Hiking New Zealand’s Great Walks

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’s 38.6 inches.

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 (DOC) 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.

The crystal-clear waters along the Milford Track make it relatively easy to spot the freshwater longfin eel, featured on an episode of Animal Planet’s “River Monsters.” Elsewhere, watch out for backpack-eating alpine parrots called keas. They are ever-present in high-altitude regions and they’re not afraid to peck at human gear in search of food.

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