Is Mordor nice this time of year?
February 13, 2016 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Help me plan a hiking trip in New Zealand in March

I’ve been invited to a 3 day event outside of Auckland next month. I’ve never spent time in NZ and would like to take a few days after my event to do something fun (as a birthday treat to myself).

Can you suggest a 3-4 day hike/trip (either island) that has spectacular scenery? I’m happy to pack whatever camping gear is necessary (traveling from SF) but also happy to just pay a REI type pre-planned hiking trip just to avoid logistics. I don’t even know where to start looking so I’d appreciate any pointers. Thanks!
posted by special-k to Travel & Transportation around New Zealand (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Department of Conservation, NZ.

Pick a route with huts, and all you will need is a sleeping bag, good shoes, rain gear, and food.

Rain gear? I mean, anything that gets wet and dries fast. 3 seasons in a day, after all.
posted by jbenben at 9:39 AM on February 13, 2016

If you possibly can, take more than a few days to explore NZ. It's truly spectacular, but it's not a small place (roughly the length and landscape variety of California) and travelling around can be time consuming. The good news: it's pretty inexpensive. Are you willing to drive in NZ to get to your starting point?
posted by carmicha at 9:40 AM on February 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: > Are you willing to drive in NZ to get to your starting point?

Yes! Totally happy to drive. I'll see how much time I can take off (or work remotely) but I do have to be back here no later than 10 days or so in NZ.
posted by special-k at 10:17 AM on February 13, 2016

Best answer: Consider flying to South Island (you'll likely be surprised how cheap it is to fly within NZ), and hiking either Routeburn or Milford Tracks. Both islands have lots to offer, but since you specifically mentioned long hikes with spectacular views, those are IMO two of the best hikes in the world for that.
posted by mcstayinskool at 10:37 AM on February 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Tramping in any NZ mountains at any time of year can get dangerous, very fast. People die every summer pretty much (often tourists, not always), let alone autumn or winter. So take actual real survival gear and a very good, local guidebook at the least. It doesn't need to be a lot but even for day trips we'd always take at least extra food, appropriate clothes with at least one full wool layer, survival blanket, person-sized plastic bag, proper torch, proper shoes, extra water, hardcopy maps. For a longer trip you need a proper sleeping bag at minimum. Some areas you need to pre-book huts, I'm not sure how common that is in March. Don't take this lightly and definitely search out local advice where ever possible (Mountain Safety NZ is a good place to start)

For places to go the Great Walks are called that for good reason and any of them is a winner. Personally I love Lake Waikaremoana. We normally drive over from Gisborne but it's also accessible from Rotorua (via maybe a gravel road?). Both of places are also quite classic kiwi towns to visit. There will be tour companies for certainly the South Island Great Walks, and possibly the others. The South Island ones are busier and can be booked out (some are restricted entry, the website above will give details).
posted by shelleycat at 10:45 AM on February 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

And, of course, to see Mt Doom (aka Ngauruhoe), then you want Tongariro which is a few hours drive from Akl.
posted by shelleycat at 10:51 AM on February 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing Routeburn.
posted by jbenben at 10:55 AM on February 13, 2016

Kepler is also nice, and a loop. A little more difficult than the Routeburn or Milford but I'm average fitness and found no issues with it.
posted by gaspode at 8:44 PM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think if you have one shot and you've got less than 2 weeks in NZ, then you must take the advice above and fly South to Queenstown and go to Fiordlands.

I think you would find a problem booking for the Milford or Routeburn at this point. From what I understand you need to book your space on the track very far in advance. However I think the Fiordlands/Milford Sound (World Heritage Site) is the most 'must see' location in the country, and I've been most other places there.

So, go to Fiordlands and do day hikes you don't have to get a permit for, and do Tongariro too if you can before you jet out.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:19 PM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all, I really appreciate the suggestions.

I'll go to Routeburn (Will let some hiking outfit deal with the permits for me) and see if I can also spend some time after in the Fiordlands. I'm an experienced hiker and will pack appropriately.
posted by special-k at 3:22 PM on February 14, 2016

Best answer: My husband and I did the Routeburn track linked to the Caples track a year ago in February - parked our rental car at the Caples's Elfen Bay trailhead, and were picked up by a van that dropped us off at the Routeburn trailhead to start off our hike. It was amazing! One of the best hikes of my life, for sure.

Routeburn was definitely the highlight of the two trails (being a Great Walk and all), but Caples was a lovely as well with a saddle crossing that varied from the Routeburn's version, a lovely old forest section, and pleasant finish through a lovely little green valley. Caples was less crowded than Routeburn too, which was nice, and the trails felt a bit more rugged. We also spent half a day trailrunning through most of what's typically the last day of the Kapler track, and really enjoyed that too. And there was the kayaking trip along the Abel Tasman Great Walk that was amazing as well. You aren't going to make a bad choice here!

Some thoughts & recommendations:
- Any backpacking gear (including hiking boots) that you bring into the NZ will have to go through a special inspection. It doesn't take that long (maybe 15 extra minutes?) to clear customs, but it's very important to keep non-native insects and seeds from coming in.
- Queenstown (biggest town near the Kepler & Routeburn tracks) has several gear shops that have most of the stuff you'd expect to find in outdoor shops in the states (nothing near as big as REI). The prices were all about 10% to 20% higher, except for some of the NZ brands (e.g. Icebreaker, my favorite outdoor brand!). However, the ultralight movement doesn't seem to have made as much progress there as it has in the US, so we were glad to have brought all of our own gear (except for gas canisters, dried food, and bug repellent, which we bought).
- The huts are pretty nice (nothing like it in the US, really), but you can carry and stay in a tent. Tent spots on the Great Walks are limited and require reservation (same as hut spots), but they get booked up slower. You should definitely book a trip before you leave if you can, but consider carrying a very small tent if that lets you get on track that has all of the hut spots already booked up.
- If you backpack and hike a lot in the US, and particularly in the mountain west (like the Sierras), you'll generally find the trails in NZ (especially the Great Walks) to be significantly easier than what you're used to, and also much better maintained. We, uh, ended up hiking the Routeburn + Caples (about 60 km) in 48 hours start to finish (two nights - Mackenzie Hut & Mid Caples Hut), when the official length of time is more like 4 - 6 days. And, while my feet were tired at the end, it didn't feel like we were moving too fast or missed out on checking out the scenery (we even did a 5 km side trip at the top of the saddle on the Routeburn). It's SO MUCH easier hiking than the Sierras since you aren't at elevation, the trails are so well maintained, and there's an abundance of water, meaning that you don't have to carry much on you. That being said, we didn't run into much weather while we were hiking - a significant downpour would have definitely slowed our progress - and the days in early Feb were longer than what you'll get in March. We were also in pretty good shape (rock climbers), and had two people to share the weight of the tent & cooking gear.
- Sandflies are awful - worse than mosquito bites. They can't keep up with you while you're moving, though, so just keep moving, and spray on the DEET right before you stop for food or whatever.
- Feel free to MeMail me for more info about any of the trails we did. We also did a couple lovely day hikes in South Island that I could recommend. I think NZ hiking gets played up as more difficult than US hiking not because it actually IS more difficult, but because it's generally more accessible - and more accessed! - by the general public. Which is fantastic - it was great to see people of all ages and fitness levels out on the trails enjoying nature! - but means that you hear more about how tough the hiking is because people of all types are doing it.
posted by Jaclyn at 9:05 PM on February 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: wow, thank you Jaclyn! This is amazingly helpful. I'm up in the Sierras a lot so it's helpful to have the context and I also appreciate all the advice on camping gear and inspections.
posted by special-k at 10:22 PM on February 14, 2016

Oh, I'd forgotten about the customs inspections. They may want you to scrub your boots with disinfectant, so if you can do that really well beforehand it will save time and probably gain some brownie points with the customs officers (they seemed to appreciate it when we did this with our shoes when entering NZ anyway). Just basic household disinfectant should do it, it's the getting dust and seeds etc off that's more important.
posted by shelleycat at 11:04 AM on February 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

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