Safety’s not as hard as you may think – New Zealand has no snakes, pesky poisonous plants or predators out in the wilderness – all you really need to worry about when you’re hiking in New Zealand is staying on the trail. Saying that, hurting yourself, getting lost and getting caught out by the weather can happen, so you still need to take proper safety precautions when hiking, especially if you are going it alone.
Before heading out on a significant day hike, or any overnight track, you are required to register your intentionswith the Department of Conservation (DOC). You can usually do this at any of the local DOC offices, in person or over the phone, or in a book provided at the start of the track. Once you have finished the track, you must always remember to sign out again, otherwise a search may be initiated.
In each hut there is a Hut Book, which you should always complete when you visit a hut, even if you aren't staying there overnight, so in case you go missing, there is some recorded proof of where you had been last. The Hutbooks generally make great reading in any case, as there are comments from everyone who has stayed there, often very amusing.
Many of the larger and more popular backcountry hut have resident wardens, who have access to radios in case of emergencies, but this should not be relied on. Emergency beacons are available to hire throughout New Zealand, especially in the more popular hiking destinations, generally at very reasonable rates. In an emergency, you can trigger the emergency beacon and NZ Search and Rescue services will be notified of your whereabouts by satellite and will organise a team to come and provide assistance – usually by helicopter in the first instance, or by motor vehicle and/or foot if conditions are poor. Once triggered, you should stay put and wait for help. However, these should only be used in case of emergency – if you trigger one because you've run out of Snickers bars, or forgot that the final episode of "Grey's Anatomy" was on television and you wanted to catch it, you will likely be charged for the call-out and helicopters are expensive!
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