Staying Safe in the Outdoors

Elena Piere Student Services and Communications Coordinator


May 3, 2017
Photo credit: Peter Connolly 

You have landed in New Zealand and are ready to tick off as many of those Lord of the Ring vistas as you can. There are so many adventures to plan, sunrises to chase and lakes to swim in.

In a country where there are no dangerous predators or snakes, plenty of friendly locals and easy access to wilderness areas, it may seem like the hardest decision to make is “Where to go first?”.

It is easy to forget that being a tiny sliver of land in the pacific ocean, New Zealand's weather changes rapidly and is often unpredictable. Our tallest mountain, Aoraki Mt Cook is 4,000 meters (13,000 ft) tall, which doesn't sound that serious when you compare it to mountains back home. You must remember that unlike the USA where you start climbing several thousand ft above sea level, here you start your climb at sea level. Our rock is young and therefore unstable, and many of our hiking trails involve un-bridged river crossings. This is not meant to scare you away. It is entirely possible (and encouraged!) to recreate safely in the NZ wilderness, it just requires you to be aware of the risks and how to manage them.

So, what do you need to do to keep yourself safe in the NZ outdoors?

Planning your trip is of course the first step of any successful adventure. There are a variety of fantastic resources available online including AdventureSmart, Department of Conservation (DOC) and the NZ Mountain Safety Council (NZMSC). Thorough research into the trip you're planning will help you to determine the level of challenge you are taking on, what supplies you are likely to need and what skills you require to achieve your goal safely.

Before you head into the wilderness it is essential that you leave a written copy of your intentions with a trusted person. This should include where you are going, who you are with, what supplies you have and when you intend to be back. If you do not return or make contact by the time you have stated, it is this persons responsibility to alert emergency services on your behalf. You can actually lodge your intentions online through the NZMSC website. 

It is also vital that you check the weather. MetService is the most commonly used weather website. You can find weather reports for rural areas, mountains and national parks, marine and surf information, an avalanche advisory, rain maps and any severe weather warnings. Even if the weather forecast is for blue skies your entire trip, it is key that you pack for the worst case scenario. This means always packing that raincoat, a warm layer and avoiding cotton clothing (which will not keep you warm once it gets wet). You want to bring clothing that you can use to layer up or down to keep yourself comfortable. If you are unsure, the NZMSC has a full list of items they recommend you pack on their website.

You should also think about bringing a basic first aid kit, emergency shelter, head lamp and a survival blanket with you, even on day trips. Any time you are going into a remote wilderness area or on a multi day trip, you should seriously consider hiring a personal locator beacon (PLB), which run at about $30 for three days. Most university campuses have these available for hire as do tramping clubs, outdoor stores and DOC visitor centers. You can find a complete list of hire outlets online.

Finally, when traveling in a group, it is all too easy to assume that someone else has checked the forecast, has a PLB or remembered to leave your intentions. Take responsibility for your own safety and make sure YOU know what the weather is doing, who is carrying the emergency gear and who the intentions have been left with.

Adventuring in the NZ wilderness is exhilarating, stunningly beautiful and hugely rewarding. If you choose to study abroad here, I guarantee you will have a hard time deciding what to do first. Just ensure you have taken the necessary steps to keep yourself safe while you are here.

Here are some useful websites to check out: