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 Maildrops2where 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.

Maildrop contentsAs 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.”

Before leaving New Zealand, we picked up just a few bars to bring home.

Before leaving New Zealand, we picked up just a few bars to bring home.

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.

Us store

Bosenberry

J Matteo ice cream

Sometimes we would even eat our 1/2 gallon of ice cream on a quick resupply run in front of the store.

3) Bumper Bars

bumper bars

White chocolate raspberry, chocolate banana and apricot chocolate were our favorites. Yum.

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.

 

4) Honey

We heard about New Zealand’s famed manuka honey long before getting there and it did not disappoint.

honey

 

5) Pam’s

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

1) Oatmeals

My mom sent us a care package with individually packaged honey buns and powdered donuts. I was never so happy. 

My mom sent us a care package with individually packaged honey buns and powdered donuts. I was never so happy.

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.

resupply 22) 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 BP mealsdehydrated 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 Christmas mealblack 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 J McDsfamous 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.

fish and chips burger Waitomo

 

FergburgerWaipu Pizza BarnI 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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Comments 4

  • Dave Tuck : Mar 1st

    Hi,

    I just finished hiking Te Araroa (sectionally) and enjoyed reading your comments about the trail. There is so much that I could add to a discussion about experiences on the trail but I’ll try to keep it brief and focus on what I think people need to know if they’re going to do this trail.

    You mention that it’s generally recommended to start the trail between September and November, however it is generally recognised that October is the earliest that you want to start due to September being the wettest month of the year. Starting in September (as I had to due to time restraints) means that you will experience rain beyond your wildest imagination, and mud like have never seen. You may end up walking in the rain and mud for weeks at a time, especially early in the season. The deepest bog I accidentally walked into swallowed my 130cm hiking poles to the hilt. I’m lucky I’m tall.

    You also mentioned the rivers and river crossings in the south island, these are not to be underestimated. The steepness of the valley walls in some sections means that these rivers flow with amazing speed and intensity after heavy rain. You will need some experience in crossing rivers to do this trail, and some expertise at judging when a river is unsafe to cross. Drowning while attemting to cross a swollen river in New Zealand is so common that it’s nicknamed ‘the New Zealand death’.

    There were also a couple of deaths from exposure this season caused by bad visibility and plummeting temperatures in the mountains at night. It’s very easy to lose the trail on this track (assuming there even is one, often you’re just walking between orange markers) and even easier when you can only see a few metres ahead of you. If this happens you can be out in the rain/wind/snow all night. Make sure that you have the appropriate gear to survive this, even in summer.

    The increasing popularity of this trail means that it’s becoming more common for huts to fill up. Not all of them are large 20 -30 bed huts, a few are as small as 1 bunk with very little floorspace. Again, make sure you have a decent tent and sleeping gear in case you get caught and have to sleep outside in the cold. The mountains can be freezing in the south island, it snowed 4 times when I was on the trail this summer.

    Also, beware of giardia, especially in the north island and anywhere that the water passes through farmland. I met a lot of people that didn’t treat their water because they liked the experience of drinking straight from the river. Consequently there were many cases of giardia poisoning this summer.

    I’d also never used a gps or plb previous to this hike but I did end up downloading a hiking app which was great for this hike. Another thing to be aware of is that New Zealand mobile phone networks don’t have the emergency satellite connection that they do in some other parts of the world. This means that if you don’t have a gps or mobile phone signal (like in 80% of the trail) you’re on your own in the event of an emergency.

    Cheers,

    Dave

    Reply
    • Patrice La Vigne : Mar 1st

      Hi Dave!

      Congrats on completing the TA! I definitely appreciate your additional comments based on your experience. Far too many people set out to do the TA and do not realize the enormity of its challenges. My husband and I are huge advocates of the trail and are on our second US-based speaking tour to educate people about it. We go into much more detail about these warnings (i.e., river crossings) during our presentations. We hope it will help to spread the word. New Zealand is a beautiful place and exploring it via foot is a surefire way to experience it to the fullest, but certainly not for everyone!

      Thanks for checking in!

      Patrice

      Reply
      • Patrice La Vigne : Mar 1st

        Oh! One more thing I almost forgot! I wrote a travel memoir about our trek … working with publishers now. So stay tuned!

        Reply

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