Pros and Cons of the Te Araroa (South Island)
I’m less than a week from the end of my time on New Zealand’s South Island. With roughly 2 months of tramping completed, I’ve been reflecting on my NOBO journey thus far. Here’s my Pros & Cons list (with explanations):
There are SO many things I could write about on this list. This hike has been absolutely incredible for so many reasons! Here’s my compiled list in no particular order:
- Scenery. The South Island is absolutely beautiful. The mountains, the beaches, the lakes, the saddles and the valleys. I’ve been absolutely amazed at every section that I’ve completed. (To see pictures from my South Island NOBO journey, check out my Instagram @samfrancart)
- Toilets. This might seem strange to non-hikers, but I’ve been SO thankful for the toilets! I’ve only had to wild poo (that’s where you dig a hole in the ground and poop in it, then you cover it up) three times the entire time that I’ve been on the north island. Huts have toilets at them. Most are drop toilets (they don’t flush), most don’t have toilet paper (always be prepared with your own!), and most are covered in bugs and smell, but not having to dig a hole every time I need to drop the kids off at the pool has been such a “pro” for me!
- Animals. The fact that I don’t have to worry about bears or coyotes or snakes or moose or any other massive animals that might want to kill me – that’s been awesome. If I hear a noise in the woods near me, I have absolutely no fear of a dangerous animal being in there. (Other than maybe keas and wekas… such a nuisance!)
- Kiwis. Not the birds. Not the fruit. The New Zealand people. Wow. They’re amazing. If I were to put this list in order of what’s been most incredible about my journey on the South Island, the Kiwis would come in at the top of the top. Every one of my encounters with a Kiwi has been positive. The people are so kind, friendly, and caring. It’s because of the people I’ve met here that I don’t want to leave.
- Huts. I’ve spent time on the Ouachita Trail and the Appalachian Trail. The shelters on these trails are mostly one-story, made out of wood with an open front, walls and a tin roof. Some have a covered porch area and maybe a picnic table – if you’re lucky. There’s no toilet. No water. No front door. The huts here are very, very different. They look like houses: doors, windows, bunk beds, kitchen and sitting area (half of the time), and a water tank (over half of the time). There’s no electricity or running water, but there’s a toilet outside. These huts are amazing (mostly – I’ve stayed in two that were less than amazing). To stay in the huts along the TA, the DOC (Department of Conservation) sells either individual hut passes or a 6-month hut pass. Since I’m here for almost six months, I opted for the pass. It has more than paid off.
- Navigation (apps). While navigating the trail is something I’ll expand upon in the cons section, I have to admit that the apps available for the Te Araroa are great! There are three that I’ve been using. The one I rely on the most is Far Out (formerly GutHook). You can purchase the entire trail on this app, and it shows huts, campsites, water, road crossings, and much more. I really appreciate the GPS option. When I stray off trail (which happens too often!), I’m able to turn on the GPS function on Far Out and see which way I need to go to get back to the trail. The Te Araroa Trail App is also great! It’s free (as of March 2023) and has the GPS function as well. There’s also the Te Araroa Trail Notes (also free), which are super helpful when preparing for an upcoming section.
- Hitchhiking. Before coming to New Zealand, I had never hitchhiked before. Now that I’ve been here for almost two months, I can say that I’ve hitchhiked almost 20 times. There’s no real public transportation system throughout the South Island, so hitching is very common. I’ve loved my experiences hitching. I’ve met some amazing people, and these have been some of my favorites times on the trail!
- Water availability. It’s no surprise: New Zealand is full of water! The trail meanders right next to streams and by glacier run-offs, so the water is pristine! I’ve never carried more than 1 liter with me for a day. I have the capacity to carry up to 3 liters (plus 2 more if I want to carry dirty water as well), but I’ve never had the need! The water is typically quite cold and refreshing. It has been absolutely lovely!
Alright, I’m sure I could think of many, many more, but it’s time to move on. Here’s my list of “cons” for New Zealand’s South Island Te Araroa Trail:
Also, in no order in particular, I have four items on my “cons” list.
- Trail maintenance – or lack thereof. Many, many days on the trail, I’ve said to myself, “I wish I had a machete.” Or a weed whipper or hedgers or clippers. More times than I thought was possible, I’ve walked a trail where I can’t see my feet. The trail is so vastly overgrown. It’s a very narrow trail for about 80% of the South Island (that percentage isn’t exact), 10-15% farmland, and then 10-15% that’s really nice and walkable. The trail is also quite frustrating in its lack of switchbacks. Too often, I turn a corner and see a path that goes directly up a mountain. Over slate or mud or sand or rocks or tree roots. It’s not an easy trail to say the least.
- Sandflies. I’ve encountered sand flies a lot during my time on the South Island. They look similar to gnats or fruit flies, and the first time I saw them, that’s what I thought they were. Then, one stayed too long on my leg and took a big bite out of it. That bite proceeded to itch and turn into a big welt. In that way, they’re similar to mosquitoes. The nice thing about the sandflies is 1. They’re so small that they can’t bite through clothes, so if you’re fully dressed (especially feet and ankles), you should be fine, and 2. They’re so small that the smallest movement or breeze of wind shakes them off. It’s when you’re standing still in shorts and camp shoes that you encounter them the most. I hate them.
- Central Route. So, what I mean by this is that the TA route goes mostly up the center of the South Island. By doing this, the Te Araroa misses so much! I know it would be impossible to cover it all, but I didn’t see the Routeburn or Milford Sound or Mount Cook or Mount Aspiring or or or… the list goes on. The TA is amazing for what it is, but I’ve missed so much by sticking to the trail. After about a month of being dedicated to the TA route, I started going off trail and completing additional off-trail hikes. These side trips have been some of my favorite memories.
- Shoes. Yes, long hikes are rough on shoes. Yes, walking through water almost every day wears down shoes. Yes, walking over rocks and slate tears down the tread on shoes. But, wow. I’m not even two months into the walk, and I’m already on my second pair of shoes and my third pair of socks (2 pairs on injinji socks bit the dust). In previous long-distance hikes (mind you, I’ve never done anything to this extent), this is a problem I didn’t encounter. The TA trail is rough. When I bought my second pair of shoes in Hanmer Springs, the owner of the store gave me a printed notice that was created specifically for TA walkers. This notice was to let me know that since I’m walking the Te Araroa, my shoes are non-refundable and non-returnable. She knows that the trail is rough on shoes, and I’m sure she’s had angry customers complaining about shoes that wear out too soon. Yep. That’s part of the trail.
So, there you have it. Obviously, the “pros” list is much longer than the “cons” list, but that’s because this trail is so stinking awesome. I’ve loved it, and I’ve hated it. I’be encountered more joy, simplicity, and freedom that I have had in a long, long time. I’ve also encountered more challenges, bug bites, and aggressive birds than I’ve seen in years. Two months in two and a half to go! Bring on the North Island!
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