GPS or paper maps?
There’s an easy answer, how about both.
GPS with a full-on topographic map set installed is fantastically useful with all that detail.
The screen will display your location, handy to show where you are in relation to the track if you manage to find yourself, err, elsewhere, ie, not on the track in circumstances that could be dicey, as in heavy fog on the tops.
Very, very useful.
A downside of most GPS units is the pathetic battery life, 6 or 8 hours or so in reality, not long if you leave the device on while you are walking. Ain’t so easy to recharge batteries out there, or you have to take a whole bundle of spares.
But you probably already knew that.
What you might not know, if you haven’t yet acquired a GPS unit, is that a Garmin style unit will not accept much in the way of a self made custom map, whatever the actual storage capacity, there’s a built in limitation to map size that, I guess, is intended to encourage buying of proprietary maps. A Garmin unit that has the custom maps “feature” can actually only allow one LINZ Topo50 .klm format map to be accessed despite there being room for the whole country in the device memory. Instead you have to invest in the Garmin TOPO Australia & New Zealand map for $NZ234 which offers a simplified version of the free LINZ maps but at least show the tracks and hut location along with the contours, just not as elegantly, and they manage to give you the whole of Australia as well at the same level of detail.
It’s useful, if not essential, to have that paper map in case GPS batteries die.
For some popular tracks Newtopo produces a handy detailed weatherproof series of maps at scales around 1:50,000 which are available from $20 to $9 from major DoC offices and some outdoor stores, Macpac keep them, or consult this less than comprehensive list of retail outlets. The list includes: Marlborough Sounds, Queen Charlotte Track, Abel Tasman, Mt Arthur, Cobb, Heaphy Track, Wangapeka Track Travers-Sabine Circuit, St James Walkway, Lake Sumner Tramps, Arthur’s Pass, Banks Peninsula, Aoraki/Mt Cook, Rees-Dart Track, Five Passes Wilderness, Routeburn, Greenstone/Capels, Milford Track, Kepler Track, Rakiura Track and Rakiura NW&S Circuits
Land Information New Zealand, LINZ as it is more commonly referred to, has the country fully covered in 452 separate maps with the Topo50 series maps, both digital and paper, that’s at the scale of, umm, 1:50,000, ie, a high level of detail, and a super level of accuracy. They show the route of the tracks, the locations of huts, or swing bridges, and, once you get a feel of the contours, give a good sense of how strenuous the day may be.
The remarkable thing is these digital versions are well priced, ie, they are free.
I’ll repeat that.
Absolutely free. Given away. Nothing to pay.
The Topo250 series, the 1: 250,000 scale maps, are OK for planning your trip but tend to be less useful in the field due to the lesser amount of detail.
Download free digital versions from LINZ Mapchooser and print out your own for using on your trip. Be warned that the .tiff format files are just under 150MB, ie, huge.
If you want to upload a custom map to your GPS device it’s better to download a more compact .klm format file, around 15MB file size, from topomap.co.nz for, once again, a grand price of zilch. If you download a few maps consider a small donation, there’s considerable work gone into getting that info onto the internet and we should support these useful resources.
If you are old fashioned, like me, you can also buy a real, tangible, no nonsense, thing, ie, a coloured map on paper, at DOC offices, outdoor shops and bookshops where maps sold. Cost: $7.90 each.
There’s a nationwide list at LINZ Map Retailers.