How To Walk Te Araroa, New Zealand – Part 2
In my last post, I introduced Te Araroa (TA) in New Zealand, one of the world’s newest continuous long-distance trails. Today I am going to tell you 7 ways Te Araroa differs from the Appalachian Trail. And again, my disclosure is this is a dream vacation full of challenges. I promise I am not trying to discourage anyone, just trying to give fair warning.
Drop all your expectations about long-distance trails to consider this one; Te Araroa is a whole new ballgame. If the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trails somehow conceived a baby, it could be Te Araroa. You could say it has the wet and crazy weather you experience on the AT, the exposure to elements and vast views you experience on the PCT and the navigational challenges you experience on the CDT.
1) There is NO guidebook.
Gasp. Hey, I am just as OCD as the next Type A person, so I know what you are feeling. There are trail notes and trail maps and just to make you hyperventilate a little more, I will admit that the navigation component does step things up a notch. You should expect to get a little lost from time to time. But, I promise it’s totally doable.
Here’s the thing. Te Araroa is still in its infancy and the Te Araroa Trust (who manages the trail) continues to be in negotiations with private landowners for reroutes. Rob Wakelin, chief executive officer of the TA Trust, stressed that there is no value investing in a guidebook until the route is set in stone. Remember, the AT wasn’t built in a day.
As I said before, the route is loosely marked by orange triangles and poles, but pretty much every trail in New Zealand is marked by these. There are a few sections with signage, but don’t expect that.
There are also a few spots that the trail notes leave it all up to you, especially dependent on high or low tide. Did you catch that? You have to become familiar with tide schedules. Don’t worry, we always got it wrong and were never washed out to sea (well, almost).
There is one section where you are meant to cross the water from Urquharts Bay to Mardsen Point. The water crossing is not possible via foot, so the trail notes suggest hitching a ride from a local fisherman in exchange for a donation. A local was kind enough to take us across in their boat. Other spots, you have to hire water taxis. The alternative for all of these is to hitchhike via car on the roads.
The main point is that Te Araroa is sometimes a “choose your own adventure.” Just be aware that all of your plans could go down the drain in a hot minute and you have to be flexible.
2) Trail Tread
Kiwis laugh at the well maintained grades of U.S. trails. In contrast, Kiwi “tramping tracks” come in all forms, grades and qualities. You will encounter forests (we called them jungles), ridgelines, scree, urban walkways, roads, beaches, farms, rivers (there’s even a canoe portion you must plan) and more. There is so much diversity, it feels as if you are on several different trails.
We felt like there was no zoning out on this trail. One minute you could be vaulting across a stream, and the next you could be scrambling along a rocky ledge with 300 feet of air and a raging river under your butt. There is bushwhacking and muddy trails, and there are no switchbacks. Expect near-vertical hiking. Sidling is a common Kiwi tramping term that means “to negotiate a steep slope by moving transversely.” Whenever I saw the word “sidle” in our track notes, I instantly felt the sweat building up in my arm pits. In fact, I started pouring sweat just writing it now.
Once you add navigational difficulties, logistical challenges and overgrown/unused paths, it’s easy to realize why walking 1 MPH happens, even if you are the most seasoned hiker.
3) Road Walking
Te Araroa is a continuous route, but the caveat is that just like with American
trails, it will take the next 20 years to get the “trail” off roads, private property, etc. Nearly 50% of the 2014-2015 Te Araroa we walked was on roads–sometimes pavement, sometimes gravel (called paper roads by Kiwis). Roads in New Zealand are crooked, winding, narrow and gnarly. Their shoulders (if at all) are not wider than 3 feet.
Despite the giant dust clouds, there are some benefits of road walking–faster paces, access to town (and ice cream!), farm animals, mailboxes (Kiwis have the most creative ways to collect mail) and of course, meeting the people.
You will cross a lot of a raging, electric blue, glacier melt rivers (we counted 200 crossings). Your feet will rarely be dry on the South Island.
There are even a few 3-wire bridges left in the New Zealand bush. Lucky us, we hit one.
5) No deadly predators
In fact, the plant life is deadlier than their animals and can leave your legs looking like you had a fight with your weed wacker.
On the other hand, you will hear scores of native and endemic birds, like the kiwi, kea, and the schizophrenic tui (I nicknamed the tui the R2D2 bird). New Zealand’s birdlife is amazeballs.
6) Camping, Huts and Hostels
The trails notes do not always offer good suggestions for camping or water sources (the maps are good for locating water though–make sure to print maps in color), but you can pretty much “freedom camp” anywhere in New Zealand. On the North Island, you walk a lot of roads and cross a lot of private land, which makes camping difficult. Sometimes you have to do longer or shorter days than you want because of this. Often times, we would camel up on water before finding camp.
In the South Island, there are Department of Conservation backcountry huts for use. You either need to buy hut tickets or a hut pass. We bought the $90 hut pass good for 6 months and found that it was well worth it. We stayed in approximately 20 huts along the route. The huts are a game changer, offering everything from a little shack to a palace. Much like AT shelters, they have a privy and a water source.
We stayed in about 25 different hostels/holiday parks (campgrounds) along Te Araroa. Hostels are very accommodating to trampers, but the majority of guests are the other kinds of non-hiking “backpackers.” We found crowded hostels on the South Island. Making reservations in advance–albeit difficult to do while hiking–ensured we would have a bed and shower. Also, New Zealand hostels charge per person, so if you think you are going to save money by cramming a few people into a double room, think again. I wrote a whole blog post about the hostels if you want more details.
7) TA, the upside down version of the AT
Besides opposite initials, a friend recently pointed out that the trails are also on opposite hemispheres!
Stay tuned for Part 3!
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