Why I Almost Quit My Second Thru-Hike

I’m three weeks into my second thru-hike on New Zealand’s Te Araroa trail, but to put it plainly, I’m not sure I’m enjoying it.

Almost two years ago I completed my first thru-hike: the Appalachian Trail. After that hike I planned to live and work in New Zealand for a year. While on the AT, so many hikers told me about New Zealand’s own long trail, the Te Araroa (TA). So, after a year in New Zealand, I thought it would be easy to give it a go. How hard can it be? I’d already completed one thru-hike and a year in New Zealand made it feel less like a foreign country. It’ll be easy I thought, but man was I wrong.

The first day on the trail when we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into.

Three weeks in on the TA and every day is a mental challenge to keep going. I have seriously considered quitting and constantly ask myself why I am doing this. People tell me not to compare the TA with the trails in America, but I think I’m being reasonable when I compare it to just about any other hiking trail in the world. To rant a bit, I find it lacking basic hiker needs. So if you can bear with me, let’s begin.

1. Campsites

The beginning of the TA is rough. The first section is the Ninety Mile Beach (not actually 90 miles), where I walked for four days on the beach. This may have seemed ideal in theory but the hard sand, constant sun, and lack of campsites proved grueling. There are only a couple of places to camp along the multiday stretch so hikers are forced to go the distance each day to reach camp. It was the beginning of the trail so my fresh legs managed.

The desolate Ninety Mile Beach.

After the beach, the trail follows many roads and eventually into the forest. However, along the road it is all private homes, farms, etc. You cannot camp here and then in the forest there are constant rules about no freedom camping. This again makes it very difficult to plan your days.

Unlike the AT, where you can usually just hike until you feel like stopping, the TA really forces you to plan your days and sometimes hike way farther than you want to reach a campsite. And most of the time, there aren’t any campsites but holiday parks where you have to pay $15 or more to pitch a tent. It’s quite a rough start to the trail.

I’m not sure if this was a legal camping spot or not, next to the power station.

2. Water

This perhaps should have been number one, but the first few weeks of the TA have been troublesome at times when it comes to water sources. The TA Trust that manages the trail has done an excellent job creating a free app to use as a guide and for navigation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have accurate information on water sources. Many times I’ve found myself hiking along a road for miles with no water sources and yet the app will tell me that the road drainage ditch is a possible source.

As I hike through farmland, many streams are dirtied from cow pies and dead animals. And when you’re in the middle of nowhere surrounded by farms, there aren’t any options for water.

I’ve seen more livestock than people on the TA.

A few times I’ve gotten water from the kindness of local Kiwis offering water and sometimes even had to ask. It’s frustrating when the campsites are spaced so that you must hike a long way and then there are no water sources along the way. It’s like the trail is in place but not the basic necessities to actually thru-hike it.

A potential water source, as the guide puts it.

3. Road Walking

Unfortunately, the beginning of the TA takes you through the suburbs of Auckland and even through the city itself. And this means heaps of road walking. This is extremely hard on the feet when it goes on for days at a time. But the worst part is safety. The TA has had me walking along state highways with cars whizzing by at 100km/hr and there is no shoulder to walk on. Sometimes cars honk at me because they don’t know why someone’s walking along a major highway. Unbeknown to them, the highway is official trail! It feels more dangerous than Angels Landing in Zion National Park!

Walking along a rural section of highway.

Apart from safety, the road walking is extremely boring and as my mate put it, “I didn’t travel across the world to walk on a road.” I am definitely looking forward to getting farther south where the real wilderness should kick in, fingers crossed.

4. Trail Marking

The orange triangle, indicating a marked trail.

And my last complaint is the trail marking. I understand that the TA is officially only nine years old. But the trail markings leave much to be desired. In New Zealand, any trail is marked with an orange triangle. Therefore, the TA doesn’t have its own marking such as the AT’s white blaze. It is easy to go down the wrong trail following an orange triangle, not knowing it’s a different trail.

Many times I’ve found that the trail isn’t marked at all so I’m constantly using the app’s GPS to pathfind. And when the trail is marked it seems to be in areas that are obvious. If only they could mark the trail in the tricky sections!

A rare street sign directing hikers.

Embrace the Suck

Not to be a complete downer, but the TA has had its moments. And I know that the farther south I go the more remote the trail will become. The challenges of beach walking have been exciting. The Kiwi hospitality is amazing. And when the trail is good it’s seriously stunning! At times it can be very fun: walking through rivers, crossing estuaries, kayaking, and climbing volcanoes.

For now I won’t quit. I’m embracing the suck and pushing on. I understand that it’s a new trail and that there are a lot of growing pains. The Kauri tree die back disease has also forced a lot of trail closures, resulting in increased road walks around forests. Nevertheless, for future TA hikers I would suggest they consider skipping certain urban sections in the beginning and maybe consider biking some of the roads or boring sections. Hike your own hike!

To follow along with the rest of my hike, check out my daily journal entries and videos from the trail!

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