By Steve Jermanok
In the wake of the devastating February 22nd earthquake in the South Island of New Zealand, travel writers around the world are blogging about the country this week in hopes of convincing folks that, outside of Christchurch, the vast majority of New Zealand is intact and ready to welcome visitors. In fact, I’ll be heading there later this year for the annual Society of American Travel Writers Conference. To do my share, I’m going to reprint this list of pointers I wrote for Backpacker Magazine on trekking in New Zealand.
Plan: Book as early as July for the most renowned of all hikes, the 4-day Milford Track in South Island’s Fjordland National Park. Number of hikers are limited to 10,000.
Inspiration: A rite of passage for Kiwis, the 33-mile trek weaves through rainforest and alpine meadows, passing the country’s tallest waterfall in the (Sutherland), and dumping you off at the striking fjords of Milford Sound.
Season: The hiking season is late October to late April. Avoid the rush of Christmas school holidays from the last week of December through January.
Pack: With huts built along many of these trails, like Milford, tents and mats are often unnecessary, lightening packs.
Clothes: The uniform of choice is usually a layer of polypro under shorts. This deters bugs, especially the nasty sand fly, and keeps you cozy in mist and fog.
Weather: Expect a mix of clouds and sun, with frequent changes in weather. Average daytime temps are in the high 50s to mid-60s, Fahrenheit, but often dip to just above freezing at night.
Food: Granola, fresh bread and cheese, dried fruit, even freeze-dried meals are easy to find once you get to New Zealand.
Extras: Kiwis love their tea, so have extra bags on hand and you’ll win friends easily.
Caveat: Serious backpackers who might find the Milford Track overly regulated (you’re required to overnight at the Clinton Hut, a mere hour’s hike from the trailhead) should opt for Fjordland’s less visited and far more rigorous Dusty Track. It has much of the same scenery Milford features, without the foot traffic.
Wildlife: Watch for the luminous glowworm, hidden under ferns at night, and listen for the call of the elusive Kiwi bird.
Guides: Kiwi Wilderness Walks in Queenstown is a respected authority on South Island tracks.
Book: Tramping in New Zealand (published by Australian-based Lonely Planet), by Jim DuFresne.
Steve Jermanok As a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, adventure travel expert at Budget Travel, and regular contributor on outdoor recreation for Outside, Men’s Journal, Health, and Sierra, Steve Jermanok has written more than 1,000 articles on the outdoors. He’s also authored or co-authored 11 books, including Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England and Men’s Journal’s The Great Life. His latest book is Go Now! Put Your Life on Pause and See the World. He’s currently an adventure travel expert at Away.com and blogs daily at Active Travels.