There are a wide variety of walking conditions on New Zealand’s peaks. The terminology we use to describe these conditions is often a little confusing, but generally, we try to adhere the following list of definitions.
A sealed road, upon which vehicles may also travel (if permitted).
An unsealed road, upon which vehicles may also travel (if permitted).
A ‘path’ is well formed and maintained. It will usually be wide enough to accommodate foot traffic in both directions. A ‘path’ might include sections which have been constructed in some way e.g. steps, staircases, bridges, boardwalks or retaining walls.
A ‘track’ typically is much narrower and rougher than a ‘path’. Formal maintenaince would be performed less often (if at all), and it’s existence might largely be down to other walkers trampling over the vegetation. There may be rocks or tree roots underfoot, and it could be steep or slippery in places. Some water crossings may be bridged (e.g. by wooden foot bridges or by swing bridges). Tramping boots are highly recommended.
‘Routes’ are a loosely defined way through the wilderness. There is generally no obvious tracks, and you will need to rely on a map, compass, and your navigation skills to get from A to B. Some routes may be ‘marked’ however (see “A note ‘Marked and Unmarked'” below).
‘Routes’ will often include stream and river crossings of varying difficulty, with no bridges. (Remember that a ‘stream’ can turn into a raging torrent in a matter of minutes).
If a tramp includes a very short section of what technically may be a ‘route’, we sometimes do not list it as such. This is because it can give an inaccurate impression of the journey – for example 95% of a tramp may be on a marked paths or tracks, with only the last 5% on an unmarked (but obvious) route to the summit.
A ‘scramble’ is where you need to use your hands to assist you, e.g. climbing a rocky section over boulders, or grasping tree roots to haul yourself up a steep embankment, are both examples of ‘scrambling’.
A note on ‘Marked and Unmarked’
Tracks, Routes, and Scrambles can be either marked or unmarked.
Marked For example, on a ‘marked route’ you might find marker poles to guide your way. However, there would be no obvious ‘track’. (In New Zealand, DOC often users triangular markers to mark possum baiting routes through the bush. It can often be confusing, and you need to think very very carefully (and consult a map and compass) before following these markers. Possum lines will lead you anywhere and everywhere, and not necessarily where you want to be! In the bush, it pays to stick carefully to well defined tracks, rather than attempt to follow markers.)
Unmarked An ‘unmarked track’ for example would contain no formal markers, but would be well enough formed through foot traffic to show the way ahead.
‘Roads’ and ‘Paths’ are ‘marked’ by their own existence.
A note on how we use these terms
Although these words are formally defined here to describe track conditions, we also often use them in general terms around this website. There’s only so many ways you can describe a walk, hence our walk descriptions are called ‘recommended routes’, and we have ‘track conditions’ even though it might not even be a track! However, when we use these terms in the actual route description, we are usually using them in the sense of their formal definition.