Jul 27, 2011 at 12:15 am #1277251
I'm planning a quest to middle-earth (NZ) with a friend to retrieve the Ring, and I'm curious about the weather conditions in the alps in November and December. So far The Google is only giving me touristy info, so I'd appreciate any input from folks who have spent some time in the high country that time of year.
My friend who I'm traveling with is leaving late december, but I'm considering staying longer.
A few questions (opinions are welcome) : your favorite time of year to backpack in NZ? Why?
Thinking about a thru of Te Araroa or exploring by region. Given 2-4 months with a lightweight backpack in NZ, what would you do?
I'm generally pretty minimal and don't bother with bug protection here in the rockies: should I bring an inner net tent (don't own) or bivy (do own) to go with my tarp for bug protection?
Similarly, I get away with a TNF triumph anorak here in the rockies, but from recent experience I can say, its not a good piece for sustained rains. Should I expect sustained rains in november and december? If so, I might go for a lightweight EVENT.
I sleep warm: should I bring my 30 degree 16 oz quilt or my 15 degree 25 oz quilt? I will bring a synthetic parka to go with my sleep system. Possibly synth pants too.
Any other advice is welcome. My hiking partner and I have a good deal experience in pretty much every major region in the US. The plan is to be walking long days in beautiful places for two months strait. Can't wait!
Thanks in advance.Jul 27, 2011 at 4:24 am #1763506
@nzbazzaLocale: New Zealand
Going through your questions…
My favourite time for tramping in NZ is autumn, not as hot as summer, the weather generally is fairly stable and the days are still long enough but really each season has its own appeal. For a lot of people the tramping season starts late October through to April/May.
Firstly Te Araroa trail: go to teararoa.org.nz for maps, route guide and links to some blogs and journals. Reading through other peoples experiences 4 months seems to be a fairly fast time to do the trail.
If I had 4 months to travel around NZ I would look at exploring regions and doing tramps in those regions as Te Araroa in its efforts to be a continuous trail misses a lot of the best scenery of NZ.
Bring bug protection. Sandflies attack by day and mozzies by night. But they're about the only thing that you eat you in the NZ bush.
Weatherwise November is still spring and tends to be somewhat unsettled with strong winds and rain so if you're using a tarp a bivy bag is a good idea. A decent raincoat is imo essential, it's likely you will encounter several consecutive days of rain, usually wind-driven horizionally at you :) Temp-wise unless you are in the alpine region it rarely drops below freezing during summer.
Throughout the backcountry in NZ there are nearly 1000 huts run by the Department of Conservation (DOC) that are open to the public to use that range from very basic bivys to virtual mansions. For most of the huts it is "first-come first-served" i.e. no booking required or possible. Buy an Annual Hut Pass from DOC for about $120 ffor unlimited access. Some huts that are part of the "Great Walks" (which are all fantastic btw, worth checking out) can be booked online but the annual hut pass doesn't cover them. Some alpine huts are also not covered by the hut pass. At a basic bivy don't expect much, shelter and usually a water supply. A standard level hut often have mattresses, fireplace or potbelly, while some "serviced" huts have gas cookers and wardens to ensure hut fee compliance.Jul 27, 2011 at 8:45 am #1763569
I too am planning a Te Araroa thru-hike this year. Leaving October-ish is the plan, but I'd prefer to make it out there by September, but doubt I'll be done with the CT in time.
I've been doing allot of research and planning; I dunno how much I can realistically help, but if you want to shoot back and forth some ideas I'd love to. Probably help me out too.
I was planning on taking a WM Highlite for the entire duration of staying there. I think the 35-40 degree temp rating on that bag will do me just fine, but I sleep pretty warm normally.
Also, I'm taking my Z-Packs Hexamid TENT not tarp, I think the bugs might be an issue when not at high elevation, but I have no personal experience with this in NZ.
Hit me up though I've been doing lots of different digging and looking at trying to get the best bang for me.
-KevinJul 27, 2011 at 9:39 am #1763596
PM me for more info, but you seem to have gotten good info a few posts above. I lived in NZ for 3-4 years. It is my second home away from the US Pacific Northwest (my wife is a Kiwi).
Basically, I think the south island mountains (Alps, Fiordland) are very similar to the Cascades and Olympics in the US northwest. They are both at about the same latitudes. (40-50') and both mountains about the same distance from the nearest ocean, though the NZ Alps are a little closer.
The sandflies can be bad. Take DEET. My REI Jungle-Juice worked better than what others had.
The hut system in the NZ is great. Many backpacks you can do without a tent. In fact, in NZ, I only use a tent for car camping. All my backcountry adventures used huts. Some of the great walks have huge, rustic hotel like huts. Some of the more primitive ones are just 2 person shelters. I've stayed in some cool ones though. One memorable one that comes to mind was an old abandoned school house, somewhere on the southern coast. You'll want to do some of the great walks, even though they can be crowded. Do some smaller ones too.
November and December can be cool at night and very warm in the day, particularly on the dry side of the mountains (I.E Queenstown and Wanaka have big deltas between day and night temps in autumn and spring). Fiordland will be cool all the time.
Spend more of your time in the South Island, unless you want to explore the culture and people more. My favorite areas for a home base when not in the bush would be: Nelson, Queenstown/Wanaka, and Te Anau.
Expect a fair amount of rain in Fiordland and the west side of the Alps.
I also agree that you will see more picking regional treks instead of the thru-hike.
Outdoor gear is pricy there, take it all with you. You can buy stove fuel without a problem.
I will be in the Queenstown area doing the Routeburn Track around Nov 16-19th, if you want to join me. I'll be back in NZ for my sister-in-law's wedding and I'm heading down south for a few days after the wedding.Jul 27, 2011 at 11:31 am #1763654
@annapurnaJul 27, 2011 at 5:28 pm #1763821
Hi – good info above. NZ's spring weather is notoriously fickle. As we've just had a massive Antartic driven cold snap and big snowfalls in the southern mountains, it might be good to keep an eye on the weather (MetServ is a good resource) and/or contact the local DOC offices to obtain further local information.
November on the South Island – ask the mountaineers and alpine people in the know. Anything is possible weather wise here any time of year.
Rivers and stream crossings: can rise on a moment's notice. Lots of these on the SI plus two river safety zones where it's advised by TAT not to cross.
Te Araroa: most of the folks who successfully completed TA thru-hikes last season took about 150 days in total. Those who finished in mid-April into early May had some pretty cold weather and 1 hiker (see myadventureplus.com) was not able to finish due to late season foul weather.
TA's Google groups has been active recently and Facebook more so now that spring is approaching.
Good luck with your trek.Jul 31, 2011 at 12:34 am #1764816
thanks everyone for the comments and links!
I'm leaning toward picking specific areas to explore over a 2 mont period-unfortunately, I don't think I can afford to stick around long enough for te araroa.
I'll probably just bring a headnet for bugs, as i don't tend to spend a lot of time hanging out at camp. The hut pass sounds well worth it even if my friend and I are only occasionally ducking our heads out of the rain.
I'm still considering different rain gear options. May go with an umbrella and TNF triumph or a windshirt. Event would be nice, but its expensive.
Thanks again, and let me know if any other suggestions come to mind.Jul 31, 2011 at 6:16 am #1764837
I think you're making the right choice in picking specific areas rather than doing Te Araroa, although it's improved NZ isn't really that good for thru-hiking.
My favorite area of the country by some margin is Mt Aspiring National Park + Fiordland (they border each other so really it's a continuous area), which is also the largest single park area in the country. I spent nearly 2 years hiking about 12 days every month in this region, and haven't come close to covering even the main routes through the area. Pick up a copy of the two Moir's guides and you have a huge choice of trips, I can give you a list of some of my favorites if you like, on many you might not see a single person for days on end even in summer. If I only had a few months I'm not sure I'd bother with anything in the North Island, Stuart Island gives you a good taste of what the low level bush walking in the North Island is like. One issue you'll find is access to the trailheads, ideally you'd buy a cheap car and resell at the end of your trip. Organising trips with resupply is pretty hard, impossible in the best areas without something like a helicopter drop, so this naturally limits the length of single trips. Though you could stash supplies at or near the trailhead/roadend and loop back before heading out in a different direction.
The sandflies in summer down south can be pretty overwhelming, and they can bite you through a head net where it contacts your skin. They generally disappear not long after dark, but this can be late when the days are long in December, even when you walk 12+ hours a day you're still going to be faced with the problem. At least the bites don't itch badly though. I got through two summers ok with just a bivy and a tarp, but this time around I will go for some sort of inner net or tent, I'd strongly consider this. It can be pretty hard to camp high to avoid them even if the weather looks ok, often you just won't have the option.
Expect rain all year around, there isn't a wet or dry season. I've used Goretex, Event and now a cheap Marmot Mica jacket, and noticed no real difference between them, I'm sure your anorak would work just fine. Plan on getting completely saturated, so have enough clothing for the day that you'll be warm enough when you're soaked through and walking in the wind and rain at near freezing temperatures, even in mid summer. Often this means you might feel you're taking too much gear when the weather stays mild for a trip, but the weather can vary immensely, it can snow on the higher routes in the summer On the brightside it means I'm generally taking a very similar kit for most trips which keeps things simple. Take some rain pants. Apologies if this paragraph comes across as at all patronizing : )
Outside of winter I was ok with a 16.5oz Nunatak Ghost + 6oz hooded Nunatak Skaha Vest, in a bivy bag. Again, it felt like too much at lower altitudes on warm summery nights, at other times in cold wet weather higher up I really needed it all. Don't be stingy with your pad R value, sometimes you'll be on stony and wet ground which will sap your warmth. Although usually you can, don't rely on wearing any day clothes, they may be too wet and I can tell you from bitter experience drying them in the bag won't work.
One of the great things about NZ is that you can do a lot of walking all year around. My personal favorite is spring, because there is still snow on some the mountains, the days are long enough for plenty of walking ,the evenings/mornings are cold enough to keep sandflies away, and the whole place is less busy than summer. However, practically late summer/autumn can be the best time for some of the hikes involving some of the high passes because they are more certain to be clear of snow, and my impression is that the weather is more settled in late summer/autumn (I haven't checked the stats though). And as soon as you get off the popular routes you really don't see anyone all year around anyway. Winter is a good time for the lower altitude walking, but the days can get a bit short (take a book!), and it's a bit uncomfortable pulling on frozen shoes in the morning and crossing painfully cold streams. But unless you're really getting high (ie with crampons and an ice axe), it doesnt get cold enough to warrant any real winter gear like waterproof shoes, just a warmer bag, thicker pad, and some extra fleece during the day. Often in winter you'll have some of the big 40+ bunk huts to yourself.
Aside from the long route around Stuart Island I would avoid the great walks in the busy season unless you are an absolute novice hiker with no tent (which you are not). The tracks are very flat and groomed, there are large (40+ bunks) huts filled to capacity every night, and you need to book huts and often even campsites, some which are expensive and which the annual hut pass won't cover. Don't get me wrong, they do cover some fantastic areas, and they are a great idea for people just getting into walking or who might not otherwise get outside. But there are plenty of other routes which are just as good or better with fewer people and better for camping. There are some offtrail routes which you can include parts of the great walk tracks of some of them anyway.
Let me know if you have any more questions.. Also http://www.nztopomaps.com/ is great for planning trips, you might even be able to get usable prints from this and then get them laminated (paper maps can be disastrous, you really need to be able to read maps in the rain).Jul 31, 2011 at 6:42 am #1764841
These contain route descriptions for basically every route worth doing from Stewart Island up to around Mt Cook, which is essentially the bottom half of the South Island. There are similar types of guide books covering the island further north, though they aren't quite of the same quality IMO.
I photocopy the relevant pages for a trip and put them in large ziplock bags so I can read them in the rain.
There is enough impassable terrain that I wouldn't want to tackle anything off-trail without some sort of route description, unless you can afford many days of trial and error exploring. Off trail in the bush can be tough, especially in Fiordland.Jul 31, 2011 at 6:50 am #1764843
I'm no photographer, but my flickr account (http://www.flickr.com/photos/12216474@N02/sets/) has photos of some of my trips, sadly I have a backlog of many more still to put up. But it should give you an idea of the contrast between the North and South islands.Aug 3, 2011 at 12:25 am #1765725
Thanks for the excellent info Adrian! Also, those pictures are inspiring. Can't wait to get out there.Aug 3, 2011 at 9:01 am #1765773
Check out the blog of a friend who completed the trail about a year and a half ago:
I'm sure he would be happy to answer questions and supply more info.
Looks like an awesome experience – enjoy!
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