Here’s how it works
Most trails in New Zealand operate on a hut system. DOC (Department of Conservation) Huts have bunks or mattresses, and you have to book your bunk. Each hut has cooking facilities, and common toilets and showers.
This means you have to carry a sleeping bag, and food, and you’ll be sharing your sleeping and morning moments with total strangers. It’s basic, but it works. And it’s all a part of the experience.
There are all sorts of trails you can try (over 400) – from mountain trails, to beach trails. The ‘famous’ ones are The Milford Track (around the stunning Milford Sound), the Routeburn Track, the Abel Tasman, the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk. Most walks are 3-5 days, and the weather depends on the gods. Not surprisingly, the Southern Alps are cold and wet, and the beach walks in the summer tend to be warm…(though the weather is changeable in Kiwiland)
An easier way
There are also ‘luxury’ tramps by Ultimate Hikes, where you have a hearty Kiwi guide, and all food, accommodation and planning taken care of; including backpacks. It is a lot easier than organising a tramp from Singapore. Plus, you get rooms, and someone cooking real food for you. The lodges are custom-built, so it’s a lot more luxurious than a DOC hut, with showers! It’s a lot more expensive than doing it on your own (NZ$1000+ as opposed to NZ$50 for DOC booking) but a lot easier to organise. Ultimate Hikes operates in the Milford Track (private rooms) and the Routeburn Track (bunkbeds). You’ll also be carrying a lot less stuff – no bedrolls or food needed, so your packs will be a lot lighter.
How good does that sound?! I would so love to do it. (how about it Cass?)
If you are planning to go it alone, remember you’ll need gear. There are places that rent you gear, so you won’t have to buy from scratch. I was incredibly thankful that I invested in a really good, vented rain jacket. If you are heading to the Southern Alps, make sure you have raingear. And of course, as on any trekking holiday, having boots that you’ve broken in is going to be crucial.
And oh, what an amazing adventure you’ll have, you lucky thing!