Being a solo traveler includes heaps of milestones to tick off along the way. First solo international flight? Check. First time driving on the left side of the road? Check. But perhaps one of my favorite milestones as a solo female traveler to date is diving into the world of solo tramping.
I must admit that solo tramping did not come ~naturally~ to me. I didn’t have a clue what to pack, what to eat, or even how to find good beta on a track, but with enough research, I finally felt ready to tackle my first solo tramp, and, no surprises here, it was amazing! Sure, it was hard, and I took away plenty of lessons to learn from, but I’ll never forget the feeling of leaving my car and exploring the bush on my own power without cell phone service for a full two days.
There are plenty of fabulous walks to choose from here in New Zealand, and lucky for you, New Zealand is finally getting on top of the ball when it comes to sharing trail info. Plan My Walk from NZ Mountain Safety Council has all of the resources you need to plan your first overnight solo tramp.
Ready to dive in? Here are my top 6 overnight adventures for solo trampers.
1. Matukituki Valley / Aspiring Hut
If you’re ready to tackle your first overnight adventure but still a bit apprehensive, you can’t go wrong with a gentle walk up the Matuktuki Valley to Aspiring Hut. It’s an excellent introduction for trampers looking to dip their toes into multi-day tramps, and the 9km hike up the valley is a low gradient, meaning you can spend less time worrying about your footing and more time taking in the sweeping views of the West Matukituki.
The track starts at Raspberry Creek Car Park in the Mt. Aspiring National Park and covers 9km of ground over 2.5 – 3 hours. If you’d instead tackle it on two wheels, you’re more than welcome to go by bike, as long as you don’t mind a gentle uphill the entire way and (usually) a bit of a headwind. (Don’t worry, it makes the return even that much sweeter!)
Aspiring Hut is a historic stone structure with all the perks: comfy foam mattresses, DOC wardens with plenty of banter, flushing toilets (!!), and even gas cooktops, so you don’t have to bother lugging in your gas canister.
If you’ve got some extra energy, you can carry on a bit further up the Matukituki Valley. The track is undulating and will take you eventually to the head of the valley, although the trail gets more and more overgrown the further you get! Aspiring Hut is also the gateway hut to Liverpool and French Ridge: two very iconic red huts perched precariously on mountain ledges overlooking steep drops to the valley below.
2. Copeland Track to Welcome Flat Hut
Ready for a step up from Aspiring Hut? Look no further than the popular Copeland Track. This was a historic track used by the first mountaineers who would walk from Aoraki to the West Coast (before mass glacial melting occurred, this was pretty common!). Now, the hardcore still use the track to gain access to the wild West Coast ranges, but the track to Welcome Hut is also one of my favorite entry walks for beginner solo trampers.
Let’s preface by saying the walk *is* long. It’s an impressive 18km one way, but panic just yet. The walk into Welcome Flat Hut is also perhaps the flattest track I’ve ever walked in New Zealand, and that’s saying a lot. There’s almost no undulation, just flat glorious Westland bush. The track does sidle along a river, so if the water is high or if you attempt to walk this in the winter, you’ll need to pay extra attention to the alerts. You can easily plug your trip into Plan My Walk to see any up-to-date notifications and alerts that might affect your trip.
Don’t forget your swimming suit for this tramp! Once you’ve covered the 18km to the Hut, the best surprise waits for you after a long day: natural hot pools! Welcome Hut conveniently sits within a few hundred meters of some very welcoming natural hot pools with some of the best views you could ask for.
The Hut itself is pretty luxurious for a backcountry hut with multiple separate rooms, a stove for heat, and plenty of space to unwind. If you’re feeling extra fancy, you can book the Sierra Room, which gives you a higher level of facilities, including a gas cooker, kitchen/cooking equipment, potbelly stove, wet back shower, and lighting.
3 Fern Burn Hut
If flat walking is not your jam, there are plenty of incredible overnight hikes to pick for your first solo adventure. One of my favorite hikes in our backyard is the Motatapu Trail to Fern Burn hut.
This hike gives you some of the only native bush you’ll find in an overnight hike close to Wanaka. The walk starts at Glendhu Bay, and the first few kilometers lead you on a meandering track through farmlands before depositing you into some of the loveliest bits of forest you could ask for.
The trail through the forest follows the river, undulating a bit before climbing steeply out of the forest and into the tussock-covered hills. The track from here is pretty up and down. The entire Motatapu trail is 35km long, usually taking 3 – 4 days to complete, which indicates that the whole trail climbs and descends a lot.
But if you’re looking for a taste of the trail without the long commitment, Fern Burn is a terrific start. Plan for a good 3 – 4 hours of walking to cover 7km of distance. When you leave the forest, you also leave the river, so bring enough water for the second part of the trail as it can get pretty dry and hot during the afternoons.
The Fern Burn hut is a relatively new structure that gets heavy use from walkers tackling the Te Araroa Trail (a trail that covers the entire length of New Zealand), so if you come across some other trampers, you’re bound to hear some good stories.
4. Mueller Hut
If you’re comfortable on the flats and over the valley walks, you might be ready to tackle something with a jaw-dropping view for your first solo hike. If you’re in the mood for views, head to Aoraki, New Zealand’s tallest mountain and one of our most dramatic national parks.
Mueller Hut is become popular with hikers looking for an achievable overnight hike that gives alpine views without requiring technical gear and knowledge. The Hut is bookable online and often books out in the summer.
The Hut sits 1800 meters above sea level and gives you 360 views of glaciers, ice cliffs, vertical rock faces, and of course, New Zealand’s tallest peak. Mueller Hut is a serviced hut with a dedicated hut warden, so you’ll have plenty of comforts like plenty of lounging space and gas stop tops for cooking.
The walk to Mueller Hut is well marked but can be challenging at times, primarily due to Mt. Cook’s famously fickle weather. Things move quickly in this national park, and weather can turn from sunny and warm to cold and dangerous quickly, so you must do your homework on this one using Plan My App. Log your trip, check in with DOC, and keep an eye on the alerts and weather conditions on the app so that you don’t get caught out.
If you pick it on a good day, Mueller Hut will be an unforgettable experience that you’ll dream of for years to come.
5. Brewster Hut
If you’re feeling more like a Harry Hardcore, you might be ready for something along the lines of Brewster Hut. This Hut is well known for its unbelievably dramatic vistas and relatively short walk time. The walk itself is only 5km long but trust me on this one: it is not to be underestimated.
The track starts with a river crossing right off the bat. This is always a good time to check in with the flow of the water to make sure it’s safe to cross. Once you’re across the river, it’s straight into business with a well-marked but steep climb up.
The track is vigorous and might require both hands to help climb up through the forest, but once you make your way above the bush line, you’ll be greatly rewarded with some seriously stunning views. The walk from the bush line to the Hut isn’t long, but the steep gradient is sustained all the way to the Hut.
Finally, you’ll break through to those sweet red hut views, and you’ll forget all about those burning thighs. The Hut requires booking and only has 12 bunks, so be sure to check the booking system before heading up. Due to the fragile alpine terrain, there is no camping allowed near the Hut.
Brewster Hut generally does not have a hut warden, so you’ll want to be sure you leave your trip intentions with a trusty pal. You can do all of your trip planning, including sending your trip itinerary and expected due-back date to your mates so that if anything goes awry, they can notify the police.
6. Rockburn shelter
Staying in huts is a classic kiwi experience, but for some, there’s nothing like true solitude and a private bungalow (ok, tent) to crawl into at the end of the night. If you think solo hiking to a hut is rewarding, wait until you try solo camping! There’s nothing quite like the achievement of carrying everything you need to not only survive but also enjoy a night in the bush.
With camping, you need to ensure you’ve got everything for your trip, including PLB, plenty of food, cookware, tent, sleeping bag, and mat. There’s a good chance you’ll be entirely on your own, so make sure you spend time planning your trip and dialing your packing list before heading out. Plan My Walk makes it super simple to research your trip, read other track reviews, and create a tailored-to-you packing list.
If you’ve done your planning and you’re ready to go, I can highly recommend the Rockburn Shelter near Glenorchy. I tackled this trip earlier in the year to test out my new tent, and it was a pure delight.
The track starts at Lake Sylvan near Glenorchy and meanders up the river bed for about 2 -3 hours. There used to be a hut here which has been removed but in its stead stands a great wee shelter and camp toilet for public use.
This walk was a great introduction to solo camping. It’s easy enough, it’s a shorter walk, and it’s stunning. If you’re keen, you could make this walk a loop by connecting it over to Sugarloaf Pass before hooking back on to the Routeburn Track, but honestly, if not, don’t stress. There’s no shame in a good old fashion out and back, and this year, I’m rediscovering my love for appreciating my abilities and being honest with what I’m feeling. Any overnight tramp is a worthy and notable effort, and the most important thing is just to get out there and soak up all that the New Zealand wild has to offer.
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