One of the most spectacular things about New Zealand's Great Walks is the varied scenery - you can be hiking through sub-tropical beech forest one day, across sub-alpine tarns and tussock landscapes the next before traversing the great alpine passes - Bliss!
But with such varied landscapes comes varied weather too, and even in the summer high season - October to March, it's not unusual to receive freak snowfalls. It's no wonder Dave Dobbyn wrote the song "Four Seasons in One Day". As such, it's essential for both your safety and general mental happiness that you're well prepared. Print-out this packing checklist by the Department of Conservation as well as reading the following advise on what to pack:
Let's start by talking about what's best left behind! Jeans are definitely not good for hiking - you'd be surprised how many people would think otherwise. Cotton clothing and heavy wool are also not practical choices.
You will need at least one set of clothes to walk in, depending on the number of days to plan to hike for (we’d suggest one set is good for up to three days). And another set of clothing to change into at night; it’s hard to dry clothes in the huts, so take materials that dry quickly and are comfortable and warm to wear even when damp, such as merino wool and that extra comfy pair of gym tights.
Socks: wool or polypropylene are best
Under layers: top and bottom merino wool or polypropylene
Shorts: quick dry material. It's a common sight here in New Zealand to see hikers with short shorts and polypro 'long johns' underneath
Mid-layers: merino wool, thermal or polar fleece or other similar modern synthetic materials
Over trousers: wind and water proof. Extra socks, underwear, shirt or lightweight jersey
Warm hat and gloves, sunhat and sunglasses
Raincoat: waterproof and windproof with a hood - expect at least one rainy day and to need a change of clothes just in case of a river crossing or rainstorm. Many Kiwis choose a hiking jacket that is longer than your average jacket, so that it doesn't ride up when you're carrying a backpack and keeps your shorts dry as well.
Gaiters: Worth packing when hiking in New Zealand in the shoulder season. You may hit snow above the treelines.
The trick here is to resist the urge to get carried away with shiny, ‘must-have’ gadgets that all the outdoors shops do so well to market. The lighter you can travel, the more enjoyable the experience will be! Trust me.
Obviously you’ll need a decent hiking backpack. Make sure that this is properly adjusted for your body. I learned the hard way on this, choosing a pack (appropriately named Monster) that was so big and uncomfortable it left me with bruised and swollen hips after a multi-day hike. Best option is to get the experts in the shop to fit it for you at the time of purchase; and if correct you should only have to purchase a pack once or twice in your lifetime.
Hiking boots: comfortable, reasonably waterproof, provide plenty of support and tread, and well broken in.
Sleeping bag: good quality down or hollow fill. A silk liner is also handy for extra warmth and to keep your sleeping bag clean. A sleeping bad or therma-rest is not needed if you plan on staying in a DOC hut.
If you plan on camping (rather than using the DOC huts) you’re required to bring a tent ground sheet and please be aware that gas cookers are not permitted on the Milford Track.
Drink bottle: minimum 1 litre capacity, it's important to drink regularly during the day. A bottle with a loop is handy, so that you can connect it to the outside of your pack. Personally I use a camel-pack that is a water bladder you insert into your pack.
Eating and cooking utensils: knife, fork, spoon, can opener (if you’re taking cans!), plate, cup, pot pan or billy, and cleaning kit. There are plenty of environmentally friendly cleaning detergents out there these days, so please remember to hike responsibly.
First aid kit: insect repellent and sunscreen – both ESSENTIAL in New Zealand, blister kits, pain relief, antiseptic cream and assorted bandages
Survival kit:survival blanket, whistle, paper, permanent marker, bright coloured ribbon, pencil, high energy snack food
Matches or lighter in waterproof container (a small marmite or peanut butter jar works well for this)
Toiletries: soap, toothpaste, small towel. Please remember not to wash or use soap or detergents in lakes or streams
Torch/flashlight and spare batteries
Optional extras: camera and EAR PLUGS for communal bunkrooms – if you’re anything like me, sleep deprivation will drive you utterly mental. Avoid becoming the grumpiest person in the hiking crew and make sure you pack a pair :)
Remember, food cannot be purchased while on any of the Great Walks, so it's important to be completely self-sufficient. Food should be lightweight, fast cooking and contain high-energy value ingredients like:
Breakfast: grain and fruit cereal, firm high grain bread, honey, marmite or other spreads.
Lunch:cracker biscuits, jerky, cheese, salami, dried fruit, nuts and mixes, margarine, jam/jelly, fruit.
Dinner:instant soup, dehydrated mashed potato, dehydrated meat, tinned fish, pasta or rice, dried vegetables or fruit, cheese or dehydrated (freeze dried) meals.
It's a good idea to take lots of water (although, drinking water is available at each hut and often along the trail), easy to access snacks, chocolate bars, biscuits, muesli bars, electrolyte rich powdered drink mixes, tea or coffee, and emergency food in case of any delays on the track.
It’s good practice to tell someone what your intended itinerary is before leaving on your hike. It’s also a good idea to leave a note in a hut guest book (or donate your own) with a note about where you’ve been and where you are heading to.
Always carry spare warm clothes, a spare small flashlight that you only use for emergencies, and dry matches.
If you are traveling with a guided tour, you won’t have to think about any of this, but it is still a nice idea to leave a record of your visit, and any great tips for fellow hikers. Or if you’re not worried about space in your backpack – be like my friend Paula, and carry a small toy dinosaur to pose in all your photographs!
Priceless! Hope this helps plan for one of the greatest bucket-list experiences ever. Safe travelling.