Safety in the national park
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Fiordland National Park is the largest national park in New Zealand and a wild place, so it's important to put safety first. While there are no nasty animals (no poisonous snakes or spiders, crocodiles, lions, tigers or bears!) people do get into trouble here due to injury, getting lost, drowning, or other accidents. Some are rescued by our amazing Search and Rescue heroes. However, some people don't make it home. By putting safety first, you can prevent yourself getting into trouble, and have a stress-free time in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Our long, rural roads, including the Milford road, have some of the highest rates of crashes in New Zealand. This is because of some obvious causes; speeding and dangerous over taking, foreign drivers failing to drive on the left, tired drivers, and variable weather. To protect yourselves if driving, remember to follow these simple rules:
- slow down, particularly for bends, brows and in wet or icy weather
- don't overtake if you can't see what is ahead
- take breaks at least every two hours and don't drive if tired
- always drive on the left
- belt up everyone, including ensuring children are in child seats appropriate for their height and weight
- take bad weather warnings seriously, and always carry chains if a risk of snow
Safety on our lake beaches
Our lakes are great playgrounds but it takes only a few seconds to get into trouble and drown. Drowning is the third highest cause of unintentional death in New Zealand after road crashes and falls. Beaches often shelve away from very shallow water to very deep water. If you have young children who cannot swim, make sure you stay with them at all times. All children using a play boat should wear a proper life jacket (not a swimming pool-standard buoyancy aid which will not hold a child's head above water). Life jackets can be bought in Te Anau at Outside Sports on the main street. Never swim in areas used by motor boats, jet skis or water skis. For people considering swimming away from the shoreline, it is important to know that the coldness of our lakes away from the shores can easily cause hypothermia (and consequential death). A wetsuit and someone in a support boat are recommended. Read the Water Safety Code on the Adventure Smart website.
Safety when tramping
The Outdoor Safety Code is a simple code that reminds you to carefully plan your trip, tell someone where you are going, check the weather forecast is fine, know your limits, and take sufficient supplies and equipment. You can read the code and log your intentions over the internet on the Department of Conservation's Safety Code page. It's particularly important, if you are tramping, to take care around rivers. Rivers rise rapidly and can travel fast, causing deaths of trampers keen to cross and move on. If you are in any doubt of your ability to cross a river safely, you should not cross. Often a river will go down as quickly as it comes up, and it always pays to wait rather than pay with your life. The Mountain Safety Council runs river crossing courses showing how to cross a river safely as a group, supporting each other as you cross. They also have online information about river safety.
Safety for kayakers and boaties
Kayaking or boating on Fiordland lakes may seem safe on a hot, still day, even if you have no experience, but there are hidden dangers. The weather can change rapidly, causing large waves and capsize, and the water will always be cold. If you find yourself out of your depth and out of your boat or kayak, with no way to get back in or be rescued fast, then you may well succumb to hypothermia and die, even if you can swim and are wearing a life jacket. If you are intending to kayak across a Fiordland lake it is advised to travel in groups of no fewer than three. It is important to know how to get back into your kayak or boat in the event of a capsize, and that you are capable of carrying out this procedure. It is also importan to have relevant rescue training and equipment. For more advice, go to the Adventure Smart website.
If you are a white water kayaker and considering kayaking on Fiordland rivers, remember to kayak within your limits. Some of our rivers, such as the mighty Hollyford, are very challenging with sections that are V+.
Personal Emergency Locator Beacons (PELBs)
In Te Anau you can hire a Personal Emergency Locator Beacon that enables you to be rescued when you press a button. It's important to understand how to use this device and only use it in absolute emergencies. They come with full instructions and can be hired from the Mobil Garage in the town centre of Te Anau. It is strongly recommended that you do hire one if you are going on an independent tramp. For more information about PELBs, go to the PELB website.
Thanks to Stew's Place for sponsoring this page
Stew is the local guy who can source you a mountain radio, and he's also secretary of the Fiordland Land Search and Rescue team. But he also owns Stew's Place, carrying out outdoor gear repairs, including replacing zips in sleeping bags, and repairs to packs, bags, jackets, boots, shoes, tents, and tent poles. Stew designs and manufactures bags, covers, tramping gear, boat covers, and boat canopies in a range of materials and general upholstery for furniture, boats, aircraft and vehicles. Go to Stew's Place.