Following Orange Triangles (and Black Chevrons): Why I’m Hiking Te Araroa Trail
Hi, I’m Hannah, and I’m currently taking the slow, scenic route through New Zealand. Why? Simply put, because I quite enjoy being smelly, tired, and hungry.
I recently had a lovely chat with a gentleman while I was taking a rest break. He asked questions about the trail and American politics (it’s complicated), about the weather (it’s temperamental), how much food I’m carrying (a lot), and whether I’m scared of hiking alone (no? yes? Depends). Eventually, he asked the question I suppose many thru-hikers have encountered and perhaps wondered themselves: “Why?”
Why backpack? Why this trail? Why does spending multiple months outside sound appealing?
I considered giving my usual glib, but honest, “I just really like walking!”
Or perhaps my more serious, introspective and complicated response about how Mary Oliver’s question, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” haunts me. I think about death a lot. Perhaps more than a relatively healthy, young 28-year-old should. I’m probably not alone in feeling a bit lost in the world, just slightly out of step. The author of Ecclesiastes in the beginning of the book, yells into the void, “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless!” and I often concur. But there is a tug, a pull to bear witness to nature and her fierce and gentle unfolding. To behold the grandeur of mountains, the delicate beauty of a wildflower in a forgotten clearing, or the steadiness of forests that were here before I was even a thought and will (hopefully) be here long after I’m not thought of. I feel at home with myself, embodied, present when I’m in a forest, on a mountain, near a river. What do I want to do with my one wild and precious life? Live in a way I can give the biggest middle finger to depression. Notice the beauty in the world and hopefully contribute back to it.
But that’s a lot to say to a stranger.
So, I nodded, smiled, and replied, “It’s something to do.”
A Brief Guide to the Trail:
Te Araroa is a newer long distance track in Aotearoa, New Zealand. It officially opened in 2012 and is marked by orange triangles on Dept. of Conservation tracks and Black Chevrons throughout most of the route. For 1,800miles/3,000km, it winds along beaches, through forests and pastureland, over mountains and down in valleys, along city streets and bike trails, and across estuaries, rivers and bays, from Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island down to the Bluff, on the bottom of the South Island. It’s composed of roughly 87 separate trails, often connected by roads and/or pastureland. Overall elevation gain is approximately 273,285 feet, which is like climbing Mount Everest 9 & 1/2 times! The lowest elevation is sea level and the highest is on top of Stag Saddle, 6,315ft. The tramping season is from late September to April, although people are on trail year-round. The trail is rapidly gaining in popularity. Prior to 2017, approximately 400 people walked the trail each year. In 2018, that jumped to an estimated 1,200, and 2019, 2,000 walkers. But following Covid, at least 4,000 set out to attempt the trail in the 2022/23 season.
A Brief History to How I Found Myself Here:
I did not know any of this when I first stumbled bleary-eyed and sleep deprived through the Auckland airport early in September. I knew the Te Araroa existed only due to a late-night Google search of, “Long distance trails around the world a few years prior. Shortly after my 28th birthday, I decided to branch out of my comfort zone and travel internationally. A friend had told me about the NZ working holiday visa scheme, and it sounded like a great foray into international travel. I was an avid day hiker for a long time before cautiously attempting a brief backpacking trip my senior year of college when I decided to hike and camp on The Bluff, a local climbing haunt. I emptied my school backpack and stuffed it full of snacks and books, brought my new 4 person Walmart tent, two pillows, and about 10 extra batteries for my flashlight. While setting up my tent on the cliff, I accidentally kicked my backpack containing my snacks, phone, keys, flashlight and accompanying batteries and watched in horror as it rolled off of the cliff into the gathering darkness. Although the entire trip was a comedy of tragedy, I was hooked. I slowly became hiker trash and most vacations following revolved around stamping up a trail with a pack. When I obtained the NZ visa, I told myself to branch out, try something new, like surfing or disc golf. Of course, I brought my backpacking gear, I wasn’t about to go to the adventure capital of the world without it! But I wasn’t going to thru-hike a trail…
However, a little over two weeks later, I found myself by the Cape Reinga lighthouse, grinning in the pelting rain, excited to set out on a new trail. My initial plan was only to hike the most northern section, which quickly devolved into maybe just hiking the first section of the Far Out Guides maps, which devolved into maybe just hiking the North Island, which devolved… Okay. So, sue me, I want to thru-hike! At the time of this post, I’ve been on trail for just over a month. I’ll add some backdated posts, and hope you enjoy following along as I discover New Zealand in the best sort of way- on foot.
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