Safety in the Great Outdoors
You won't find snakes and predatory animals here (at least not the four-legged kind), but anyone venturing out into wilderness areas ought to be prepared with a few common-sense safety hints.
- Emergencies: For emergencies anywhere in the country, dial tel. 111.
- Getting lost: Trampers must register their intended route and estimated time and date of return with the Department of Conservation (DOC) office closest to where they plan to trek. This is vitally important because, if no one knows you're out there, they're not going to start looking for you if you get lost or injured. Likewise, let DOC know as soon as you're finished so search parties are not set into action -- and be aware that you can now be billed hundreds of thousands of dollars for an unnecessary search brought about by your actions and lack of consideration. Be very careful -- if you hike alone and get lost or injure yourself, you are much more likely to become a statistic.
- Weather: Although New Zealand has a mild climate, the weather can change rapidly at any time of year, especially in the high country. Always tell people where you are going and when you are due back, and always go prepared with the right all-weather gear (at all times of the year), a sensible survival kit, and a good topographical map that you can read!
Hypothermia: Hypothermia can kill -- even in summer, and its signs and symptoms should never be ignored. Watch for early warning signs: feeling cold, shivering, tiredness or exhaustion, anxiety, lethargy, lack of interest, clumsiness, slurred speech, difficulty seeing, a sense of unreality, and irrational behavior. The later signs indicating a serious medical emergency are obvious distress, the cessation of shivering despite the cold, collapse and unconsciousness, and coma. The progress of hypothermia can be very fast, with as little as 30 minutes from the first symptoms to unconsciousness. It is imperative that you stop and find shelter, prevent further heat loss, assist in re-warming, get the victim into dry clothes, and seek help as quickly as possible.
Hypothermia is caused by cold, wind, wet clothing, lack of food, fatigue, injury and anxiety, and recent illness, especially the flu. Everyone is at risk, even the fit and healthy. It is always best to have four or more people in your party so one can stay with the victim and two can go for help.
- Avalanches: Skiers and snowboarders often start the avalanche that catches them. Most avalanches occur during and immediately after storms, and they are common on slopes steeper than 20 degrees.
- Sun: New Zealand's clear, unpolluted atmosphere produces strong sunlight and high ultraviolet levels. Wear brimmed hats, sunglasses, and lots of SPF 15+ sunscreen if you plan to be outdoors for longer than 15 minutes.
- River levels: Plan your trip around the use of bridges. Avoid river crossings and be aware of rising water levels during heavy rain.
- Giardia: In the bush, you should boil, filter, or chemically treat all water from lakes and rivers to avoid contracting this waterborne parasite, which causes diarrhea.
- Sand flies: Small in size, but big in nuisance value, sand flies are found in wet bush areas around rivers, lakes, and streams. They can be effectively controlled with regular use of strong insect repellents. If you get bitten, topical application of hydrocortisone ointment or tea-tree lotion should ease itching.
- Safety brochures: All of the above issues are dealt with in detail in a range of excellent free brochures produced by the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council, P.O. Box 6027, Te Aro, Wellington (tel. 04/385-7162; fax 04/385-7366; www.mountainsafety.org.nz), available at visitor information and DOC centers.