Showing posts with label Paparoa/Pike 29 Track. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paparoa/Pike 29 Track. Show all posts

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Organising a tramp on a 'Great Walk'

How to plan a trip to one of the Great Walks

I have recently been planing my tramping season for the summer of 2019/2020. I do this every year so I have a list I can tick as I complete trips....if I do not have a list I tend to let things drift and then suddenly its April and I say "...hey....why didn't I do much tramping this year..."

Like duhhhhhhh (as the kids say)....

Jon standing on McKinnon Pass, Milford Track in December 2018

Part of my planning is around the Great Walks. I'm walking two this year, the first is the Routeburn Track in December and the second is the Rakuira Track with Karen in late January. After that I only have the Kepler and the Paparoa/Pike 29 Track and I have finished all of them....then I start something else, like the Rakuira Northern Circuit...Camino de Santiago...GR20 or maybe just finish the Te Araroa (still 2600km of it to walk...)...

Update:Ha, ha, ha...nice one DOC and Minister Eugenie Sage. Now 11 Great Walks, the Humpridge Track is going to become a Great Walk after a $5 million upgrade to the track and huts. I would imagine we are looking at 2021 or 2022 before it opens in that guise. 

I digress...I thought it might be useful to look at the process you need to follow to book a Great Walk.

Choose your Great Walk:

There are 11 Great Walks to chose from, from north to south they are:

Lake Waikaremoana Track, 46 km, 4-5 days, North Island
Tongariro Northern Crossing, 43km, 3-4 days, North Island
Whanganui River Journey, 145km, 3-5 days, North Island (by canoe/kayak)
Abel Tasman Coastal Track, 60km, 3-5 days, South Island
Heaphy Track, 78.4km, 4-6 days, South Island
Paparoa Track/Pike 29 Memorial Track (opens 1 December 2019), 45kms, 3days, South Island
Routeburn Track, 32km, 2-4 days, South Island
Milford Track, 53.5km, 4 days, South Island
Kepler Track, 60km, 3-4 days, South Island
Humpridge Track, 67 km, 3-4 days, South Island
Rakuira Track, 32km, 3 days, Rakuria/Stewart Island

On the Tongariro Northern Circuit back in the early 1990's

Most of these tracks are in the South Island only the top three are in the North Island. This will change over time as there is a long term DOC plan to build more Great Walks and I would imagine some of them will be in the North Island. How about the Round the Mountain Great was one of the first National Parks and really lovely country. I would sign up to walk it in a heartbeat.

Choose a track that suits your abilities, fitness level and finances.  

Research the trip:

The first step is to research the be-jesus out of the trip you are planning. You need to find out about: the difficulty of the track, hut/campsite availability, tide charts (for the Abel Tasman), transport options, track safety hazards, accommodation requirements before/after the trip etc. etc.

DOC tide chart for Abel Tasman NP for summer 2019/2020

You need to know all of the relevant information BEFORE you book your hut tickets so that you are walking the track on the right day, right month & in the right conditions. You can never do too much research.....and always remember the 6 P's: Prior Planing Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

Also keep the MSC Outdoor Safety Code  in mind while planning:

Plan your trip
Tell someone your plans
Be aware of the weather
Know your limits
Take sufficient supplies

I will generally start my research with the DOC brochure about the particular Great Walk and also peruse the DOC website. Then I check other online sites, route guides and books about that particular track. I will also talk to other people about the track as you often get great information from fellow trampers that you will never find in a guidebook.

Rakiura Track: the DOC track brochure for this Great Walk

Most of my information will come from the Internet but I do have an extensive collection of tramping books, magazines and other information. I have several good guides specifically about walking the Great Walk tracks. It also helps that I am a Librarian who works in a library full of books on outdoor recreation....massive job perks yeah!!! 

Great Walks of New Zealand by Craig Potton...just one of my extensive library of tramping books

You can check out the Mountain Safety Council (MSC) guide to planning a multi-day tramp. Once you have enough information you can start to book that trip. 

Book the DOC hut space/camp site

The next step is to book the hut/campsites you will use each night while on track. All huts/campsites on a Great Walk must be pre-booked during the summer season (October to March). Outside of these times the huts are first come first served but make sure you check as there are variations across the different tracks. During the summer there will be DOC Rangers at the huts and they will charge you double the price if you do not have a booking.

Rakiura Track: the DOC track brochure for this Great Walk

There is a differential pricing regime for the Great Walks. It was a trial scheme for 2018/2019/2020 but as we all know once a new fee or tax is introduced it is never going away!

If you are a Kiwi expect to pay from $30-$80 per hut night & $10-$20 per campsite, children under 18 are free but still require a booking. International visitors get a can expect to pay up to $140 per night for a hut stay on the tracks in Fiordland (adults & children) and you pay $30-40 for campsites on any of these tracks.

The DOC information about the differential price regime for Great Walks

To book the huts go to the DOC hut booking website set up a DOC account and search for your track of choice.

You will need to set up an account with DOC if you do not have one, as the hut bookings are linked to it. Go to the new customer page, fill in the details and submit. Your account needs to be open for the hut booking to work.

DOC account set up page

Next select the Great Walk you wish to walk and fill in all the relevant information about number of nights (days on the track), number of people, start date, accommodation date and direction if required. Check your details, pay for your hut stay and are going to be walking that track.

DOC hut booking system, with a setting for the Great Walks

You are a bloody legend!!!

Organise Transport: to the Great Walk

Some of these walks require you to book transport to the start/end of the track, different tracks will have different requirements. As part of your initial research make sure you check out all the transport requirements for your particular track. 

On the Wanganui River Journey you need to hire a canoe or kayak

In the case of the Milford Track this is an integral part of the whole hut booking process. You book a shuttle to Te Anau Downs, a water taxi from Te Anau Downs to Glade Wharf and another from Sandfly Point to Milford. Finally you need to book shuttle transport from Milford Sound to Te Anau.

DOC use these transport chokepoints as a means of monitoring use of the track as freedom camping is not allowed near the Milford Track.

You cannot board a Milford Track watertaxi if you are not:

1. returning by another boat later in the day, or
2. booked into one of the huts/lodges for the night.

On the watertaxi from Te Anau Downs to Glade Wharf, Lake Te Anau

Sandfly Point, Milford Track: boarding the water taxi to Milford township

On most of  the others you will need to book buses, shuttles and in some cases water taxis to the start of the track. On the Abel Tasman Coastal Track you need to take a watertaxi from Marahau/Kaiteriteri to Totaranui or from Totaranui to Marahau/Kaiteriteri depending on your direction of travel.

Aqua Taxi getting ready to leave Totaranui beach after dropping passengers

Likewise it is a good idea to take a watertaxi to the far side of Lake Waikaremoana and walk back to your car. Most people approach Te Urewera National Park from Wairoa so this means a watertaxi from Onepoto to Hopuruahine Landing. That at least that is what I did when I walked the track back in the early 1990's.

Looking out over Lake Waikaremoana from the Panekiere Bluffs

On the Kepler, Routeburn, Paparoa and Heaphy you need shuttle carriage to the start/finish of the track unless you have someone who can transport you. Both the Routeburn and Heaphy have several hundred kilometers between ends. Tracknet is one of the companies who transport trampers to the southern tracks but there are a number of others as well so check them out.

Tracknet shuttle at the Te Anau DOC office

Look online for more information about transport companies, a good search term would be [great walk name + track transport] ie. [milford track transport]. Numerous services and companies will come up, compare for the best prices and schedule.

Organise Transport: to the start/finish of the track

How are you going to get to the track in the first place...will you drive, take a bus, fly or can someone drop you off. Usually you will need to start from one of the trail towns: Karamea, Marahau/Kaiteriteri, Te Anau, Takaka, Queenstown & National Park are just some of them. 

The beach at Kaiteriteri, Nelson/Tasman District...awesome in summer!

Personally I like to use public transport as much as can get a cheap Intercity bus fare from Christchurch to Te Anau for as little as $32 NZ dollars if you book in advance. This compares with over $150-$200 to drive my car to Te Anau one way. I'm saving money, saving the environment and I get to look at the nice scenery en route..!

BTW: I like to go have a pie n' pint at the pub right next to the Intercity stop in Gore. You stop there for 45 minutes, youre not driving and its right next to the bus stop. Seems a shame not to...just dont miss the bus.

My Intercity bus to Te Anau for the Milford Track...flash as bro!!!

If you are going to Rakuira you need to either fly at $440 per person return or catch the Bluff to Oban ferry $150 return. Rakuira is 30 kilometres away from the South Island so there is no other way to get there. Once in Oban you are fine as everything is close together but if required there are various transport options on the island.

Oban...the only settlement on Rakuira/Stewart Island

In my experience it is best to book any public transport early i.e. at the same time as the hut bookings so you can catch the best deals. If you wait you may find there are no services left or they will cost you your kidneys and lungs!

Book accommodation if required: Hotels, motels and the YHA

So you have arranged transport to the trail town at the start of your Great you need accommodation before or after you walk the track?

 I don't know about your situation but Christchurch is a LOOOONGGGGGG way from some of these places; 600+ kms to Te Anau, 600+ kms to Takaka, 500+kms from Marahau/Kaiteriteri. You are probably going to need to stay somewhere for at least one night.

Jon having a break in Murchison...half way between Christchurch and Motueka

I find that the accommodation in Great Walk trail towns will quickly fill up once hut bookings for the tracks open. You need to book any accommodation at the same time as you book the tracks. I try to conserve money...I don't mind slumming it a bit if it will save me a lot of cash on accommodation. Look at campgrounds (they often have cheap cabins etc.), YHA hostels, backpacker hostels and motels.

Generally booking direct will be cheaper than using Expedia/Trivago or a similar service but check and compare prices to get the best deal. 

Cheap backpackers accommodation in gone upmarket with heinous prices to boot!!!

Some particulars...I usually take the bus to Te Anau so I stay for two nights before starting the southern tracks, it gives me time to get there and organise myself pre-trip. For the Abel Tasman National Park I tend to stay in is only 25 minutes from Marahau and there are more accommodation options there.

For the Heaphy track stay in Nelson or Takaka and catch one of the many shuttles which go to the track end each day. For Rakuira you should stay in Invercargill as it is larger (more accommodation/restaurants etc.) than Bluff and has the airlink to Oban based there.

Out for a stroll along the lakeside, Lake Te Anau, Te Anau township

It is nice to have an extra day at the trail town at the start/end of your trip..hey this might be the only time you are here so why not give yourself enough time to check out the local sights. 

Start a training regime

If you are like me you will tend to do less physical activity over the winter and spring months...resist this and plan a proper training regime to keep your fitness up. Some of these tracks are rated easy but most of them require a moderate level of fitness especially the ones around the Southern Lakes (Kepler, Milford, Routeburn). 

Mt Grey near Amberly, North Canterbury is excellent training for a Great Walk

I do walks after work and in the weekends as often as possible and try to get out for a couple of tramps over the winter season although this is often curtailed by awful weather. Make sure you will be fit enough to comfortably complete the track.

Out walking the Travis Wetlands Track in mid Winter

If you are going to attempt the Paparoa/Pike 29 Track then get working hard right now. It doesn't open until December 2019 but I have seen some photos of the track and it looks challenging. I believe it is always going to be right up at the hard end of the Great Walk scales.

A lot of hil climbing on the Paparoa/Pike 29 Track

The new Humpridge Great Walk is very similar and requires a good standard of fitness to complete as there are two long days and a significant climb to undertake. 

Humpridge Track: 900 meters of altitude gain on the first day..

Organise your tramping gear

The gear you take with you on a great walk will not vary greatly between the different tracks and breaks down into three distinct areas. These are clothing, equipment and food.


You need to take the same type and amount of clothing that you would carry on any other multiday tramp. Just because it is a great walk does not mean you can skimp on good quality rain gear and warm clothing.

Jacket and warm merino top on a cold morning, Milford Track in December

We have an oceanic, temperate climate so rain, strong wind, snow, extreme cold and blistering heat are all possible during the summer tramping season. I have literally been walking in 30 degree heat in the morning and trudging through snow in the afternoon the weather can change that quickly.

The amount of gear I usually carry for an 3-7 day over night tramp....

Be prepared for all climatic eventualities and you will be fine:)

....the gear I carried on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track back in 2017


Most of the equipment will be standard...the gear you always carry with you tramping. Sleeping kit, clothing, safety, electronics, cooking...stuff to keep you alive and happy.  DOC have a handy What to take on a Great Walk list, have a look at what they recommend.

Here are a couple of things to consider:
  • many of the Great Walk huts have gas cookers provided over summer so you can leave the stove and gas canisters at home. Check for availability when planing your trip. Do take a cooking pot, spoon/spork/fork/knife, plate/bowl and a cup for putting your food into...they are not provided!
  • if you are booked into a hut you can leave the tent at home cutting some weight. Do take some form of light weight bivy with you as an emergency backup. I carry a SOL breathable bivvy bag
  • you might be able to use a smaller pack, I have walked both the Milford and Abel Tasman with my smaller 55l Osprey pack
  • track quality is usually better on a Great Walk so you might be able to wear walking shoes rather than boots. Again, check track conditions when planning your trip. 
  • most of the Great Walk huts have flush toilets and toilet paper but not all of them. Check if you need to carry this precious material with you....

Clinton Hut, Milford Track: note the gas cookers provided on this track

Food...fuel to keep you going!

 You cannot buy food on a Great Walk..we are not that fancy here in New Zealand. You will need breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks and snacks for each of the days you are walking. Make sure you take the right kind of food and enough to see you through to the end of the track. Take an extra days food in case you get stuck somewhere.

Four days of tramping food laid out for packing...

Remember food is the fuel that keeps you moving when you are tramping. A couple of days of hard physical activity is not the time for your trendy keto large & eat well to keep yourself going.

Here are a couple of other things to consider:

  • Do take an extra days food as people often get stuck in Great Walk huts due to weather or other natural hazzards. It is no fun facing a forced hut rest day if you are me I know!
  • All food should be lightweight, compact, easy to prepare and need a mix of carbohydrates, protein, sugars, fats and oils for good health and energy.
  • Don't take too much is super heavy. A good average is between 600-750gms of food per person/per day. 
  • keep hydrated....drink water often and in volume. Generally the water available in the huts and shelters can be used without treatment but I'm cautious so I always use chlorine tablets. I would rather drink weird tasting water than catch a bug. Fill your water bottle(s) every chance you get...
  • don't forget to take tea, coffee, fruit juice powders etc. Drinking a lot of unflavoured water gets tedious and its always nice to have a delicious brew when you get to the hut
  • Alcohol is allowed in DOC huts but don't get carried away. The other people sharing the hut with you do not want to deal with your drunken antics. Red wine is good...
  • if you can stomach them, freeze dried meals are custom made for a Great Walk. Quick, light, tasty and easy to make. That said half the hut was salivating over the soft fluffy rice and homemade vegetable curries a Japanese man was eating on the Milford Track. By gawd it looked good....... your choice.

Outdoor Gourmet: Venison and Rice Noodle Stirfry...very tasty freeze dried meal!!

If you require additional information have a look at my post about food for a four day tramp, check the internet (lots of information) or look on the MSC and DOC websites.

General considerations

Some of these tracks are dangerous out of season so only plan a trip at that time if you are a steely eyed, hard arsed bush pig with navigation knowledge, avalanche assessment abilities and fantastic bush craft skills. Im not joking....3-10 people a year die walking Great Walks out of season...don't be one of them!

Routeburn Track in winter, photo from Stuff website

Some Great Walks are quickly booked out, especially the Milford/Kepler/Routeburn tracks so you need to check on availability before arranging transport etc as the walk may be full on the days you want. Generally you want to be booking your hut spots when they open for the new season in mid right now!!!!

Hut bookings for Milford Track, December 2019...yep its totally full!

If you are walking the Abel Tasman Coastal Track take your swimwear AND a pair of footwear for the tidal crossings. The water is heavenly during the summer in the Abel Tasman...swim every day! There are a lot of tidal crossings on this track and that sand (while beautiful) is like walking across powdered glass as it is high in silica.

Totaranui Beach....beautiful but that sand is like powdered glass!!!

Trampers on the tidal crossing at Torrent Bay, Abel Tasman Coastal Track

I use a pair of $20 dollar knock off Crocs from the, light weight, fashion forward...they make great hut shoes!

Get walking......... have organised your Great Walk wait for that date, tell someone where you are going, grab your gear and get walking that track....I hope you have a lot of fun!

Jon at the start of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, Totaranui Campground

I might see you out there sometime...