Lifestyles

Hike your way to health

New Zealand is blessed with some of the world’s best and most beautiful walking trails and hikes. Autumn is a great time of year to get out while temperatures aren’t too hot or too cold - ideal for enjoying the stunning scenery that this country has to offer. Plus there are some great health benefits to hiking! 

Fidelity Life’s Senior Projects & Brand Manager Sue Cardwell is an avid tramper in her spare time. Here she shares her top tips for getting the most out of the great outdoors – or where to start for those who are new to tramping.

She says:

Got an exam? Poor concentration? Spend a night in the Kiwi wilderness!

That's the message from researchers who tested the memories of people after a walk either in amongst trees or in a city. Those who walked in the bush performed 20% better! New Zealanders surveyed by the Department of Conservation get all sorts of benefits from using national parks; their top motivations are to get away from it all, spend time with family, enjoy a physical challenge and improve their health.

With all those benefits within reach, what are you waiting for?

Feeling daunted by the thought of a night in the wild?

Start small. No matter where you live in New Zealand, there's a regional or national park close to home. In fact, they cover about 30% of the country, and include a range of trails to suit you. DOC categorises these from "easiest" to "expert" so you know exactly what to expect. Choose simpler options for your first excursions, such as staying in a hut rather than a tent. 

Don't feel that you need to spend a lot of money before you can start - a minimal approach is often best. Try adapting what you have, and borrowing or hiring what you don't have. Some outdoor gear shops like Living Simply in Auckland hire boots and equipment, and can give great advice about where to go and how to prepare. That said, there are precautions you should take to make sure mishap doesn't turn into disaster, such as preparing a good first aid kit, bringing a spare meal in case you take longer than planned, and registering your intentions before you leave. And if you’re planning to go off the beaten track, an emergency beacon or satellite messenger is a good idea.

Here are some tips to make your escape an easy and smooth one.

1. Use the Department of Conservation website to find your ideal outing.

DOC helpfully categorises all walking routes from "easiest" to "expert" and tells you how long a typical adult will take to walk them. 

Similarly, DOC campsites and huts are described in detail so you know exactly what to expect. DOC manages almost 1,000 huts and over 250 campsites, so you'll have plenty of choice!

2. Prepare, but keep it simple.

A common mistake is to buy lots of gear when starting outdoor pursuits - ask any tramper and they'll confess they've done this at some stage! At best, you end up with more than you need; at worst, your backpack is so heavy that your outing becomes very uncomfortable. After your first few outings you'll have a good idea of what items you'd like to invest in and which ones are unnecessary.

Barbecues, deck chairs and portable speakers may end up being more hassle than they're worth. Remember you're trying to get away from it all and enjoy nature. Consider leaving mobile phones switched off (they probably won't have reception in the bush anyway) and taking only what you need to be comfortable in the outdoors. 

Check out my starter checklist of the 33 items you truly need to be comfortable.

3. Consider staying in a hut rather than a tent.

Staying in a hut requires less gear and less know-how when you're starting out. Huts are usually equipped with mattresses, basic toilets, a water supply and often wood-burning stoves. 


Ready to tramp? 
Find an outing near you at http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/.

Photo credit: Sue Cardwell