Learn how to research and find walking trails that are suitable and safe for you as a woman who is travelling alone in New Zealand.
And when you pick a trail to walk, ensure that it satisfies a few basic safety criteria, that is, the trail should:
- Not be remote.
- Not be in dense bush, but rather in open terrain.
- Be a relatively popular trail.
When thinking about personal safety, it helps to crawl into the mind of someone who would try to harm you.
In the first case, the more remote a trail is, the easier it would be for someone who has bad intentions to do whatever they please with or to you. So ensure that you do not walk on remote trails.
For example, while the Mangatini Falls walk is not remote, it is in a quite secluded area. So it is not a trail I would recommend a woman to walk on all by herself, despite having done that myself.
The same goes for dense bush. If you are walking in an area that is pretty open where anyone can see you, the chances of you being attacked by someone are smaller than if you were walking in a dark and dense forest.
That is also why I recommended walking along streets when walking up Mount Victoria in Wellington, instead of going through the forest on Mount Victoria despite that being the quickest route up to the lookout.
Walking trail at Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand
In the third instance, the more popular a trail is, the more people you are likely to encounter on that trail.
And the more people who are around you, the less likely it is that one individual will try to do anything bad to you, since you could easily call out for help.
Therefore, it is recommended to walk on popular trails rather than on lesser known trails.
How to find safe walking trails for women in New Zealand
The first place I tend to go to find walking trails is the Department of Conservation website. The Department of Conservation is a New Zealand government department.
The DOC maintains public trails around the country, in addition to doing conservation work, protecting and monitoring species, restoring places, managing threats to places and species, and negotiating with landowners when trails cross private land.
While the Department of Conservation only lists mostly basic information for trails – unlike myself who tends to give you all the details with images and videos – the information presented should give you a good idea whether a trail is suitable for you or not.
Generally, the time to walk the trail is included as well as any difficulties you may encounter. Also, if there is any danger to walking the trail, it will most certainly be listed.
For females, I’d suggest assessing a trail on its suitability based on your own fitness level and experience with hiking. If you are a beginner, look for trails that are marked as “easy”.
You can find trails in the Parks & recreation section of the Department of Conservation website, categorised by region. Pick the region in which you will be holidaying, and start exploring the walks that are available.
Example of finding a good walking trail for a solo traveller
Let’s say you will be staying in Dunedin on the South Island and want to do a walk nearby. So you click on Otago, because Dunedin is in Otago.
Walking trail in winter in New Zealand
Then you hover over the map where Dunedin is located and see that there is a section called Coastal Otago where you can find walks. So you click on that.
Once you are in the Coastal Otago section, you can start clicking on any walk to read its description. For example, click on Cathedral Caves Walk.
You’ll see that the walk takes 50 minutes (return), that you can only access the caves at low tide, and that the caves are only open during a particular time of the year. There are no warnings listed, so this could be a good walk to do.
But is it safe for you as a woman walking alone?
If you read further, you will see that you must go through a podocarp and kamahi forest to access the beach. So this place is not in open terrain. In addition, there is the matter of low tide to consider…
The assessment of the trail is not looking good so far, but let’s dig a bit deeper.
Is it a popular trail?
To find out whether a trail is popular, turn to your favourite search engine on the Internet and do a search for the trail. Do you see many entries pop up in the search results? Are there any photos? Are there any recommendations from other people?
You can also turn to Flickr and do a search on the name of the walk or trail. Do not forget to append “New Zealand” to your search term. If lots of photos pop up, it is probably a popular place to visit.
Look at the photographs you find to see whether many people were around at the time the photo was taken. Also look at the environment to determine whether you would feel safe walking there all by yourself or whether you get a feeling of the place being creepy. Trust your instincts on this one.
Conclusion on the walking trail assessment
I’ve never been to Cathedral Caves in the Catlins – not to confuse this with Cathedral Cove on the Coromandel Peninsula – but from what I have researched while writing this article, I would not recommend it as a walk for a solo female traveller who is coming to New Zealand for the first time.
Cathedral Caves in New Zealand on Google Maps
However, I would do the walk today, because I live here and am not afraid of going to remote places or walking in dense bush or forests, but would not have done it when visiting New Zealand alone, and did not do that either during my first solo trip to New Zealand.
And here’s why…
- Cathedral Caves is secluded.
- You must drive on a private road to get to the start of the walk. Since I have never been there, I’m not sure how open the parking area is, but any parking lot that people cannot see from the main road is a good working area for thieves. And some quick research on Google Maps reveals that the car park is indeed secluded, surrounded by bush, and far from the main road (see image above).
- You must walk through a forest to get to the beach.
- You must be aware of the tide, so the sea forms an extra danger.
- The caves are dark, which automatically makes them scary.
The only thing this walk has going for it is that it is relatively short (50 minutes) and not hilly. At least, the description did not mention any hills; only wet feet.
I tend to be skeptical whenever people say something looks impressive, and typically look at photos (if available) to judge for myself. And from what I’ve seen, the photos look nice, but do not have a big emotional impact for me to say, “Hmm… I’d like to die there.” But you be the judge of that for yourself.
This was just to give you an example of how I typically go about researching places before I visit them. For walks, I also throw in some extensive Google Maps and Google Earth research, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.
Note that not all of the walking trails that are listed on this website are good to walk on as a female travelling alone. Yes, I am a woman, and yes, I did them (alone), but that does not mean anything…
The walks I would recommend for a woman travelling alone are:
- Mount John Walkway – While the first part of the trail goes through a forest, it is pretty open once you reach the top and it is a pretty popular trail with locals and visitors alike, so you won’t be all by youself.
- Mount Roy Track – While this track is very hard, the parking lot is next to the road and the trail itself is very open (there is no forest to walk through) and popular with locals and visitors alike. The only trouble you could get into on this trail is running out of energy or experiencing muscular discomfort.
- Mount Victoria – There are several ways to walk up Mount Victoria, but the way I described it, is the safest way for a woman walking alone.
The rest of the walks either go through forests (which can make them scary) or they are relatively remote or not that popular, so you won’t meet (m)any people on the trail. So for these, I would recommend being a little bit more cautious when choosing to walk them.
I hope you’ve found this article useful and will now be (more) successful at finding trails you can walk on as a female who is travelling alone.
Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details
directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.