How To Walk Te Araroa, New Zealand – Part 4
In my first 3 posts, I explained the 5Ws of Te Araroa, how Te Araroa differs from the AT and country-specific gear. In this post, we are going to eat our way through New Zealand.
Trail food is definitely a personal preference. On the Appalachian Trail, we met a guy who carried a 5 lb container of peanut butter and ate that for breakfast, lunch and dinner. To each is own. When it comes to trail food, our modus operandi is as follows and I know our method may not work for everyone:
*Our trail diet is atrocious and we are the first to admit it. Our bodies crave sugar and we feed the monsters.
*We also have this practice of bringing just enough food so that we run out just as we are rolling into a town for resupply.
*We go cheap and light.
* We like mail drops. The Te Araroa Trust suggests 5 spots on the South Island where the resupply is doable in stores, but is limited, logistically challenging (sometimes requiring a hitch) and/or expensive. One of our main tasks after arriving in Auckland before starting the trail was to get our mail drops situated. We brought over a mix of food items from the US to start, so our initial food store run was not massive. We packaged everything up using the free boxes from grocery stores and packaging tape from our hostel and sent the 5 resupply boxes down the trail ($13 per box, no matter the location, weight, etc; mail could be the cheapest thing we found in New Zealand). We were really happy we opted to do a few mail drops, especially because the cost of mailing was reasonable.
As with any international travel, the foods are part of the adventure. Here are some New Zealand discoveries we loved and did not love.
New Zealand Te Araroa Favorites
1) Whittaker’s Chocolate
I don’t think you can visit New Zealand without hearing about Whittaker’s chocolate. I am an admitted chocoholic, so I may be a little biased, but I think it is scientifically impossible not to fall in love with Whittaker’s chocolate. The cows in New Zealand produce seriously awesome milk, thus producing some seriously awesome milk chocolate. We always carry chocolate as a trail treat, unless it is blazing hot. Let’s just say that near the end of our trek, we were each carrying 1 to 1.5 pounds of Whittaker’s chocolate for each section. It was never enough and we were a sucker when the stores had a sale on Whittaker’s. Also, when in a town, we would polish off a package of Squiggles, which are cookies (or biscuits as they call them there) with the Kiwi signature ingredient of “Hokey Pokey.”
2) Tip Top Ice Cream
Obviously this is not a trail treat, but I wasn’t kidding when I said that New Zealand cows produce top-notch milk. This is also evident in their yogurt and ice cream. Our town stops often would include a purchase of a 1/2 gallon of ice cream to eat at the hostels. In particular, we loved the Tip Top brand and their Bosenberry flavor.
3) Bumper Bars
For energy bars, many people in New Zealand eat muesli bars and something called “One Square Meals,” which are chock full of the good stuff. We instead discovered “Bumper Bars.” They have more sugar than the others and no nuts (Justin’s stomach can’t tolerate nuts), so it makes sense that we fancied them.
We heard about New Zealand’s famed manuka honey long before getting there and it did not disappoint.
Besides sugar, our bodies are also craving the salt we sweat (and boy do I sweat), so we typically carry chips when backpacking. We ended up LOVING the Pam’s varieties of chips sold in New Zealand. They had one type that was a cheese and bacon flavor that I loved in particular.
New Zealand Te Araroa Non-Favorites
Breakfast was not one of our favorite things about New Zealand. In the states, we typically do flavored oatmeal (strawberries and cream, etc. – you know, the sugary varieties) or pastries (honey buns, etc). And a side note about the U.S. oatmeal varieties (Quaker, Great Value)–we eat them cold and out of the packet (no dish mess!) and they are delicious to us. In New Zealand, the oatmeal brands were not as tasty. We didn’t like the flavors or the consistences as much. But, it was all we ate. Finding individually packed pastries was not easy. We would sometimes splurge and buy a container of donuts to bring into the backcountry, but again, the packaging was bulky and heavier than we would have liked.
2) Lack of Gatorade or Powerade Drink Mixes
Did I mention we like sugar? We always carry drink mixes to spruce up our water, mainly something that can also replenish electrolytes. Well, those are virtually nonexistent in New Zealand. Occasionally, we saw such drink mixes, but not often enough and they were wicked expensive. We bought the Pam’s brand of drink mixes and they were okay, but if I were to do the trail over, I would bring at least 100 individual packets of gatorade mixes to throw in our mail drops.
3) Dehydrated Meals
Though we try to keep our food choices on the cheaper side, we are a sucker for expensive dehydrated dinners. I admire people who dehydrate their own meals or cook an elaborate meal at camp, but we are lazy. Plain and simple. We heard dehydrated meals in New Zealand were pricier than what we were used to and we had worked out a pro deal with Backpacker Pantry, so we bought 70+ BP meals to bring with us and distribute in mail drops. Then we read the New Zealand biosecurity rules for bringing 2 kg per person of “moisture-reduced food (not usually consumed as is)” into the country. Additionally, you could bring in 10 kg of “liquid food,” 10 kg of “non-liquid food,” 2 liters of “concentrated liquid food,” and 1 kg of spices. We are not rule breakers, but there are much greater biosecurity concerns (i.e., fresh fruit, dirt on gear) and the guidelines were not black and white. Were our meals “non-liquid” or “moisture-reduced?” So we rationalized that if our meals were taken at customs, so be it. With our discounted rates, it was a chance we were willing to take. As it turns out, we declared everything, they checked the ingredients, but the only comment from the customs agent was, “you do know we sell food in New Zealand, right?”
We did try a few of the New Zealand varieties of dehydrated meals and were disappointed, both in quantity and taste. We opted for couscous or ramen (New Zealand has a great selection of ramen meals) when we didn’t have our meals.
4) No AYCE
All-you-can-eat buffets are virtually non-existent in New Zealand. We spotted one outside of Auckland, but we didn’t stop because we had just resupplied and could not justify not eating away the weight in our backpacks. There’s also a famous AYCE BBQ at the Alpine Lodge in St. Arnaud on the South Island, but it is only on Sunday nights. We arrived on a Thursday. My theory about why there are very few AYCE buffets in New Zealand brings up another point. Unlike America, Kiwis have a good handle on appropriate portion size. To get the most bang for our buck, we would often hit up McDonald’s, which we never do in regular life. McyD’s in New Zealand had a great family meal for $20 – 4 drinks, 4 burgers and 4 fries. Perfect for our hiker appetite!
5) A few other differences …
In keeping with the controllable portion size, there are never any self-serve drink stations, nor should you expect to get free refills on your drinks. Furthermore, condiment packets (ketchup, butter, etc.) cost money! If you want bacon like you would get in the states, look for “streaky bacon” in the stores. We made it a habit of cooking eggs and bacon for breakfast at each town stop, but quickly learned there is an important difference between “bacon” and “streaky bacon.” Sometimes we couldn’t get a small block of cheese to bring on the trail, only the big blocks. Also, New Zealand cheese varieties are good, but they have weird names, like “Tasty,” as opposed to “Cheddar.”
Overall, the food in New Zealand far exceeded our expectations. Before leaving for New Zealand, we were chatting with a Kiwi living in America for the past 20 years and he warned us that the food from his homeland was bland and had small portions. But the food was GREAT, and that wasn’t just our hiker appetites talking. Lots of fish and chips, lots of lamb, beets on burgers … basically lots of fantastic in our opinion.
I could go on and on about Te Araroa and New Zealand. But, I think I will wrap up this series unless y’all pipe in with other things you’d like to learn about. Or you can join us at one of our upcoming events!
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