Steve making new friends on the Milford Track

Guided vs Independent Hiking in New Zealand

10 Aug 2016

For lovers of hiking and exploring the outdoors on foot, New Zealand is paradise. Hundreds of well-maintained trails weave their way through our diverse landscape, ranging in length from short, easy day walks to week-long epic adventures.

We speak to many people who are limited by time and are keen to explore Fiordland on a day walk. A common question is whether guided vs independent hiking is the best option. While it does depend on personal preferences, we’ve put together a list of the pro’s and con’s to both approaches below.

Independent hiking in New Zealand

There’s a certain excitement when it comes to venturing out on a hike independently in a new country – everything feels foreign; from the plants and the birds to the walking trail itself. But what are some things you need to know about venturing on a hike in New Zealand without a guide?

1. New Zealand’s walks are generally well-marked, with signs estimating the time it will take a slow to average pace walker to complete the trail. Ensure you choose a walk suitable to your experience and fitness for an enjoyable experience.

2. When it comes to safety, we don’t have anything that will eat, attach to you or sting you. No need to watch out for leeches, poisonous spiders or snakes in our rainforests!

3. Our population is small – most day walks are pleasantly uncrowded, allowing you to enjoy the natural beauty peacefully. Keep in mind this may mean you would like to hike with a guide. In many places, there is little chance of seeing people if you veer off track or need help.

4. Many tracks are well-kept by our Department of Conservation and can be walked year-round.  However, in Fiordland trails can be affected by snow in winter, so it is important to check conditions with a knowledgeable local before you set off.

Take a Guided Walk into the alpine areas of the Routeburn Track Key Summit

Guided hiking in New Zealand

A local guide is not only good to have on hand when it comes to things like transport, logistics and knowing the way; they also add another dimension to your day walk. A good local guide points out interesting flora, knows the history & stories of the area and can help you to spot the resident wildlife.

1.Transport can be a headache when embarking on a day walk, especially if you don’t have a rental car. Generally, a guided day hike includes transport from your accommodation, so you don’t need to worry about getting lost or not finding the trailhead.

2. Unfamiliar terrain in a new country can be overwhelming, especially if you’re planning to go on a day hike in a National Park where there is little civilisation.

3. Spending a few hours with a local kiwi guide allows you to really get to know the local culture and way of life. Have questions about New Zealand society, history, or just want to know what a ‘crib’ is? A guided day hike is a great opportunity to ask those burning questions!

4. Get recommendations for the best day walks in the area – instead of researching online or relying on TripAdvisor, a local guided hiking operator can help to recommend the day hike that will suit your ability and time frame.

5. It’s the easiest option. From transport to having snacks and some equipment included, a guided day hike means you don’t need to think about the logistics, or safety aspects, allowing you to fully enjoy the beauty of the trail.

Local guides share local knowledge on the Kepler Track

Whether you choose to hike independently or prefer the support of a guide, make sure that you do make time to get out and explore New Zealand on foot. Many of our most beautiful rainforests, lakes, valleys and beaches can only be seen via walking. Considering a guided day hike in Fiordland? Our guides are incredibly experienced, knowledgeable and passionate about NZ’s great outdoors. Get in touch – we’d love to help you experience our backyard!

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