Hiking was one of my favourite activities to do in New Zealand. For one thing, it was free. For another, there was always plenty of beautiful views that I got as a reward at the end. However, to be honest, I hiked mostly because it was free. I rarely hike when I am on holiday overseas but organised activities in New Zealand were usually quite costly so I turned to nature to enjoy the best of New Zealand instead. As a newbie at hiking though, I felt that there’s always learning opportunities so here are some of my mistakes that I hope others can learn from for a better experience in New Zealand.
1. Not being aware of time. You know they always say the early bird catches the worm? Well, for hiking, this rings true most of the time. So be smart and make sure to always check the duration of the hike before starting one, especially if you intend to do it later in the day. You wouldn’t want to start hiking too close to sunset unless it’s a short trail. There were times when I was working morning and could only explore in the afternoons so I would try to fit in some hiking only to realise I had to hustle to make it back down before it got dark. Being in the forest as it got darker was not something I would want to repeat so please be more aware of the time when you go hiking.
2. Not being aware of the weather. Weather in New Zealand changes all the time. I know that everyone says this all the time but I can attest that it is really true most of the time. Don’t be fooled by the bright sun in the sky. It might look nice and sunny but the wind could be bitterly cold in reality so always check for weather forecast before starting a long hike. Hiking after rain means you should expect a muddy trail so don’t be surprised if the hike gets a bit more tougher. I can assure you that hiking up on a muddy trail gets really tricky, trying not to get sucked into the mud as you walk. That wasn’t a fun hike at all, neither was having to do it in the rain. Yes, that idiot was me.
3. Not dressing appropriately. I wrote about aborting my hike up to the summit of Ben Lomond in Queenstown because I was not dressed correctly for it (well, my physical stamina was the main reason but hey, this was still one of my reasons for it too!). If you are planning to climb high, make sure you wear layers so that you can put it on as the weather changes when you get higher. This was a newbie mistake that I wished I had known of earlier. My wind jacket was also not appropriate for a mountain climb so it hindered me rather than helping on my hike up.
4. Not bringing enough basic essentials. Regardless of whether the trail is meant to be a short or long one, make sure you bring along basic essentials such as water (bring lots!), sunscreen (because New Zealand’s sun is harsh) or a hat. Some snack bars would also be a good option to bring along on the hike. I’ve got to admit that I’ve missed taking along all these on some of my hikes. The impromptu walk I took with just a small bottle of water ended up with me rationing my water supply to ensure it lasted until I got back. Or the many times I got tanned after my long hikes because I forgot to bring along a hat or sunscreen for the hike. It happened, yes, so please do better than I did.
5. Getting lost on the trail. My problem with hiking in New Zealand was that not all trails may be clearly marked at every point. I’m the worst navigator ever so some of the trails that I’ve hiked on alone threw me off when they didn’t have any clear signs along the trail. It’s especially confusing when there are more than one trail crossing my path so there were times when I’ve had to backtrack because I went the wrong way. Sometimes there’s not even a sign to tell me that I’m heading the wrong way other than my own intuition. After all, ending up in a forested area that got denser as you went further along couldn’t possibly be a good sign, right?
6. Not pacing myself during my hikes. In New Zealand, there’s always different hiking trails to suit all ages and physical stamina. I would say that it’s best to use the estimated duration of hike to also pace yourself if you are on a longer hike. You can just adjust the time expectations according to your stamina. I usually don’t complete my hikes within the estimated duration because I sometimes took too many breaks whenever I wanted to. During those times, I always end up reminding myself to be more mindful of the time and pace myself instead so that I don’t take too long on the trails, especially if it’s getting late in the afternoon.
Lastly, I would like to offer some wisdom as a newbie hiker in New Zealand. As an observation from the hiking that I’ve done in New Zealand, it’s best to expect the unexpected as each hike is unique. I’ve hiked on trails with paved and clearly marked pathways, I’ve also hiked in areas where it’s mostly rocks or with no demarcations at all. Each hiking experience is different and yet I still cherish each one of them no matter how much they had probably pained me then. So I just hope that my mistakes were useful to manage expectations especially if you are new to hiking in New Zealand.
I honestly loved hiking in New Zealand and I still think of my hiking experiences fondly regardless the tough times I had gone through getting to the end. After all, hiking is still one of the best ways to see New Zealand…it’s cheaper too. 😉
P/S: For those experienced hikers, I would like some advice on hiking alone in winter. Are there any additional tips as it will be my first time hiking in winter? Please do share if you have any!! 🙂