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Expert advice: First-time tips for conquering outdoor guided walks

New Zealand is spoilt for guided walking routes with many opportunities open to the public to explore the spectacular landscape, views and rare wildlife. The treasures within national parks such as Fiordland are plentiful, but venturing into the great outdoors can feel like a daunting experience, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with the lay of the land or a novice traveller.

We asked a panel of experts “What is the best advice you would give to your younger self when tackling the great outdoors for the first time?”

Tips for starting off on the right foot included:

  • What equipment to bring
  • What clothing to wear
  • Where you should go for help
  • What to do in case of emergencies

Learning from the experts also gives you confidence when embarking on a solo or group adventure. Here’s what they had to say.


Headshot Liz Carlson

International traveller and spokesperson Liz Carlson advises…
Pack with care.

“My biggest piece of advice for my younger self when it comes to exploring the great outdoors for the first time is to get someone more experienced to help me pack an overnight pack for the first time. I would forget things that are essential, like extra head torch batteries, and bring things that are unnecessary, like a towel. Also it took me a few tries to get the hang of properly weighting and packing my backpack. I would advise myself to never be cheap when it comes to hiking boots and always pack as if it's going to rain the entire time.”

The choice of items you decide to bring along depends on the distance of your journey and how long you plan to travel for. Guided walks in national parks in New Zealand can go on for days at a time and cover tens of kilometres, in which case essentials are a priority over luxuries. Downloading an equipment checklist is a useful way to put your mind at rest.

Follow Liz’s adventures on Facebook and Instagram for incredible photos and stories.


Headshot Damian Hall

Outdoor journalist Damian Hall says…
Don’t be afraid of getting lost.

“Though it’s definitely best to carry a map and compass (and know how to use them), there’s so much good navigation technology around nowadays that getting unlost is usually pretty easy. By getting a little – perhaps wilfully – lost, a walk becomes a small adventure. The act of relocating yourself gives both the satisfaction of a puzzle solved and bolsters skills and confidence. It’s safer to do this in friendly weather and less intimidating terrain at first of course (always carry a spare layer, snacks and liquid and tell someone your plans). But a few little happy topographical accidents will hopefully help turn any fears of the great outdoors into appreciation and perhaps even love. I know I’m at my happiest when out in the green and lumpy stuff.”

Navigation is key when taking on a guided walk or outdoor trek. Even the most straightforward guided walking routes in Fiordland and beyond can throw you off course if you’re unprepared for what lies ahead. Local guides and tour operators make excellent travel companions and group leaders.

Connect with Damian on Twitter or Instagram to follow his outdoor adventures.


Headshot Charley Radcliffe

Charley Radcliffe, adventurer in technology and climbing suggests…
Take your friends along for the thrill.

“The best advice I would have for exploring the outdoors is finding like-minded friends to share it with. There is nothing more enjoyable than being in the outdoors with friends, sharing stories afterwards, and making plans for the next weekend. Have a core group around you will encourage and motivate you more than anything else. This might not always seem easy to find so take my advice: always say yes. If anyone offers to come along, regardless of their level, say yes. If someone invites you to something you're not sure about, just say yes. You will meet some amazing people along the way and find your crew to share and enjoy the mountains with.”

Group tours are a fun way to enjoy the challenge of a guided walking or hiking tour, or even a higher intensity activity on water or in the air, such as a helicopter ride. Even if only for the company, a fiord land or bush adventure may work better with teammates. 

Follow Charley on Twitter and Instagram to read more about his amazing journeys.


Headshot Tracey Croke

Tracey Croke is an award-winning travel journalist, she says…
Invest in the best technical gear.

“Venturing out for the first time might be a little daunting, especially as you’re in serious danger of becoming addicted. So, when investing in that quality technical gear which makes a world of a difference on top of a mountain, buy the stylish brands because you might just end up living in it. You still want to look good in a bar right? Oh and say no to cotton… unless you’ve got hyperthermia on your experience bucket list. When you discover warm, wicking, quick-dry, no-stink, Icebreaker merino wool you’ll ask yourself: Where have you been all my life my precious? Don’t spend too much time reading gazillions of boot and trail shoe reviews to work out the best brand. Instead, try loads on. You’ll find a brand (or two) that suits your foot and that’s the best one for you. Now hold on to your waterproof pants because you’re about to slingshot your life on a whole new trajectory.”

There is a fine art to getting equipment and clothing right when facing unfamiliar terrain or weather conditions. For instance, Fiordland in New Zealand may be challenging under foot at times or provide little shelter during expected damp seasons, so be mindful of environmental factors when packing a bag. Always check the weather reports for the season you plan to travel in and take your time in prepping the right kit.

Follow Tracey on Twitter and Instagram for updates.


Headshot Mark Kelly

Hiking specialist Mark Kelly of Halfway Hike says…
Map your journey before you set off.

“When I first started hiking I focused, rightly, on having the right weather-proof kit and making sure my water supplies were adequate. But I set off a few times without really knowing the area I was walking through: what to look out for, how far one waymarker or feature on the route might be from another. I soon learned that as well as having a map with me, it was good to read it before I set off. To mentally walk through the landscape I would see in real life a day or two later. So I knew where the tough uphill bits would be (and be ready for them) or where some great views might be (so I could pace myself to have a break there and get some great shots). So I guess my advice would be - don't look at that map as you set off on a hike, have a good read a few days before and get a feel for the landscape you'll soon be in. Happy hiking.”

New Zealand has unforgiving terrain and contours that test even the toughest explorers. Knowing the safest paths to manoeuvre on your guided walking tour or hike can save time and limit the risk of injury to you and travel companions.

Follow Mark on social media to learn more about his fun adventures.


Headshot Matt Dowdle

Adventure and landscape photographer Matt Dowdle cuts straight to the chase…
Know your equipment

“No matter whether I’m doing a short walk or multi day hike I always make sure I’ve got the right gear to handle the elements.”

If you’re setting off for a bushwalk or backcountry trek with little experience, then call on someone with greater knowledge to advise on whether your kit is fit for purpose. Guided walks can remove these doubts by providing information up front before you leave – so read up online when you choose your experience.

View Matt’s amazing photography on social media here.


Headshot Konrad

Konrad Warzecha from Men Do Outdoors advises…
Make every kit item count

“Take only the things you really need and try reducing the weight of your bag and gear. Always carry water, water purifiers, a first aid kit, and food that provides high amounts of nutrients in comparison to weight. Make sure you have boots that are super comfortable.”

Connect with Konrad on social media for more updates.


Headshot Javier Salazar

Outdoor photographer Javier Salazar says…
Remember the rule of six

“There are a lot of factors that you should consider, weather, terrain, duration, who you are going with, etc. If this is your first-ever trip these would be my top recommendations: 1. Don’t go alone. Go with someone with some experience and make sure you are in communication with someone as frequently as you can giving them your location. That way, if anything goes wrong, they’ll have a smaller area to search for you. 2. Make sure you have all the equipment you need. Knife, hatchet, fire starter, flashlight are the essentials. 3. Of course enough water and food. Protein bars can be really good to have. 4. Depending on where you are going GPS, map and compass. Keep in mind that you may lose signal there. So having a paper map, a compass and some knowledge on how to use them would be good. 5. Your boots and your backpack must be comfortable. Try them on before you leave. Keep in mind that when hiking, any little thing you feel will just accentuate with time. 6. Depending on weather, I would bring a couple of different layers. A rain jacket is always a good idea. Overall, I would not try to be a hero and would try to stay within the reach of civilization. Have fun!”

Keep up with Javier’s social media feed here.


Headshot Shaun Barnett

Outdoor editor and photographer Shaun Barnett says…
Plan, plan and plan some more

Plan the trip more thoroughly than you think you’ll need to; pay attention to weather forecasts, and have a B-Plan or even a C-Plan – even a ‘stay at home’ plan if the forecast is severe! I’d take more gear, but smarter and lighter gear than I used to take. Footwear is important; my advice is use the lightest weight footwear you can get away with for the trip. This might mean sturdy leather boots for a tough off-track trip, but probably trail running shoes for simpler day trips. Extra weight on your feet is tiring when you lift your feet thousands of times in a day. Be ambitious about your trips, but don’t forget to enjoy the small things; an alpine flower, the call of a korimako, the sounds of rain on your tent.

For more information of outdoor adventure and how to conquer the contours of New Zealand’s landscape, read about our guided walks information on the main Hollyford Track website.