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Hiking Boots Are Not Needed In New Zealand

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Are hiking boots essential for travelling NZ? This is a question I have pondered on in the last few months and it seems as though there is no ‘correct’ answer. It all depends on personal preference. However, I thought I would delve into a little tail for you to get an idea of why I think this way. And perhaps assure you that whatever you’re currently wearing is fine!

Disclaimer: I am not advocating avoiding hiking boots on trails In New Zealand. In numerous situations hiking boots are essential and recommended. 

The hiking boots dilemma… 

I slide my hand into the side pocket of my highlighter red day pack searching for another sour feijoa. (Selected from the pick ‘n’ mix section at Pak’n Save). While engulfing the tangy green gummy in between panting breaths, I awkwardly smile at the horde of people passing through. Amidst centuries old volcanic terrain en route to one of the best day walks in the entire world, I catch my breath and gaze down at the scoured volcanic rocks. All the while, sighting in the corner of my eye… (And foraging in my pack for a sour peach) a peculiar sight. 

So far, I believe I’m on a 19.4 kilometre journey in a stark volcanic landscape filled with astonishing sights of ruby red rimmed craters, ancient lava flows, scattered scoria and volcanic debris. However I could be wrong and a double take at this interesting sight is needed. I glance back at the myriad of hikers, wiggle my warm sweaty toes stuffed in a pair of leather hiking boots and confirm my amazement. It seems as though I am overdressed for this alpine hiking environment. 

I am not wearing open toed sandals.

photo credit: To a Heftiba

Immediately I wonder what on earth these people are thinking! The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is not your mainstream stroll through the park. It is a challenging trail full of loose volcanic debris, a reasonable elevation gain, subject to extreme weather conditions and is an active volcanic area. Therefore, I am puzzled. 

I have this pre wired assumption all travellers coming to New Zealand wear hiking boots. This stems from casual strolls down the main street of various cities, in the outdoor capital of the world, viewing tourists with hiking boots. Not to mention, I often think these hiking boots look out of place. Especially in bars. Or, in the supermarket.I kind of understand, lugging around a 20kg pack while travelling from place to place can’t be good on the ankles and hiking boots must ease the load?

Anyway, I know a bunch of tourists have hiking boots. Therefore, surely one would remember to bring them on The Tongariro Alpine Crossing?! 

I guess I should be astonished people come so ill prepared for New Zealand hiking trails. I read the news (sometimes) and see enough reports of unschooled trampers getting lost in the NZ wilderness. Sights like these are becoming increasingly frequent as I enter into overpopulated hiking trails. Even though I know most “must pack” essential lists for NZ include a pair of sturdy hiking boots. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a hike that draws thousands of international visitors per day during peak season. It is a place I assume screams; bring the sturdiest footwear you own! 

This just isn’t the case. 

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My sweat is now easing, the breeze has picked up and the midday sun is yet to hit. I think I have engulfed enough sour peaches to assist me up the multitude of steps ahead. I sigh and put my bladder sipper back in its place slightly off my shoulder. All the while, gazing up at the activity ahead and engage my legs to continue the journey. Just before I do this, one last look at the top of the slope is needed and leaves me a little irritated. Luck would have it, the Teva-wearing clad have reached the top of this tough segment of the track on the lower slopes of Mount Ngauruhoe, leaving the pyroclastic flows from various eruptions of Mount Ngauruhoe and myself far behind. 

I’m gutted. I thought I was prepared with my leather hiking boots, bladder pack, sandwiches, rain coat, hiking pack and lollies. But it seems I’m a bit of a ‘hardout’. You could lump me in with the ‘new casual’ gym mums who wear active wear out for coffee. The Teva-wearing hikers seem to be doing alright so I’m left to question: What function do hiking boots have that non-hiking boots don’t?

I take my first few steps up the tough slog of stairs. I soon come to the realisation that hiking boots don’t have any more function than sandals. Except for the fact they keep your toes warm, sometimes dry and protect rolled ankles. To be honest, on this hot February day I could have handled the track just fine in sandals. 

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The kiwi “she’ll be right” saying is especially true when it comes to hiking, myself included.   A cheapie from the warehouse were my sole comfort for years until a few summers ago. One of my bosses rocked those carky green dad sandals that people avoid being seen with at all cost until she rolled her ankle. Gee, my brother even wore ordinary trainers for 8 years while hunting… It’s true, most kiwis I know, put off paying for something that isn’t ‘necessary’. And hiking boots are often one of them. 

It seems up until a couple of years ago myself, kiwis and travellers alike skip the memo I thought was so ingrained in NZ travel checklists. Presumably, you could say we want to be one with the land, explore the country like an indigenous Maori. Or, just don’t see the need for them. I used to believe hiking boots were for ‘hard outs’ and weren’t essential up until I got a discount on a pair for Christmas a few years back. Dare I say, I think hiking boots aren’t explicitly for hiking just like Timberland boots aren’t explicitly for labourers in the US. Or, gym clothes aren’t specifically for gym goers. 

I’m probably going to get in trouble for saying this. I can imagine the next headline in the local Timaru Herald.

Amateur travel blogger who preaches safety in the outdoors advises travellers to leave their hiking boots at home”. – Following a near miss RCCNZ notification on the weekend.

Perhaps I am getting a little ahead of myself and assuming people read my advice let alone take it.

Finally after much distress I’ve made it to the top of Mount Doom (or the part of the trail in junction with Ngauruhoe Summit Track). A casual two kilometers later I arrive at the top of red crater summit (An incredible view of the intense red crater rich with velvet like colours and dense chocolate browns). Albeit amongst a few more sandal-clad hikers. The Emerald Lakes dazzling with turquoise water (and rather smelly) pools are within reach. 


In order to reach the most photogenic spot of the trail I must descend down the mighty scree slope which rapidly drops 145 meters in 0.4 kilometers. It’s here I can’t help but think to myself, this is the time for these ‘hard out’ hiking boots to shine. I secure my hiking poles in the palms of my sweaty hands. Glance left towards the sandal-wearing clad. Dig my heels into my overbearing hiking boots and strive to beat the sandals down to the magic blue, glistening and egg filled paradise. 

Let me know if you have any questions in the comment box below! And be sure to check out more of my hiking and travel tips articles! Or, pop on back to the home page.

If you liked this post perhaps you would like to read more about NZ from befreewithlee! 

15 Unforgettable Things To Do In NZ

6 Of The Best Free Things To Do On Your South Island West Coast Road Trip! 

Safe Travel In The NZ Outdoors: Plan For The Worst, Hope For The Best! 

To Check out the DOC website for the Tongaririo Alpine Crossing click here! 

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  1. Sophie says

    Hey lee! what a great article! really interesting perspective on hiking boots, and I loved th epicture you posted- that scenery at the top of the crater looks amazing!!
    Personally I think the main benefit of proper hiking boots is the support. Sandals generally have a flat bottom and if you have a bad knee, or a bad arch then you are going to get sore feet and knees very quickly! I think that is the main benefit of hiking boots over sandals to be honest. Also if you roll an anklle ( which can happen to anyone, at anytime!) the benefit of a hiking boot is that you can lace it up really tight to support your ankle for the remainder of the hike, to get you to a doctor, whereas if you are in a sandal you have no way of keeping it secure. Also doing frequent long walks in proper shoes will lead to less impact and less injuries/niggles in the future. I understand that there is a lot of new studies showing that running in barefeet is actually more beneficial, however running on a flat surface in sandals is different to manouevering an unstable and unsteady ground like you would get on a hike. It is also not all about the immediate support or comfort- in the long run you are looking after your ankles, feet and knees. Speaking from someone who has super bad knees I would never ever hike in sandals haha I would make it 2 mins before they start aching.
    Sorry for the novel haha I jsut wanted to give my twi cents! keep wearing your hiking boots gal! xx

    • Lee says

      Hey Soph! Thanks so much for reading 🙂

      The scenery along the Tongariro Crossing is like something out of this world!

      I love your insight regarding hiking boots and injury. You’re completely right. Hiking boots provide that much needed support on tricky terrain and come in handy if you have any knee or ankle injuries! Interesting about the running in bare feet… I’ll have to look into that!

      Glad you know what works for you! I think I will keep my hiking boots too 🙂

  2. Chloe says

    if you are sticking to great walks this is probably true . Great walks with steps and gravel paths are not what kiwis would consider ‘proper’ tramps . It does look silly walking around cities with huge boots , unless you are hitch hiking its not needed .

    People don’t realize how much harder other tracks in nz are . ‘tracks’ is a generous term for some . They just put up markers and let the trampers make the track .

    Doing one popular walk is not enough to warrant the title of this piece …

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