New Zealand

2:20 a.m. on December 30, 2006 (EST)
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Hey guys,
i'm new to the site. I was wondering if you guys have any experience with New Zealand. I'm heading out on my honeymoon and we're wanting to do 2 treks. The thing about it is we're leaving in May (the first hike, one being the Abel Tasman so it's easy) and staying till June (Which we'll be doing the second hike in the fiorland area) so it'll be the beginning of Winter. So, i'm wondering if it's just too late in the season for a Fiorland/Mt Aspiring hike? Or is it okay?
As far as experience, I would say we're above beginners but far from advanced. Our hardest trek so far was the Minaret lakes to Cecil - Iceberg as a loop up at Mammoth Lakes.

We've definitely done our research and found as much references as possible, but we won't know until we get there of course. So hopefully some of you guys/gals have some experience/advice that you'd like to share, we would definitely appreciate it.

9:48 p.m. on January 1, 2007 (EST)
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If you've done your homework, you know that Fiordland and Aspiring are in the wettest part of the South Island. Not my first choice for hiking at the edge of winter. Expect cold or freezing rain, possible snow at higher elevations, storms and high winds. You may luck out and get great weather, but I wouldn't count on it. If you aren't prepared for the worst, then don't go. It is that simple. I've been in wretched weather from the top of the North Island to almost the bottom of the South Island-and that was in Spring, Summer and Fall. The Hollyford is in Fiordland, but the whole track is at lower elevations so it would be a better choice than anything higher up.

Abel Tasman is a good choice. For a second trip, I'd do the Routeburn, or the Milford but even then, be prepared for bad weather. I did the Milford in February or early March (Summer) and there was snow at the summit of the track.

Here is the offical DOC (Dept. of Conservation) website-
It has detailed track descriptions.

I don't want to come off sounding like a know it all,and am not trying to be melodramatic, but from personal experience I know the following:
The weather in NZ is not like weather in most of the U.S.; it can be fine in the morning and howling with snow in the afternoon. If you are not prepared, it can kill you; don't expect to be rescued by using your cel phone. I don't know what they have for coverage down there (none when I was there way back when), but if you want communication or rescue capability, get or rent a mountain radio, PLB or sat phone. The tracks are well marked for the most part and most of them have huts on them. However, if you get lost, you could very well stay lost. Some parts of the country are so dense that finding a small plane wreck is almost impossible, let alone a person. (I know this from a Kiwi friend who did SAR work for a while.) If I had disappeared or had an accident when I was down there, I guarantee no one ever would have found me, except by sheer chance.

When I was at Mt. Cook one time, a couple of rangers came by looking for a hiker who had disappeared. They looked for him for about a month before giving up. He had left some of his gear in the hut I was staying in at the time, so he didn't go far, but he went far enough not to come back.

It's a great place. I love it. Just remember, some parts of it are pretty wild.

10:14 p.m. on January 2, 2007 (EST)

Thanks a lot, we appreciate it. Yes, we've definitely done our homework and have contacted the DOC and other people. i have spoke to someone who has gone there in late May and had a good trip (just rained a whole lot). But as far as your reply it is much more detailed and paints a good picture other than "it may be impassable due to avalanches". We are ready for snow, that is something we're prepared for but i'm not going to drag my newly wed wife to something that dangerous... especially since we've never been there. So once we get to Queenstown or Glenorchy and find out from the DOC there, we'll probably decide then. It's nice that all these places are close by. Hollyford is definitely the next track that's on our mind, although we're thinking about just doing it half way (we don't have the time to go one way and back) and then maybe do the routeburn to routeburn falls where it's still good.
Anyways, I appreciate the reply. It's definitely helped me out quite a bit in just visualizing the situation and preparing to say "no" to ourselves from doing the routeburn track if it's not looking too good.

Thanks again!

12:50 a.m. on January 3, 2007 (EST)
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Rolly, In my estimation, Kiwis often understate weather conditions because they are so used to them. I've seen guys wearing shorts and wool shirts in really bad weather and thinking nothing of it. When they mention avalanche danger, take it seriously. There is a stretch along the Milford where there is something like 10 or 20 million tons of rock that peeled off the mountain about 25 years ago. I wouldn't go anywhere down there where I thought there might snow without crampons and an ice axe (you can rent them locally) and the know how to use them. I carried them on the old Copland Pass track(which is impassable now on the Mt. Cook side due to the glacier receding and rockfall)even though I only needed them for one steep climb. However, if I had slipped on that one slope, severe injury was almost a guarantee. There are plenty of beautiful places there that you can see without getting yourself in any kind of a serious situation.

Forgot to mention a couple of things-take real boots, not glorified running shoes. A lot of the tracks have sharp rocks on them which will cut up almost anything. I had a brand new pair of New Balance lightweight boots come apart on me after wading a few streams, which is common. My old full leather Asolos are still around, if a bit worse for wear. Trekking poles would be handy-I fell over crossing a river near Arthur's Pass and had a heck of a time getting back up. Take really good socks you can wring the water out of after crossing a stream and put back on. Under no circumstances would I take my boots off to cross a stream or river. Way too dangerous for many of the rivers there. I know I'm making it seem like it's all going to be tough going, but that's not the case. Use some common sense and you'll have a great time. When I went down there, I hadn't been hiking since I had been in the Boy Scouts and I just figured it out from doing a lot of reading and talking to the locals. Kiwis love the outdoors, so you'll probably run into a lot of them-be sure to chat them up about places to go and see.

3:33 p.m. on January 3, 2007 (EST)

Don't worry I understand. We're experienced enough to have the equipment needed for snow and rain, including our own crampons, waterproof gear/boots, etc. I've talked to the Fiorland DOC and as far as hiking Routeburn/kepler tracks or any other alpine areas, we won't know until we get there to fully get the forecast and weather. If it's bad we'll probably end up doing day hikes or over night hikes in the beginning from both sides of the tracks or other non "Great Walk" tracks.

thanks again,

3:59 p.m. on January 3, 2007 (EST)
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Rolly, the only reason I mentioned all that is because you would be amazed how many people go there without a clue and don't do the kind of research you did. The Arthur's Pass website has a long list of rescue reports of stranded hikers with little or no gear who fell, got hurt or killed or just lost for a day or two.

On another board I post on, a girl going down there said that a clerk at her local REI told her she didn't need a rainjacket for NZ. I find it hard to believe that anyone who said that has ever been there. Otherwise, they would know better.

Have a good trip.

5:39 p.m. on January 3, 2007 (EST)

Oh no worries Tom. I hope I didn't come at it if I were offended or anything. I'm not. It's a good thing for sure for you to make sure. Yeah, I think people hear of New Zealand and they hear of how many people head out there, but for someone to not do their research on a country that they've never been at before would be foolish. But that's the reason why I had to ask here and which i'm happy to get a response. I definitely need to get as much information as possible of course that way we can lessen the chances of being too surprised (other than the scenery and fun i'm sure -D .
Have you by any chance done the hollyford track? If all is lost for routeburn and kepler when we're there we're thinking about doing parts of hollyford track. I don't think i'd really want to hike the whole thing and back again (from what I read the only other way to come back is to get flown out) so if you have done it i'd definitely like some info. Other than that, I do appreciate all the help and concerns you've given. It's better to be safe with giving information that you believe is necessary than to be sorry that you didn't. Thanks again,

6:31 p.m. on January 3, 2007 (EST)
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Rolly, I never got over to the Hollyford. I was bike touring for part of one of my trips and then did the Milford, the Routeburn and the Copland from Mt. Cook to the West Coast twice. I also did a bit of car camping at Hanmer Springs and Marlborough Sounds up past Nelson.

By bike I went from Picton to Christchurch, then from Dunedin to Te Anau, then from Queenstown to Mt. Cook. I was able to ship my bike around on the bus when I was hiking. I also spent some time at Mt. Cook taking a basic mountaineering class. I went up to Arthur's Pass at Easter on another trip to do some climbing, but we got rained on almost the whole time, so we didn't get to climb. I was there on and off for about a year over a two year period and lived in Christchurch for much of that time. On another trip I went up towards Arthur's Pass on the train, got off short of the Pass and then hiked to a hut in the area for a couple of days.

There are so many places to go there, it's hard to choose which ones to do. If you haven't seen it, the Lonely Planet book, Tramping in New Zealand has very good descriptions of the more popular tracks.

BTW,If anyone else wondered why I get all wild about being prepared,read some of these-

7:44 p.m. on January 4, 2007 (EST)

I hear ya Tom. There's some crazy stories on that site (seems to be most) where people just flat out don't pay attention or ignore warnings. I just find it crazy someone would bivouac right next to a river... We do have the lonely planet's book to tramping and it's actually really good. There are many trails but we have about 25 days going from North to South (and trying to avoid too much driving since it's our honeymoon) and some of the trails are out of the way. It should be okay though, I just really try to look into these things first before heading out as much as possible, but once we're there we'll have a feel for things. We're debating whether or not we should bring all our snowgear if we can rent it (like you stated). It seems that you spent some time in New Zealand, hopefully our trip goes as well as yours did.

9:19 p.m. on January 4, 2007 (EST)
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Rolly, when you say North to South, do you mean only on the South Island? Where are going to fly into to start? I'd leave the snow gear at home unless you plan to do any climbing and want to bring a harness and rope. You should be able to rent crampons and ice axes in Christchurch, Queenstown or maybe over at Fox Glacier at Alpine Guides. I'm sure by now there are more places to rent gear than when I was there.

The funny thing about the SAR reports on the Arthur's Pass site is that the guy who writes them gets really indignant about the preventable mishaps-no wonder. Some of those heli rescues must have been pretty wild.

4:00 a.m. on January 5, 2007 (EST)

Yes, I mean North and South Islands (driving, crossing with ferry). We're spending 25 days. We're flying to Auckland and we leave New Zealand from Auckland again.

12:05 p.m. on January 5, 2007 (EST)
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That's a lot to cover in 25 days-seems like a long time, but you can eat it up fast. Don't forget there is a lot to see on the North Island as well. I spent most of my time down South, but Tongariro, Ruapehu and Lake Taupo are all beautiful.

Once you get to Picton (ferry port on the S. I.), I would suggest heading towards Nelson and the Abel Tasman, then down the West Coast. You could leave the car in Queenstown if you have it for the whole time, or turn it in while you're hiking and pick up another one later.

6:50 p.m. on January 18, 2007 (EST)
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Just came across this thread - not much more I can add but would just like to endorse all that Tom has told you, some really good advice there.
I think you'll find the South Island more scenic (providing the weather allows it!) though as mentioned, Ruapehu/Tongariro in the north are beautiful.
NZ weather can be temperamental and can bite you in the bum if not careful, so keep your options open until actually being there.
Good luck, hope you enjoy your visit!

7:43 p.m. on January 18, 2007 (EST)
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I haven't been to NZ myself, but my wife and son went down there in November (I went to Antarctica in Dec-Jan, so they went to NZ to match my "Great Adventure"). They spent most of their time on the South Island. They had wanted to do a glacier hike on Cook, but the weather was too murky (what Tom says about rain is even an understatement, going by their photos!). They did some day hikes on the Routeburn, Milford, and a couple other tracks, plus cruises on Doubtful and Milford Sounds (not like your typical cruise, but had lots of other "woodsy" folks intent on hiking at the on-shore stops). they also went to a couple ice caves and glow-worm caves (my son was not impressed by the glow-worms, said they just looked like a bunch of wriggling worms that glowed, or maybe a shag carpet that wriggled while it glowed). They cut a couple of the hikes short because of lightning storms as they neared passes. Many days of rain, although November is supposed to be a somewhat drier month.

So I strongly back what Tom says - go prepared for rain, lots of rain, downpours, wet trails, high streams (they turned back at one stream because the water was up to the bridge level). On the other hand, the rain doesn't bother the Kiwis - they think foreigners are a bunch of wimps.

On the North Island, they went to Roterua and thoroughly enjoyed the hike through the thermal area and the (civilized entertainment for them) Maori feast. Well, ok, it is touristy, but it is part of the historical culture, so there is a lot to be said for making the one concession to the tourist bureau. And it was at the end of the trip, after many days of doing hikes. Going by the photos, the beauty of the places they went, especially the tracks, is superb. And the huts along the tracks are well-equipped. On some itineraries, you don't need much more than your lunch and rain gear between huts, with the other meals and bedding supplied at the huts (for a fee, of course). Be sure you have checked the itineraries and made your reservations well in advance.

1:34 a.m. on January 19, 2007 (EST)
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"On the other hand, the rain doesn't bother the Kiwis - they think foreigners are a bunch of wimps."

Ha, you got that right, Bill. A wool shirt and shorts is pretty much standard wear over there. My friends thought nothing about swimming in what must have been 60F or less water in Christchurch. I couldn't believe how cold it was. Probably what swimming in winter in Santa Cruz or some place up North is like.

Funny story-I'm over in Oz at Surfer's Paradise late Fall (May, I think). Pretty chilly in the morning. I've got my fleece on and am down at the beach talking to one of the Lifeguards when we see this couple in shorts and tee-shirts walking up the beach. I just look at him and he said, "Kiwis-that's how we spot them."

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