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Outdoor survival tips for the bush

11-Jul-2013 | Contributed by: Drew Thompson

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Compass and map

When venturing out into the bush it is essential that you know how to navigate properly.

1. Research

Before you leave, always research the area, plan your trip and prepare. Unless you know the path you are taking or it is a well identifiable track, you must take the time prior to leaving to understand the terrain and your planned route, including your entry and exit points.

2. Navigation

Either buy a GPS or learn to use a compass and topographic map. It is essential you know how to navigate properly.


If you are going well off the beaten track I would suggest buying or renting an ‘EPIRB’ (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon). These send a distress signal which gives your exact location.

4. Survival gear

Research and buy survival gear. Items such as a first aid kit, emergency blanket, good knife, tomahawk, cooking accessories, fire lighters and good quality camping gear designed for the conditions.

5. Inform others

Let people know where you are going and how long for, before heading out.

6. Keep calm

If you find yourself lost keep calm – Panic will only ever lead to chaos and bad decisions. Try and work out your location using your map or GPS.

7. Find a clearing

If you find yourself completely disorientated find a clearing close by where you can signal for help. 

SOS tips

8. Stay in one place

Staying in one place is very important and you are much easier to locate if you don’t keep moving. Create a point zero by marking a spot with rocks, branches etc. Scout out your close surroundings returning frequently to point zero. This will help you determine where the best place would be to set up camp and find fresh water.

9. Shelter

If you are threatened by nightfall and have no tent you must build a shelter. There are many ways in which a shelter can be built. An easy way is to create a beam using a branch between a tree and the ground. Using sticks, ferns and other foliage create a triangular shaped roof. If using ferns to create the wall, place with the tips of the fronds down to channel rainwater downwards. Make shelter low and just large enough to fit snug to eliminate cold airflow. Place moss or soft foliage as padding and to reduce heat loss to the ground.

10. Build a fire

As soon as you have concluded that there is a possibility that you maybe spending an indefinite amount of time in the bush it is essential that you build a fire. Among other things a fire can be used for warmth, cooking, purifying water, drying clothes ad signalling for help. 

Learn how to build a fire.

11. Find water

Around the same time as you are building your shelter and fire, it is important to find a source of water. Luckily in New Zealand you are never too far from a creek or riverbed. To be safe it is highly recommended you boil the water over your fire first before drinking to kill any bacteria. A good rule of thumb is to allow water to boil for least three minutes.

12. Find food

Once you have, shelter, water and a fire the next step is to find food. It is important to not lose your way again so always remain close to your ‘Point zero’. Unless you have knowledge of what plants you can and can’t eat I would avoid eating any berries etc. Below is a small list of some common wild plant you can eat in NZ.

  • Water cress
  • Black berries
  • Horopito – Leaves are Peppery
  • Rimu berries (except for blue bit)
  • Ponga –white pith inside branches
  • Manuka – leaves can be boiled to make tea
  • Hen and Chickens Fern – new shoots are edible
  • Flax seed
  • Karamu (Coprosma) Berries – all five NZ species are edible.
  • Supplejack – Tips of the vine are edible – look like asparagus.
  • Puha –wash and rub to remove bitter white sap

Research what these plants all look like so you can identify them.

The creek, river or lake is the next place to look. 

Learn how to catch a feed.

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