Like Patagonia, the Mackenzie and Fiordland are wild, lonely places with volatile climates, extreme winds, and, thus, some of the most experienced search-and-rescue teams in the world. The message is clear: Respect the mountain when you step out. That said, even if you have only a week to go bush, there are three excellent trailstracks, in local parlancethat range from easy to perilous.
Serious climbers shouldn't miss out on Mount Cook. At 12,349 feet, it's the tallest peak in the Southern Alps and is conveniently ringed by climbing schools and ski-plane and helicopter outfits that lift a constant stream of mountaineers onto Tasman Glacier, which stretches over much of the mountain's topside. Many of the tracks in Mount Cook National Park can be done in a day; overnight stays require filing an intention form at the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre at Aoraki Mount Cook Village (011-64-3-435-1819).
The Copland Pass hike, which runs out to the west coast, takes four days and is rated the most challenging tramp in New Zealand. Collapsing moraine walls have made the route even more dangerous. Suffice it to say, don't attempt Copland Pass without technical climbing experience. To learn about trail conditions and to pay hut feesthere are Appalachian-Trail-style huts (right) along the routecheck in at the Aoraki Mount Cook Village Visitor Centre.
The spectacular and more accessible Routeburn Track leads south from Queenstown and takes four days and three nights to complete. It connects Mount Aspiring with Fiordland National Park via the Harris Saddle, and during the summer (October to April) is so popular that you have to book a backcountry pass three to five days in advance. For conditions and reservations, contact the Glenorchy Visitor Centre (442-9937) or Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre (249-7924; firstname.lastname@example.org).