Long distance tramping in New Zealand can be challenging. The land is rugged. The weather is changeable. Rivers rise and can trap you. The North Island has dense forest – we call it bush. What’s called hiking in the northern hemisphere is called tramping here for good reason – it’s slower and requires more strength. Average tramping speed along North Island forest tracks is 2.3 kilometres an hour. South Island tramping is generally more open but is higher altitude and unforgiving to the badly prepared.
Outdoor Safety Ten Commandments
Leave your intentions with responsible people and always remember to tell them when you have safely completed a track. Write your entry in every intentions book on your route, even if you are not staying in every hut – going in and coming out.
Know where you are and where you're going. Do a course, mark the track on a proper topographical map (not a road map), take a compass (and a GPS) and know how to use them. Tracks can be hard to find or follow - low use, spring growth, tree fall and vandals wrecking signage means you may need to work it out for yourself.
Accept responsibility for your own safety and well-being. If you're in a group, know the expectations, strengths, weaknesses and medical requirements of that group. Ask yourself if you and your group are physically and mentally up to the task ahead. Travel within your abilities and knowledge.
If you're in a group, plan a clear leadership process so that your party can make decisions and take actions. In an emergency, leadership, cool analysis and implementation of a plan are vital.
Plan your journey but be flexible. Learn from others: locals, outdoor people, guide books and maps. Checklist your equipment and survival essentials. Know your communication options.
6. Have a plan B
Consider actual and potential hazards and know how you will deal with them. Anticipate what might go wrong and what your options are. Have an escape route. Take spare food supplies.
Understand general and local weather patterns. Respect your environment: the terrain, the conditions, the weather and the water - river, glacier, lake or sea. A river may rise very quickly even if it's not raining where you are. NEVER cross a river in flood. On the coast, travelling at low tide is always easier and safer.
Be vigilant. Continually reassess the risks. Observe the environment, the weather, your people and your equipment. Check the weather and consider alternatives if it looks bad.
Be honest with yourself about your fitness, mental state, judgement, skill, knowledge and experience. Never let desire over-rule judgement. Better to turn back, than get out of your depth.
Judgement comes from experience, skill and knowledge. Heed your judgement and respect your gut feeling; it is your own in-built alarm. Judgement develops with time, from successes as well as failures. Learn from your outdoor experiences.
Adapted from Johnny Mulheron’s list in NZ FMC Bulletin 169, August 2007.
Tramping in New Zealand requires fundamental skills. We recommend that anyone not already versed in tramping hazards in this country takes a mountain safety course before setting out. These courses are available in most locations. They teach river-crossing skills and bushcraft, including trip planning, gear, outdoor cooking, risk management, and map reading. For course details see www.mountainsafety.org.nz.