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New Zealand hiking etiquette: Unspoken laws of the trail

The 10 commandments of hiking in New Zealand

When it comes to bush law, there is no sheriff here in New Zealand. 

While we actively select lesser known back country tracks for our Nature and Nosh tours, we also take clients on more popular hikes where we share tracks and cross paths with other walkers. 

The beauty of hiking is that it doesn't matter who you are or where you're from, you can always count on the people you cross on any trail to be like-minded in their love for the outdoors. 

Following simple hiking etiquette ensures everyone can enjoy nature and have a safe and fun time. Here are our ten commandments for hiking in New Zealand.

1. Thou shalt take only photos and leave only footprints
This really is the golden rule of hiking, and if you remember nothing else from this post, remember this. Take EVERYTHING you carry in with you back out. Trade mother nature footprints and sweat for photographs and memories. Packing a plastic bag is always a good idea. Even biodegradable items including food scraps shouldn’t be thrown away and should be taken out. Although they might decompose over time, they could also be a food source to unwanted animals living in the bush. If you want to take it one step further, picking up any rubbish you see on the trail will earn you extra karma points. Keep New Zealand beautiful people!

2. Thou shalt say Kia ora on the trail!
We Kiwi's are a friendly bunch and our delicate sensibilities will be offended if you don't give us a friendly hello, g'day, Kia ora, howsit going, hi, hey, 'alright yeah?!, morning, afternoon, or a smile if you pass us on the trail. Taking a second to interact with other human's in a positive way is not only a nice thing to do, it's a safe thing to do. People will be more likely to remember you should you happen to get injured or lost. So show us ya pearly whites!

3. Thou shalt give way to hikers coming uphill
There's nothing worse than losing momentum while taking on a hill. If you are walking down and see someone working hard coming uphill, the right of way is theirs. They have a right not to have their rhythm broken. Though sometimes those going uphill welcome a break, the choice is theirs. They may stand aside and motion for you to keep coming down have the track - but always give them the option and pull over in the first instance.

4. Thou shalt allow faster walkers to pass on narrow trails
On much the same line as commandment three, you should always let faster hikers pass on narrow trails. This does not necessarily mean that the second someone has caught up you have to stop - if you are slogging your way up a hill, you have the right to carry on and finish your climb or wait for enough room to allow someone to pass safely. You don’t need to be checking over your shoulder every 10 seconds. As a faster walker if you find yourself wanting to pass someone on the trail, a polite “excuse me, can I please squeeze past” works just fine. 

5. Thou shalt stick to the marked tracks
Most people think that the tracks are marked out merely for their safety. But they are also there to protect the natural environment. Going off track can damage tree roots, young plants and the delicate ecosystems in our native bush. The only exception to this rule is when you need to answer the call of nature - see commandment seven!

6. Thou shalt be considerate while hiking in groups
If the track is busy or narrow, large groups should avoid spreading out and walking two wide making it difficult for others to get past. Similarly, when hiking in a group, you should always yield to single or pair hikers. However, it can be trickier for a group to get off the track, so often small groups will stop and let you all pass, but please remember it is their call.

7. Thou shalt follow bush loo etiquette
When nature calls and you ‘have to go’ make sure to go at least 30 meters off the track and at least 100 meters away from any water. Take a small foldable spade and bury any toilet paper or excrement after you've finished. There's nothing worse than seeing toilet paper on the side of a trail people!

8. Thou shalt enjoy the sounds of nature and let others do the same
The advances in technology mean there is more and more portable gadgets appearing on trails. If you need to take a photo, don’t block the track. If you need music, wear headphones as most people would rather listen to bird song than your latest playlist. Similarly, if you are sharing the experience with others, try to speak in low voices. Enjoy the sounds of nature and let others do the same.

9. Thou shalt always come adequately PREPARED
Most accidents or emergency situations that arise in the New Zealand wilderness come down to a lack of preparation. Always research your track and the conditions, the weather, and carry adequate gear. Plenty of water, food, correct footwear (trainers/sneakers are NOT suitable hiking shoes in New Zealand), warm and dry layers and a first aid kit.

10. Thou shalt always share hiking intentions
Whether hiking alone or in a group, always, always let someone know your plans. What track you are walking, how many in your group and when you expect to be out. Regardless of whether you're on a multi-day walk or a day walk, conditions can change rapidly here, so be a responsible hiker and appoint a friend or family member 'base manager'.

If ever in doubt, take your cue from the locals. Ask someone from the area or observe other walkers on the trail. For example, in New Zealand we drive on the left so we walk on the left. 

We'd love your thoughts on our commandments. How do these compare to the unwritten hiking laws in your country?