New Zealand hiking safety
When hiking in New Zealand, or tramping as Kiwis call it, it is important to follow some basic safety rules. Every year thousands of people hike in New Zealand without any issues, but every year there are also serious incidents in the mountains, which sometimes even results in death. Simple safety precautions should be, and should have been used to avoid accidents.
Basic Hiking Rules
- Choose a track that suits your level of fitness and experience, and allow plenty of time to finish before dark.
- Check out the current track and weather conditions before starting your hike. The local DOC office has regular daily updates.
- Weather can change very rapidly, so ensure you carry cothes for different weather conditions.
- Go at least with one other person and stay on the track, and leave your trip details with someone and expected return time before you set off.
- Purify river or lake water before drinking it.
- Carry a first aid kit, warm clothes, map etc..
- Carry emergency food in case you need to spend an extra night in the bush.
- If you get hit by heavy rain and the rivers have risen, stay where you are until the river levels drop again, retrace your steps or follow another route. Do not cross a flooding river unless you are entirely sure you can cross safely.
Even though New Zealand tramping tracks are marked very well, people do get lost, in particular in adverse weather conditions. The New Zealand bush can be very dense, and even on an easy hour walk it is possible to get lost. Before going out, always make sure someone responsible knows where you are going and you are expected to return. You should nearly always find a local DOC office (Department of Conservation) or visitor where you can fill out an intentions form. If you plan to go remote for a number of days, you may also hire emergency locator beacons from DOC offices. Should you be staying in huts along the way, write you party member names in the available logbooks with details about when you were there and where you will be going.
If for some reason you do get lost follow these basic rules:
- Stay calm and plan carefully what to do
- If you need to spend an extra night on the track, find or make a shelter, put on extra clothes and build a fire.
- Only if you are certain that you can retrace your steps then follow your route back, otherwise stay put
Crossing a flooded river
At most rivers there are swing bridges to cross safely. Smaller streams don't pose a big challenge under normal conditions, but any crossing must be considered carefully. After heavy rain persisting for even less than an hour, river levels may swell rapidly that it becomes dangerous to cross a ford. If you encounter such scenario, find another place to cross, or wait rather than attempting to cross. As fast as river levels may rise, they will drop equally as fast as well.
Emergency evacuation and communication
Never leave someone behind alone in case of an accident or injury. Leave somebody with him or her while another person goes for help. If there are only two of you, leave the injured person with warm clothes, food and water and a whistle and torch. Be aware that a rescue operation may take quite some time, perhaps even a day or two.
If you're out in the New Zealand outdoors, chances are you may have no available communications, so use internationally recognized emergency signals. Give 6 short signals such as a whistle, a yell or a flash light at 10 second intervals, followed by a break of a minute. Repeat the sequence until your response is seen or heard.