2012-13 Te Araroa Trail Thru-Hike
What is it:
Te Araroa is a relatively new trail that spans the length of New Zealand's North and South islands,
approximately 1,897 miles / 3,054 km.
It was officially opened in 2011, though some people had hiked it prior to that.
"Te Araroa" is Maori for "The Long Pathway".
Since New Zealand is in the Southern hemisphere the seasons are reversed to those in the US.
New Zealand is relatively warm and has a long hiking season. The trail can be done in either direction.
My wife Sheryl and I chose to hike southbound because the seasons work a little more in your favor, and the track notes are
written north to south.
We started walking on November 17th and finished March 13th. About four months total.
We were reasonably happy with the weather during our hiking window, however if we were to do
it again we would budget 4.5 or 5 months of time. We had to really push to finish in 4 and didn't have any spare time
for sight seeing beyond the trail.
What it is like:
New Zealand is broken up into two large islands. The North island is sub-tropical and the native
plant life resembles jungle
with ferns, vines, and oversized trees.
Much of the landscape has been cleared to make way for rich green sheep pastureland. It rarely goes below freezing in the far north.
The north island is more populated than the south. Since the country is narrow you are never that far from the ocean.
The south island has bigger mountains, and is much more remote and less populated. It snows in the winter. It has alot more
national parks and a better trail system.
Hiking the North Island:
The North Island has predominately four types of "trail". Some of it follows the coastline on the beach.
These sections are sometimes multiple days long walking on packed beach sand. Walking on the beach probably sounds nice
but it can wear you down and can get tedious.
Some parts of the trail go through native jungle. The jungle sections have dense ferns, vines, and huge kauri trees.
It rains alot and the jungle trails can be extremely muddy, and wet. Some parts are
steep and slippery, and a bit overgrown. Your pace slows to a crawl at times.
Te Araroa's route is technically all linked together but it involves miles of road walking to join the trails.
The roads are often very windy with no shoulder, and dangerous.
The last type of "trail" is farmland. A farm track often means somebody
threw some marker posts up across farmland a decade ago and then forgot about them. The farmland is often overgrown with a prickly
plant called Gorse. There are probably millions of fences in New Zealand and you get to climb over all of them.
Out of those four types of trail, Sheryl's favorite believe it or not was the road walking.
Hiking the South Island:
The south island is awesome! The trails are much better maintained, the jungle is gone, and there isn't much road walking.
Even the weather is much better, we had a very warm dry summer. The south island is more physically challenging. The mountains
are bigger, and there are more "off trail" routes that follow river beds or simply go cross country through the open mountainsides.
The scenery on the south island is fantastic with really beautiful lakes and mountain ranges.
The south island has an excellent hut system. You pay for a season pass and get to stay in huts which are like cabins with doors, windows,
bunks, and sometimes a fireplace and kitchen area w/ a sink. You can't always stop at one, but many nights are spent under a roof.
Te Araroa has some pluses and minuses. The trail is routed right through many of the towns, so you just walk
into town without needing to hitch. Towns are often only 2-3 days apart, especially on the north island. The south island does
have some more remote sections. Our longest section took us 7 days (though we planned for 9) through the Richmond Range. Water is pretty
abundant so you never have to carry much.
The hardest part of doing the TA is due to its newness. When we hiked it there was no real guidebook. There are "track notes" but
they are sometimes hard to follow. Some sections are poorly marked, logged out (non-existent), overgrown, and even miss-signed.
This will probably all get better over time.
The TA has water sections, which is something that was not present on any of my other thru-hikes. Sometimes the official route is
to take a ferry boat, rent a canoe, or even hitch a ride on a boat. Yes the official route is stick your thumb out (so to speak) and
try to get a ride across a large river on someone's boat (or hitch around in a car) because otherwise some of the rivers are impassible.
Some of the rivers are tidal, and can be forded at low tide or you can usually walk a long way around to the nearest bridge.
We did actually swim across one of the large tidal rivers using our backpacks as floatation.
Sheryl was nearly swept out to sea, so that may not have been the best idea.
There are usually ways that you can take a longer route and walk around, or find a boat across the large water bodies.
There are also mountainous rivers which need to be forded. If there is heavy rain you may be stuck for a day or more until the water
level goes down.
For the record, we walked every single step. Except the water crossings, which we forded, swam, canoed, or caught a ride on a boat as needed.
Te Araroa is somewhat challenging. It has slippery mud, plants that want to ruin your day, and off trail bits
that can be steep and rugged. There are difficult fords and sections where you are following a river bed on unstable rocks. Or
sections with spiky plants hidden under grassy tufts like a minefield. Some people say Te Araroa is more difficult than
the Continental Divide Trail, but I think it is just more irritating. We didn't get any freezing weather or snow, and
compared to the routes I took on the CDT it wasn't as tough.
The north island is pretty warm, but it rains alot. It is not uncommon to get all day drizzle. The south island can also be pretty
hot in the summer, but you can get snow up in the mountains. We saw fresh snow on the mountain tops, but never hiked in any, and it never
went below freezing during the four months that we were there.
New Zealander's like to talk about the "New Zealand Conditions" whatever that means. You can get crazy wind and
rain storms, just like in the mountains elsewhere. The highest elevation on Te Araroa is about 1,925 meters (6,315 feet) at Stag saddle.
Updated Te Araroa Trail Gear List:
This is the gear list that I would take if I were to do any three-season thru-hike today.