8 Reasons To Go Guided When Overnight Hiking in New Zealand

8 Reasons To Go Guided When Overnight Hiking in New Zealand


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5 hikers in colourful gear walk a flat track along a valley surrounded by snowcapped hills.
Hiking up Siberia Valley in Mt Aspiring National Park

The team here at Active Adventures are an outdoorsy bunch. Every weekend you’ll find a handful of us out there in the hills, or on the rivers, getting stuck in to New Zealand in all its natural beauty. One of our favourite ways to spend a long weekend is by grabbing a backpack, packing a toothbrush, a cooker, a few meals, and a sleeping bag, and heading for one of the 950 huts dotted all over the country. Here we’ll talk about spending time in the backcountry on overnight ‘missions’ and offer some advice on how best to tackle the great New Zealand outdoors!

A backcountry hut sits in a basin next to a large alpine lake.
Angelus Hut on the edge of Lake Angelus in Nelson Lakes National Park

Background on New Zealand’s backcountry

As kiwis, we are lucky enough to have some of the best walking in the world, in our backyards. New Zealand has hundreds of trails, amongst vast mountains, rainforests, coastline, glacial valleys, and volcanoes. Even better than that, is that those trails, and (most of) the 950 huts that serve them, are maintained by the Department of Conservation, DoC. The huts started appearing in the 1800s, and were initially a network of shelters for hunters overnighting in the hills. Today they’ve become a big contributor to tourism in New Zealand, and a part of our national identity. For us the most unique thing about hiking in New Zealand is the variety of landscapes you can immerse yourself in. That’s why we love getting out there, because every time (and every hut!) is different.

A person lays back above a glacial valley enjoying the view.
Taking a moment for reflection on the stunning Milford Track

Few people who think of New Zealand do so without thinking of Milford Sound. It’s one of the things that put this country on the map, we don’t deny it. And it is absolutely stunning in its scale, and its untouched nature. The Milford Track is one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks – walks of stunning natural beauty, maintained by DoC, and taking in the most impressive scenery in the country. But the Great Walks are not the only walks worth doing when you get here! There are quite literally hundreds of multiday walks here, and between us, we’ve probably knocked off most of them!

Learn More About Multiday Hikes

Why are we so addicted to getting out there?

We’d describe our love for multiday adventures in the hills as natural, and an essential part of growing up, and living in New Zealand. Being able to get away from traffic noise, light pollution, even cell reception, in a matter of minutes from home, is a special privilege, and not one we waste. There’s something primitive about arriving at a hut under your own steam, after a tough day, and being greeted by a log fire, smiles, and a cosy bunk. When you’re in a backcountry hut, sharing the experience, and stories, with others, you’re living in the moment; the last thing you’ll worry about is work, or bills. Instead you’ll be worrying about who’s taking up the most boot space around the fire, or who’s next in line at the sink to wash their dishes. It’s a special experience, and it’s made special, in part, by the sense of achievement, but so much more than this by those you share it with.

Two pairs of boots dry on a fence at the head of a valley.
Hiking Boots drying out at Siberia Hut in Mt Aspiring National Park.

And guess what! Aside from the warm fuzzy feeling that multiday hiking gives you, there’s also a whole heap of health benefits, and not all of them are physical! Maybe that’s why people say us kiwis are such a friendly bunch?!

Benefits of going guided

Over the years our guides have learned a few tricks when it comes to overnight hiking. And we know how valuable local knowledge is. When you’re on the trail you’ll want all sorts of information about the area you’re hiking in, its history, the plants, birds, even the elevation changes for each day – your guides can share that with you. And that kind of knowledge adds so much to an experience in the backcountry. They’ll also share a few secrets to having a successful trip, the kind of things you didn’t know you needed to know, or to pack. They’ll take you to the best viewpoints for the perfect photo, and tell you how to make your own pillow – no need to pack one. All you have to do is turn your sleeping bag stuff bag inside out, and fill it with your spare clothes. Now you can rest easy!

A group of hikers and their guide stand on a ridgeline.
Guide Andy, and his group of adventurers on Robert’s Ridge in Nelson Lakes National Park.

Our guides have comprehensive training in all sorts of areas, some of which we hope they’ll never need. They’re trained in outdoor first aid, efficient radio communications, and river crossing techniques, to name a few. And they’re also backed up by an awesome Operations Team here at Active HQ. The team is always just a phone call away, anytime day or night.

Two hikers on the trail, a river running beside, and a small aircraft flying overhead.
To hike in Siberia Valley you’ll need to catch a plane in!

Everyone’s number one priority in the outdoors is safety, especially on multiday hikes. Because of its separation from other large land masses, New Zealand gets some very interesting weather. Add that to the geography of the country, and particularly the South Island, with the Southern Alps dictating weather patterns as they do, and we end up with very changeable conditions. Our local guides have spent their lives amongst those conditions, and are always prepared for four seasons in one day. They’ll approach every hike with a plan A, a plan B, and often a plan C. Rivers can change course, or rise rapidly, groups can be super keen and want to hike further, or struggling, and need to do less, or rest more often. A guide is ready for anything, they’ve seen it all before, they’ll react calmly, and smoothly, and ensure you’re comfortable and safe.

Panoramic shot of glacial lake, icebergs floating, and a group sitting on the shore.
Icebergs floating in Crucible Lake in Mt Aspiring National Park. The kind of place you wouldn’t know to visit without a guide!

Our guides are also logistical magicians, and they work in pairs. You’ll hop off the bus for a hike from A, and the bus will pick you up at B just as you arrive off the trail, or back at civilisation from the hills. They’ll also give you some advice on the best way to ensure you get a comfy bed when you arrive at each hut – if it’s not pre booked. Your guides will carry the little extras, like bug repellent, hand sanitizer, and candles too. They’ve spent heaps of time in the hills, they know exactly what you need for a perfect trip. And to top it all off, they’re masters of the backcountry cooker! You’ll be fed delicious, nutritious meals after a day’s hiking, and wake up ready to go again.

 Why go guided recap

  1. Knowledge of flora, fauna, mountains, rivers, and viewpoints.
  2. Tricks of the trade e.g how to pack your bag, or make a pillow.
  3. Comprehensive safety training.
  4. Backed up by an Operations Team.
  5. Experience of the conditions – plan Bs+Cs in place.
  6. Logistics – arranging transport, organising beds, putting up tents.
  7. Providing the small things that are easily forgotten – bug repellent, hand sanitizer etc.
  8. Excellent cooks.

We’d advise…

So if you’re itching to head out into the hills, and see what the real New Zealand is all about, we reckon your best bet is to do so with a local guide. The best advice we can give you though, is to embrace the whole experience, trust in your guides, and keep in mind that it’s sharing these experiences that makes them special. Head for the hills willing to share your space, and your stories, because it’s the story that you’ll remember long after you’ve taken your boots off.

Check Out Our Guided Trips

Other relevant information:

Preparing for a Hiking Adventure: 8 Fitness Tips for the 50+ Explorer
“For me, this was the best experience I’ve ever had.”

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7 surprising reasons

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination


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7 surprising reasons

Looking for a better way to spend your winter instead of staying inside all season long binge-watching Netflix? No offense to the binge-watchers out there—it certainly has its time and place! But after awhile, don’t you crave something a little more… adventurous?

Sure, you could travel to the beaches of the Caribbean, along with every other coworker in your office. Who wants to lay out on a cramped beach or wait in a long line for a cocktail?

Traveling just a little further south—south of the equator, in fact, takes you to a continent basking in the warm, golden rays of the sun, but also filled with many natural phenomena just waiting to be explored. This place is full of magnificent mountains, wondrous waterfalls, and amusing animals. Don’t believe it? Here are seven reasons why South America is the ultimate winter destination:

 

1. Escape from the bitter cold to a continent with both tropical and temperate climates.

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

While those wallowing in winter in the Northern Hemisphere are freezing, South Americans at or below the equator are enjoying warm weather conditions.

Ecuador, while partially in the Northern Hemisphere, straddles the equator, giving the whole country a tropical climate year-round. It’s particularly pleasurable January through May, most of which are cool months for Europe and North America.

Just below Ecuador is Peru, known for its mountains, lakes, and Machu Picchu. November through April is considered the “wet season,” but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad time to visit. On the contrary, during these months the trails are much quieter—better to enjoy your scenic surroundings. Conservation work takes place on the Inca Trail during the month of February, but it is still possible to reach Machu Picchu and explore the magic of the ancient site.

Patagonia (made up of Argentina and Chile) is at the base of South America. Here the climate is more temperate during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer months, perfect for hiking Chile’s Andes Mountains or kayaking across Argentina’s many lakes and rivers. Peak traveling season for Patagonia is January-March, but if you want to avoid the crowds while still escaping the cold, consider visiting during November or December.

 

2. While everyone back home is skiing, snorkel off the shores of the Galapagos Islands.

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

You’ve heard of the Galapagos Islands, right? They make up an archipelago just off the coast of Ecuador famous for century-old tortoises and Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

But these islands are more than just pieces of land in the Pacific Ocean—they are teeming with life, both flora and fauna. Want to know an amazing way to see all that these islands have to offer? Climb on a bike! Starting at the top of San Cristobal’s highest point, cycle your way down from the highland cloud forest that covers the top of the island to La Loberia, a beach home to a large sea lion colony and nursery.

Ready to get up close and personal with the cute and cuddly creatures as well as other marine life? Snorkel or scuba dive around Isla Lobos and watch the sea lions catch a meal. Afterwards, cruise to Kicker Rock to swim some more with turtles, tropical fish, and maybe even some sharks at the remains of an underwater volcano.

Want to see a volcano on land? Try hiking Sierra Negra Volcano, which rises nearly a mile above the ocean. As you ascend, the vegetation changes before your eyes from full flora to a barren lunar-like landscape. Its caldera is one of the largest in the world—seven miles wide! Bird enthusiasts will appreciate the opportunity to see Galapagos hawks, short-eared owls, finches, and flycatchers in this region.

These are just some highlights of the many ways to explore the Galapagos Islands. Enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime trip island-hopping, something that only a handful of people will ever have the chance to do.

 

3. Explore beautiful mountain ranges without all of the ice and snow.

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

Sure, you will see some snow-capped mountains while hiking in Peru, but thankfully the snow stops at approximately 4,500 meters in mountain ranges close to the equator, allowing for exceptional exploration! Start your journey in the ancient Incan city of Cuzco (not to be confused with a certain grooving emperor) in the Andes Mountains. Make your way to Sacsayhuamán (meaning House of the Sun) fortress, an awe-inspiring archaeological site that represents a set of jaguar’s teeth. Each massive “tooth” is perfectly fitted and can weight up to 130 tons.

If the idea of exploring Sacsayhuamán is enticing, just wait until you hike to Machu Picchu. This centuries-old Incan city is mind-blowingly advanced for its age. How and why did they build the tall walls and carve the magnificent terraces and ramps? It’s a mystery we’ll probably never know the answer to, but part of the fun when exploring this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

Can’t imagine going all the way to South America without seeing the Amazon rainforest? Well, forest fans—rejoice! The Amazon Jungle extends into Peru, providing perfect wildlife viewing for any adventurer. Motorized canoes glide you down the Tambopata River, one of the many headwaters of the Amazon, into the forest basin. Tropical birds like the macaw fly overhead through the canopy as howler monkeys fill the air with their call. The diverse flora includes many medicinal plants. There truly is no place like it anywhere else on earth.

Finally, it wouldn’t be a visit to Peru without kayaking on Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America and the highest in the world that is still navigable. The lake’s colour is a deep blue unlike any water you’ll have ever seen. Make your way across the immense body of water to Capachica Peninsula, then hug the shore line, grazed by sheep and shadowed by ancient remnant agricultural terraces. For those seeking a more thrilling vacation, consider all that Peru has to offer.

 

4. You don’t have to travel to Antarctica (or be freezing!) to hang with penguins.

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

At the bottom of South America lies a completely different land than that of Ecuador or Peru. This is Patagonia, a vast area of land that starts in the plains of Argentina and moves to the mountains of Chile, finally reaching the edge of the world.

What’s a better way to start your trip than with a visit to Magdalena Island, home not to humans, but to Magellanic penguins. Hike across the island, exploring all the nooks and crannies. Cameras are essential for this hike—you don’t want to miss out on capturing the tuxedo-wearing bird and other wildlife!

Hiking continues for a special trek, the legendary four-day “W” hike! This journey inside Torres del Paine National Park takes you across granite peaks, snow-clad mountains, glacial lakes, and the thick Magellanic forest. On the first day of your hike, you’ll come across the stunning Torres del Paine (that’s ‘Towers of Blue’)—three monstrous mountain peaks rising to a height of 3,000 feet and thought to be the highest natural cliff faces in the world. These natural wonders are breathtaking.

After completing the “W” trek, give your legs a rest and let your arms do some work. Kayak across Grey Lake, known for its grand glaciers and immense icebergs.

If cycling is more your speed, you’re in luck, Argentina’s landscape provides a better terrain for bikes. Ride through the valley basin of River de las Vueltas, viewing river vistas and waterfalls along the way.

 

5. Even kiddos need to “get away” sometimes!

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

These days, it’s more important than ever to get kids outdoors and spend time with their families. With all of the distractions in our lives—from technology to school work to work projects—it can be hard to find enough time to bond with our loved ones.

Want the chance to get away as a family? Embark on a family-friendly adventure to Peru! Together you’ll journey through the Amazon rainforest with some incredible wildlife viewing opportunities. You might spot a capybara, or macaws perched atop the river banks or hear the howls of troops of howler monkeys from the tropical forest canopies above. Hike to Las Salineras and learn about salt production, and explore the ancient Incan cities of Cuzco and Machu Picchu.

What could be better than a vacation that gets the kids active, and also educates them? Not to mention, it’s a ton of fun!

 

6. Heat things up while visiting Ecuador’s volcanoes and hot springs.

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

Maybe you like the idea of adding some rest and relaxation into your adventurous trip? Ecuador is the place for you.

Begin your trip at a ranch on Cotopaxi, learning about Ecuadorian farm life. Try your hand at milking cows, take in the serene scenery surrounding the ranch, or just curl up with a good book that you’ve been meaning to read.

The next day, pick up the pace as you cycle down Cotopaxi, which, by the way, happens to also be a volcano. The views on your way down are unparalleled—the Valley of Volcanoes provides vistas unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

Ready for a hike? After traveling into the heart of Ecuador’s rainforest, you’ll find yourself hiking through waterfalls, making your way to the Papallacta highlands and cooling yourself off at the same time. At the end of your day, soak in a steaming hot spring that is right outside your lodging for the night.

At the end of your trip, fly out of Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. But before you leave, consider enjoying some free time in this historical mountain city.

 

7. Biking is way more fun when you’re under the golden sun!

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

Want the best of both Peru and Ecuador? You got it! Enjoy seeing highlights from both countries as well as island-hopping around the Galapagos Islands.

An important part of any trip abroad is to take in the culture around you. One of the best ways to get up close and personal with the locals is via bike. While in Peru, cycle through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the once great civilization of the Andes Mountains before they were conquered by the Spanish. Speaking of the Andes, did you know they stretch all the way from Venezuela to Chile, making them the longest mountain chain on land?

7 Surprising Reasons South America Is the Ultimate Winter Destination

On your cycling excursion, ride through breathtaking scenery, dotted with local villages and surrounded by the massive, green slopes of the Andes. Finish your ride at the small town of Pisac, a typical Peruvian village. A must-see is the colorful mercado artesanal, a fresh market full of local fruits and vegetables.

Finish your time in Peru with visits to Machu Picchu and Cuzco before departing for Ecuador. The Galapagos Islands are just a plane ride away and will enthrall you with their lush vegetation, diverse marine life, and peculiar land animals.

 

Quiero visitar América del Sur? Want to visit South America?

Your South American winter adventure is waiting for you. Don’t have the same old winter holiday as everyone else—embark on a journey that both challenges you and feeds your soul. Get in touch today to see how easy it is to plan the winter trip of your dreams, or sign up for our free email course if you’d like to know more about adventure travel in South America.

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