There is always potential for some confusion when reading between different cultures and languages. New Zealand has developed its vocabulary and personalities rapidly despite its young age as a nation. There are three official languages recognised in New Zealand, namely English, Maori and NZ sign language. It can be a little unsettling to arrive at the airport and disembark, and you’re fairly certain that the locals are speaking English, but it sounds like they’re speaking a mixture of English, American, Dutch, Scottish… And they are!
New Zealand attracts a certain type of personality. Over the years it has been settled by people with strong independent character answering its challenging call. From the artist their easel, or the photographer with their camera, or give it a go and get it working sort of bloke, or woman there is something special about New Zealand that attracts us. , Over the centuries, whether it was by waka (Canoe), whaling ship, paddle steamer or jumbo jet, New Zealand gives out a siren call that resonates with many of us. New Zealand is one of the few countries (if not the last) that is not stifled in red tape affecting entrepreneurial enterprises and daily living. That includes going out to play in the great outdoors. Basically, you’re an adult and able to take responsibility for yourself and your colleagues/ team/ friends that are with you. This particularly applies to accessing the mountains and forests.
New Zealand’s hills and mountains play rough and tough, and they play for keeps. In some countries, search and rescue is run by the military branches who specialise in that line of rescue work. They operate almost 24/7 in all types of horrible weather, using very expensive and fancy equipment and are up and running within moments of getting the distress call. And of course, mobile telephone networks provide an almost total safety blanket of cover.
Not so here in New Zealand. Search and rescue on land is coordinated by a small team of dedicated CIVILIAN personnel, who rely heavily upon volunteers to assist in times when greater numbers of manpower are required. They don’t have access to all the resources that other countries have. This means that if the weather is too bad, or it is dark, or at night they may not be able to fly out to help you.
And there are huge areas of New Zealand where mobile telephones do not work. The coverage is too limited to rely on it safely as a sole means of communicating distress. You are strongly advised to carry a personal locator beacon which works via satellite and provides the rescue coordinating team a fairly accurate location to start searching from. Just remember to get one that is registered to notify the NZ authorities. Having somebody ring the doorbell to ask if you’re ok back home isn’t going to do you much good when you’re wanting rescued out of the forest, or off a cliff here in NZ.
New Zealand also has a reasonably relaxed attitude towards hunting with firearms. Basically, its the responsibility of the hunter to identify their target before firing. Of the few shooting accidents that do occur, its nearly always involving members of the hunting team that set out together. But you can help minimise the risk by wearing bright colours such as orange blaze or blue.
Oh, and we call it tramping here in NZ, not hiking. Its a little more back to basics and tougher.
Hiking is usually associated with well formed and established tracks. There may even be a regular network of accommodation providers, who cover every aspect of personalised service from hot meals, comfortable beds and even offering to take your backpack/ rucksack from A to B for you for a small fee. There is a limited number of tracks and walks where you can experience this. And pay for the privilege. Off the top of our heads, its about 12.
Otherwise, you take it all with you. Bed, tent/ shelter, sleeping kit, food, water, safety gear, clothes, boots, map, etc. And you bring it all back out with you as well. There are no refuse stations in the mountains. There’s a couple of phrases that you’ll hear repeatedly around the hills, almost like a mantra… “Pack it in, pack it out.” and “Respect the land. Leave only footprints and a memory.”
And the tracks are not always well defined. There will be times where you need skills with a compass and map, can physically walk up steep inclines, and back down the other side. There will be times where you have to dig down deep inside yourself to get through a particularly rough patch, and times where you need to courage to say to yourself its time to stop and bunker down, or even not step out of the hut door because its not safe to do so.
Remember the 3 Morepork? Wisdom, guardianship and respect for Nature. The tramping and mountaineering journals are full of people who didn’t, and didn’t live to regret their decisions. Please don’t let it be you we read about.