Lost and found in New Zealand bush

Written on Thursday, 17 February 2011 by NZTravelInsider

Learn what precautions you can take to not become a victim of New Zealand’s unforgiving terrain and wilderness or wind up in the predicament a British tourist found himself in when he ventured off alone into the wilderness.

I read today that a British hiker (age 30) got lost for 5 days in the bushes of Kahurangi National Park, which is located on the western side in the upper South Island.

He ran out of food a few hours into his hike, got disoriented, and then got lost. He survived for 5 whole long days in the bush without food before rescuers found him. It was his first visit to New Zealand.

This story reminded me of my own first solo trip to New Zealand when I went hiking alone in the bushes of Mount Taranaki on the North Island of New Zealand and thought I was lost.

The similarity is that I was planning on only doing a half-day hike and that I also ran out of food and water, although I had left plenty of food and water in my rental car.

The difference is that I had a map of Mount Taranaki and a compass. While I thought I was lost, I was still on a trail. And while I panicked, there was no reason to. I learned quite a bit from that first long solo hike I did, but the following lessons in particular…

1. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return
If you are traveling alone, as I often do, you can either give this information to the hotel or motel, write it on a piece of paper and leave this inside (not on) the dashboard of your car, or sign a log book if there is one at the start of the walk. For the latter, some parks have Department of Conservation offices with such log books.

2. Carry enough water with you
You can live a couple of days without food; your body will start to convert your muscles and body fat into energy. If it sounds like you will be eating yourself, you are right.

The road to Mount Taranaki in New Zealand

The road to Mount Taranaki in New Zealand

However, you are constantly losing fluids which your body cannot replenish, so you need to stay hydrated by drinking water. Untreated water, i.e., water from streams, rivers, lakes, etc. are not always safe to drink, so carry enough water with you.

3. Carry a map and compass
Carry a map that has enough detail of the area you will be hiking, a compass, and know how to use both.

During my first trip to New Zealand, I had a Suunto Vector watch that could supply me with a wealth of information. Therefore I knew exactly at which elevation I had started my hike and how far up or down I had traveled. The compass on the watch and the Mount Taranaki National Park map helped me orient myself. This watch literally saved my life!

4. Prepare for the unexpected
Thoroughly prepare yourself for the worst that can happen. Prepare yourself for all types of weather. Have a thin rain coat or jacket for wet weather, a fleece jacket for cold weather, and a waterproof bag you can put everything in. The last piece of clothing I would carry is a bright red or orange jacket; if you get lost, you can use it to be visible to rescuers.

Trail sign on Mount Taranaki in New Zealand

Trail sign on Mount Taranaki in New Zealand

Also carry a whistle (that has a bright color so that you can easily find it if you lost it) so that you can whistle for help.

Your vocal chords will run out when you scream for help, but the wind that is required to blow a whistle will not run out that quickly and will save your voice. The sound of the whistle should be sharp and loud.

In addition, if you are an inexperienced hiker, go on a couple of walks in your own hometown before coming to New Zealand.

The bush is nice, smells good, and allows for great solitude to clear your mind, but the wilderness can also be unforgiving.

I hope this article has given you some insight into what kind of precautions you could take to save your own life or at least not become a victim to New Zealand’s wilderness if it came down to it.

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