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Tips for Tramping and Backpacking New Zealand

Backpacking NZ
Backpacker Bus or Fully Independent?
Getting Around Independently

Tramping NZ
DOC (Department Of Conservation)
Food & Supplies

Useful Links

Backpacking NZ

Backpacking in New Zealand is easy. New Zealand is very well set up for tourists, including backpackers. It can however, seem sometimes that it is all designed to milk every last dollar out of you, with all the activities available.

Backpacker Bus or Fully Independent?

For me, the answer was Fully Independent. I actually did buy a Kiwi Experience Pass, but found that it has some serious drawbacks, and I didn't use most of it. The fixed route makes it hard if you want to change your plans. Although you can jump on and off whereever you like, most people seem to go non stop in the shortest possible time. This means that if you are getting on and off, it is very hard to get to know people on the bus, since no-one will have the exact same schedule as you, and those going non stop will be pre-formed into small groups of friends. The only exception to this that I found was the Bottom Bus, out of step from the days it left Queenstown, since to get out of step you had to jump off, there were only about six people on the bus, and it was nice.

Getting Around Independently

It is easy to get around by bus, however these usually only go to the major destinations.
I met some people who hitched everywhere, and the only problems they had were bad or drunk drivers.
You will notice New Zealand has a lot of single lane bridges.


The hostels I stayed in were generally quite clean. I would recommend "Mountain House Hostel" in Arthurs Pass, "Southern Comfort Backpackers" in Invercargill. I didn't like "Dunedin Central Backpackers".
If the hostel has a key deposit, make sure you think about what time you want to leave in the morning, and check that the reception will be open at that time, otherwise you will lose your deposit.

Also See my Backpacking Supplies/Equipment List

Tramping NZ

Going tramping in New Zealand is easy. Most trails are quite well defined and have huts spaced conveniently along their length. Deciding which tramp to do is the hard part.
Many tracks in the mountains have climbs up to 1000m or higher and similar descents in one day, due to tracks passing over mountain passes. These may prove challenging to those who are always inactive, however there are also many tracks which do not traverse mountain passes.


Alone? - No problem - The major tracks in New Zealand in summer will have many people tramping on them, if you get in trouble, then you could ask someone for help. In New Zealand, make sure you fill out intentions forms at the nearest DOC office, so they will mount a search if you don't return. However, I always take an EPIRB when hiking as an added precaution. Some tracks are very rough (eg Harman Pass) and are best done in a group, even then, If you are in a hiking oriented area, (eg Arthurs pass or Te-Anau) you should be able to find some others at the hostel who will accompany you.

DOC (Department Of Conservation)

DOC has visitor centres in all the major tramping areas. If you intend to do a tramp in the area, go to the DOC visitors centre. Find whether you need to buy hut tickets or passes for the huts, or if you need to take cash to buy them from the hut wardens.
The DOC centres sell or provide :
  • Topographic maps of the area
  • Route descriptions for the major tramps
  • Hut tickets/passes
  • Weather forecasts

On the day of your tramp, go to the DOC office and check the weather forecast. Whatever the forecast says, make sure you are prepared for anything from hot sun to extreme wind and rain to snow - even in the height of summer. (I had two hikes in snow in February) Fill out an intentions form, so that DOC know who to contact if you don't return, and will mount a search.


Inside of Carrington Hut

The backcountry huts in New Zealand are not like anything you would see in Australia.
The only way to get to most huts is to tramp, they are usually spaced about a day's walk apart for a medium to slow pace.
The interiors are usually plywood sheeting, and the furniture is usually all wooden.
Usually huts are placed in areas with excellent views.

Inside, they usually have:
  • bunks with matresses
  • Wooden table and bench seats
  • Rainwater tank
  • Sink and stainless steel benchtop for food preparation and cooking (often the sink has a tap from the rainwater tank)
  • Potbelly stove for heating.
  • Outside toilet (either longdrop or flush)
  • Log book for writing intentions
  • Coal for the stove, or an axe for cutting up firewood
  • Broom for sweeping dirt from packs and clothes out of the hut
  • Some huts have an assortment of pots and pans, but many have nothing
  • Great walk huts also have gas cookers supplied in summer

To help keep huts clean, take your boots off outside and leave them under the covered area to avoid getting dirt and mud inside the hut.

It is worth bringing a bedroll on most tramps, since if the weather turns bad, people tend to take the easiest route out, which means huts on the route can be over crouded, some people will have to sleep on the floor.

Some huts (including all great walk huts) have wardens quarters attached. The warden performes track and hut maintenance and cleaning, collects hut tickets/passes and lets you know about saftey rules.

Some great walks must be booked in advance, especially the Milford and Routeburn (book many months ahead) and the Kepler (book well ahead if in a group).

On the Kepler track, even booking does not necessarily guarantee a bed, since the track does get closed periodically over summer because of dangerous conditions on exposed ridges.

Food & Supplies

Also See my Tramping Supplies/Equipment List

Buying food and supplies for tramping whilst travelling brings the problem that everything comes in large packages, and you end up wasting stuff.
In cities and popular tramping areas, it is usually quite easy to find food for tramping. Buying other tramping equipment may be difficult outside cities.
When tramping, it is worthwhile taking a small container of herbs or spices ( chilli, mixed herbs, garlic, mustard, etc), these really make a difference to bland camp food. A small amount of robust fresh vegetables is also nice after a few days on the track (carrot,capsicum,etc).


There is no shortage of water in the mountains of the south island, carry only what you need for the day. Often you can get away with not even carrying enough for the full day, if you fill up from streams.
I drank quite a lot of untreated water in New Zealands Southern Alps, with no ill effects, however it is safer to use iodine tablets to purify it.
If you choose to drink untreated water, take it from a fast flowing part of a side stream which has no huts or toilets upstream, after checking for dead animals. In the alpine areas, you can often see the snow that the water is coming from.
Huts have their own tank water supply, and are often on a river anyway.


The more popular tracks usually have organised tramper transport (including the Milford, Kepler, Routeburn, Greenstone, Caples and Rees-Dart). Other tracks don't necessarily need transport (such as the Mueller Hut and Kepler Track). Hitching to trailheads on mainroads in hiking areas should not be too difficult - in Arthurs Pass, I hitched with two others, all with big packs and we got a lift within five minutes at the start and end of the track. Hitching does obviously have dangers - one of the drivers we were picked up by was not a very good driver, and nearly had an accident on a single lane bridge.

Useful Links

Official New Zealand Tourism Site

Department of Conservation - Track/Hut information, Great walks booking

New Zealand Tramper - Excellent track information resource.

Land Information NZ free detailed topographic maps online