Hiking the Great Walks on New Zealand’s rugged South Island

Several items are essential for exploring the magical Southern Alps mountains that run across New Zealand’s South Island: insect repellent, rain gear and ear plugs.

The repellent is to ward off sandflies, those annoying black bugs that are the itchy scourge of hikers in Fiordland National Park. The park, which is bigger than Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks combined, is one of the wettest places on earth. It gets an average 280 inches of rainfall a year, compared to Seattle, Washington’s 38.

And while there’s plenty of peace and quiet to enjoy while hiking the region, you may want ear plugs to block the sound of snoring from exhausted hikers in the huts that offer lodging along the Great Walks. The Great Walks are routes featured by the country’s Department of Conservation for their “diverse and spectacular scenery.” Five of the nine Great Walks are on the South Island.

The Great Walks are highly regulated by the DOC, which maintains the trails, checks for hiking passes and staffs the huts with nightly educational talks. The huts on the most popular Great Walks are large, clean cabins with bunkrooms. They’re a great way to be social with like-minded tourists and hear languages from around the world.

One of the Fiordland Great Walks, the Milford Track, is a world-famous four-day route. Hiking it requires planning as much as a year in advance if you’re planning on visiting during peak Great Walks season, Oct.-April.

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