There is a paradise in this world and I call it New Zealand!
As a hiker (or "tramper" in Kiwi terminology) the infrastructure of trails, routes and huts made it an ideal location to take the leap from hiking in the Scottish highlands to a bigger wilderness. With this transition came a stronger emphasis on personal safety (especially when travelling solo); with a very fine line between pushing my comfort zone and potentially killing myself. Of course if everything went perfectly to plan it wouldn't make for an exciting story and its safe to say that I broke every rule that I'm preaching here. So I present to you some tips that I didn't really consider at all...
Respect water. The number one killer of tourists in New Zealand is the many rivers that intersect its mountain landscape. If, after heavy rainfall the river is running high don't be afraid to wait it out or turn back; you'd be surprised how quickly the water level can drop once the rain stops. After a week of rainfall I witnessed a 6 foot high torrent of white water become a rippling brook the next day.
Weather is a fickle thing. The temperate climate combined with the close proximity on all sides to an ocean expanse means that the weather can change on a whim. Use your initiative. If theres an ominous tower of cloud heading your way it may be best to descend from the hills. If its blowing a gale at sea level its probably not going to be the finest day to tackle that airy scramble you've been dreaming of. Always assume that the weather will worsen as you gain altitude. I found the MetService extremely useful for daily forecasts specific to the national parks.
Gear up. Don't scrimp out on the essentials. A decent pair of boots and a rucksack (ask for a fitting in both) are a good place to start. Add a set of waterproofs, some decent insulating layers (your in the land of merino wool so make the most of it), a sturdy tent, sleeping bag and insulated mat and your well on your way! I met people at many a hut expecting fresh linen and a cooked meal on arrival. Don't assume anything, be self sufficient! Take a plentiful supply of food to last the duration of your trip; you may need to inhale that bag of peanut M&Ms after a soul destroying descent at the days end. The often neglected safety essentials such as a 1st aid kit, fire kit, compass, map, survival bag, whistle, head torch and emergency rations are also a must.
Listen to the locals. They know the land better than you do and to prove it every man and his cousin Johno will be ready and able to list off multiple horror stories of unfortunate tourists that didn't heed their advice. I was told in excruciating detail of a "munted" tourist found beneath the icy bluffs of Taranaki; the clothing torn from his body as he fell (the lesson intended was to dissuade me of attempting any snowcapped summits without sufficient equipment and experience). Another I recall was of a young German eaten alive by wild hogs after falling into a Karst sinkhole on Mount Owen. I still wonder how the pigs escaped to tell the tale. Whether they were true or not, the tales caused me to approach with caution, and I remain thankful for that advice!
Tell someone. Tell anyone. Whether its a hostel, visitor centre, family back home, or your new friend Johno; its good to know that people have got your back and this most simple form of communication could potentially be a life saver. I broke this rule too many times, entering many a tramp with an attitude bordering on hubris and naivety. Luckily i never had to pay the price for this most basic of errors.
Have fun! Your in a good place! New Zealand boasts a great variety of trails, huts, bivvies, information centres, hostels, and campsites to suit your adventurous needs! The opportunities to meet people of different cultures and to bond over this magical landscape are endless. Most importantly don't forget to practice a 'leave no trace' attitude when enjoying the outdoors, for in doing so you are showing an appreciation and respect for the land, the wildlife and the local people.
Have I missed anything from my list? Or would you like to share your own story of a near miss in the outdoors? Leave a comment below and ill get back to you. Oh and please visit my newly launched Print Shop by clicking on the button below :)