Advice on Hiking New Zealand’s Te Araroa
Having completed my 3,000km hike across New Zealand on the Te Araroa trail, here’s my advice for future hikers.
The Te Araroa (TA) trail is relatively new, having been completed in 2011. The trail is essentially 30 or so smaller trails connected together and is still going through some growing pains as it matures into a more formal trail. The track begins on the tip of New Zealand’s North Island at Cape Reinga and heads south to the capital city of Wellington. From here, walkers take a ferry across the Tasman Strait and continue south across the South Island to the town of Bluff. At roughly 3,000km (1,900 miles), the trail is quite the adventure and unlike any other thru-hike.
The trail is not your average long-distance trail. Around 15% of the trail consists of road walking to connect the different segments. The trail conservancy hopes to reduce this amount in future years. Several sections of the route intentionally require kayaking and canoeing as well as the aforementioned ferry. The TA really is a grand mix of urban, rural, and wilderness hiking. Here is a fast-paced video showcasing the Te Araroa and all its variety:
Advice for Future Hikers
Having completed my thru-hike of the TA in 90 days, I can honestly say it was quite the adventure. That being said, there are several things I would change if I had to do it again. I had previously thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and had high expectations for the TA and had only heard good things about the trail. So for those of you who would like to tackle this adventure, I’ll let you in on some tips.
1. Hitch/Skip the Road Walks
Having finished the Appalachian Trail as a purist, I was ready to tackle the TA as my second thru-hike in the same manner, a decision that nearly caused me to quit my hike. The road walking wore me down and became very monotonous, taking away from my enjoyment of the trail. To have a more enjoyable experience one must not compare the TA to other long-distance trails and realize it is made up of many smaller trails. While walking the 15% of the trail made up of roads (450km), I was privileged enough to hike past a slaughterhouse, a sewage treatment plant, two international airports, and countless farms, sheep, and cattle. I recommend hitching around the road sections to save your feet and energy for the beautiful parts. There are even several sections where the trail notes suggest biking.
2. Navigation Apps
Forget what you may have read online about printing out paper notes and carrying a compass. The TA trust has released their own app with all the trail notes and GPS navigation. It’s free (at the time of this writing) and they keep you updated with the latest news, trail closures, and reroutes. An alternative is Guthook, but it doesn’t have the trail notes or current updates. I only used the free TA app but other hikers used Guthook, which is nice for the comments but you don’t need it.
3. Choose Your Route
I hiked SOBO for the entire trail. The North Island contains most of the road walks and the route actually takes you away from some of the cool parts of New Zealand. The South Island, on the other hand, was stunning and the highlight of the trek. That being said, it was an anticlimactic ending to get to the industrial city of Bluff for the finale. Many hikers choose to only hike the South Island. If you’ve never been to New Zealand, I would recommend hiking parts of the North Island and maybe renting a camper van to see other parts of the island to experience places like Hobbiton and the Coromandel. Then I would skip down to the bottom of the South Island and hike NOBO so that you end on the most beautiful parts of the trail. Or, if you are pressed for time, just hike the South Island, NOBO or SOBO.
4. Leave No Trace
Tourism is a huge industry in New Zealand and so the trails are shared by day hikers, section hikers, hunters, and ignorant tourists. Unfortunately, this means that many walkers aren’t aware or don’t abide by LNT principles. This was the first thru-hike for a lot of TA walkers I met. Several of these walkers left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth by continually leaving their trash behind. Foreign tourists have also been known to defecate out in the open without burying it. So please, let’s all keep the planet clean for everyone and pack out your trash and bury your poop!
5. Get Off Trail
New Zealand is an incredible country! I was lucky enough to live and work there for over a year before my hike. And so I was able to visit so much of the country that you won’t see from the trail. The TA takes you near some incredible places that are really worth some extra time from Wellington and Auckland to Queenstown and Milford Sound. Definitely take some side trips to explore!
6. Get Used to Livestock
Back in the day over 80% of New Zealand was deforested to make room for farming. The TA passes through hundreds of farms. You will soon grow tired of climbing over fence stiles between pastures and paddocks. Sheep outnumber humans in New Zealand and you will see thousands. Get used to having to avoid stepping in manure constantly. The same goes for cattle. Most are female and pose no threat but there are the occasional angry bulls.
7. Relax and Enjoy the Birds
Last but not least, relax and enjoy the scenery! Unlike other places, there are no dangerous animals in New Zealand. All the land mammals are invasive (rats, mice, stoats, possums, goats) but none of them will harm you. The native birds are amazing, from the curious keas to the hungry wekas! Hang your food in the shelters to keep the mice away but don’t fear any rustling in the bushes at night. There’s nothing to be afraid of. There aren’t even snakes!
For my more photos and detailed journal entries from each day on the trail, check out my blog.
Check out my complete video blog from each section of the trail:
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