As with any outdoor experience, the decisions you make and your safety are your responsibility.
- Check conditions – check with the DOC Visitor Centre for track conditions and weather before your trip.
- Take the right gear for all conditions and enough food. All walkers should take a first aid kit. Get a list of what to take.
- If walking outside the Great Walks season we recommend you also take a mountain radio and/or personal locator beacon. Also see Walking the Routeburn Track outside the Great Walks season.
- Your mobile is not useful as there is no coverage for the Milford and Routeburn Tracks and very little on the Kepler Track (limited to high areas).
We recommend you tell someone about your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned. For how to do this, see the Outdoors Intentions process on the AdventureSmart website.
Sometimes the Great Walk tracks need to be closed for safety reasons (eg avalanche danger, flooding or high winds). If walkers are not able to proceed, options are available. These may include a refund (if walk not started yet), changing direction on the track or transfer across hazard areas. DOC staff will keep you informed of all issues and options.
The tracks are very well marked but if you become lost you should stop, find shelter and stay calm. Put on extra clothing and assist rescuers should you hear them searching for you.
Being injured or ill
If you are injured or become ill, use your first aid kit immediately and contact DOC staff if needed. In case of emergency, an evacuation may be possible.
Hypothermia (too cold)
During cold, wet and windy conditions, hypothermia (drop in core body temperature) can become a serious problem. From initial stages to unconsciousness can take as little as 30 minutes.
- Wear warm and weatherproof gear and eat regularly during your walk.
- These symptoms may indicate initial stages of hypothermia: shivering, clumsy, confused, have slurred speech, may deny they have a problem.
- To treat: immediately make or find shelter, get the person into dry, warm clothing, put into a sleeping bag, give warm, sweet drinks, monitor and seek immediate medical help.
Heat exhaustion is usually caused by warm temperatures and not drinking enough water.
- Carry and drink water regularly throughout your walk.
- A person in the early stages of heat exhaustion may show weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite and sweating.
- To help, give them water and find a cool place to rest.
Take care to put ashes from hut fire places in the metal drums to avoid huts burning down. At campsites only use the designated areas. No open fires are permitted in Fiordland National Park.
During and after heavy rain, flooding of tracks is common on all Great Walks. Stream and river levels will drop rapidly once rain stops. If you are caught between flooded streams seek higher ground and wait for water levels to drop.
Risk areas may include:
- Kepler Track – Iris Burn Valley.
- Milford Track – between Hirere and Bus Stop in the Clinton Valley; and between Boat Shed and Poseidon Creek in the Arthur Valley.
- Routeburn Track – Routeburn Valley.
Whenever you are walking in alpine areas or exposed areas on any of the tracks, such as overpasses, saddles and along mountain ridges, you could be caught in strong and/or gusty winds (eg over 80km/hour winds). Take care to dress warmly as wind-chill danger is worse at these times.
Snow avalanches are common on all tracks, especially between late August and early November. Danger is higher during or directly after snow and rain. Avalanche and snow hazard can change rapidly from low to high within a 24 hour period.
- Follow all advice given by staff.
- Start zones of avalanche paths often cannot be seen from the track.
- In danger areas, do not walk below other walkers.
Risk areas may include:
- Kepler Track – 9 avalanche paths cross the track between Luxmore Hut and Hanging Valley shelter.
- Milford Track – over 57 avalanche paths cross the track between 6 Mile in the Clinton Valley and Quintin Hut in the Arthur Valley.
- Routeburn Track – over 32 avalanche paths cross the track between Routeburn Falls hut and the Earland Falls.
Routeburn Track – the area halfway between Routeburn Flats and Routeburn Falls Huts is prone to slips after heavy rain. Care is required when traversing this area. If in doubt, do not proceed.
There are steep drop-offs along sections of the whole Routeburn Track. Mind your step and supervise children.
Outside the Great Walks season (early May to late October) facilities are greatly reduced (no gas for cooking, limited water supply, no rangers or emergency radio facilities) and there are additional safety hazards to consider:
The winter environment in Fiordland is very cold and wet, with ice, snow and short daylight hours. Avalanche-prone bridges across some major watercourses are removed. DOC does not manage hazards such as flooding or avalanche.
Walking the track at this time should only be attempted by fit, experienced and well-equipped people. For more information see Walking the Routeburn Track outside the Great Walks season.