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Begins: Dec 6, 2012
Date: Fri, Jun 1st, 2012
Trip Distance: 1,915.0
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PLANNING GUIDE FOR FUTURE HIKERS
Buck-30's Guide to Planning and Hiking the Te Araroa
First off, these are my OPINIONS. Some of this may be fact but mostly this is my opinion on the Te Araroa ("TA"). What works for me might work for you or it might not.
2015 Update: READ ME!!!
I thought I’d reevaluate what I wrote below in 2012. I’m not super focused on the Te Araroa anymore since I’ve already hiked it, but from what I can tell the one major change to what I wrote below is that there a LOT, LOT, LOT more people on the TA than when I hiked just a couple years ago. Maybe 400 hikers in the 2015/2016 season. There were about 30 hikers in 2012. This means the locals know more about the trail, there are a lot more blogs to read, the Facebook group is quite popular, there’s probably a lot more trail markers and so on. It’s also completely changes the dynamic of the trail. You’ve got trail angels/magic way more, you’ll be camping with other TA hikers way more, you’ll be using your tent way less, and there will be a lot of hikers not really hiking.
I LOVED THE TE ARAROA, even the North Island, YOU’LL PROBABLY HATE IT.
Why would I say you’ll hate the Te Araroa? Well, if everyone I’ve met that “hiked” the Te Araroa since I did is any indication, then you won’t like the Te Araroa. I think I’ve met only 2 people who said they liked it and about a dozen who hated it. Many of these are Triple Crowners who gave up and just hitched around the country hiking here and there and sightseeing. I still haven’t met anyone who actually walked the whole way. I’ve got a few friends this year that seem to be partially/somewhat enjoying themselves and with the exception of bicycling some of the paved miles, they have walked the entire way. But it’s a struggle. Here’s my take on why:
When I hiked in 2012, there were maybe 30 hikers. I barely ever saw anyone. It was like this crazy, grand adventure. I felt like a badass, I felt happy, I felt like not only was it this amazing experience, but I was also accomplishing something. So walking a bunch of paved miles or dealing with the crazy, rugged terrain, didn’t bother me much. Sure, I don’t love pavement and I had my down days, but it was an adventure and I loved it. Fast forward 3 years, there are now like 400+ hikers. Almost no one is actually hiking the trail; pretty much everyone is hitching all the road sections. If I take my 2012 self and place it in 2016, I think a lot changes. This grand adventure isn’t so grand. Everyone else is doing it. I’m walking the roads, but everyone else around me is hitching. But they are also saying they are hiking the Te Araroa. I understand HYOY and all the crap, but having hundreds of other hikers mostly hitching and instead of being 1 hiker out of 30, now I’m one hiker out of 400, all these roadwalks and other issues don’t feel so great anymore. Also, for some reason all the trail towns ate now insanely crowded with tourists, I never had this issue, it must be really annoying to come off the trail and not even be able to relax.
Some people would just prefer to be on the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail where the tread is good, the trail is marked, there are lots of services, people, etc. I love these trails, but I also loved the more adventurous and eclectic nature of the Te Araroa. So just a reminder, the Te Araroa isn’t like the AT or PCT, or even the CDT. It’s like something you’ve never seen before and you’ll probably hate it. But then again, maybe you won’t. You’ll never know unless you go and try it out……
If you made it this far in my rant, then check this out. Why Not (http://nancyhikes.com/2016/01/01/north-island-summary/), a very seasoned hiker, just finished the North Island, hiking the entire way, seems to be enjoying herself and I think puts it best:
57 days of exhilaration, wonder, beauty, exhaustion, surprises, generosity and frustration. The North Island is so much more than the sum of its parts…. beaches, forest tracks, mud, farm tracks, cow poop, swamps, views, roads of all kinds, small towns, native bush, confusing or missing signage, questionable choice of routing. I loved and hated it. But I never got tired of meeting amazing, interesting and generous Kiwis. Every hiker I have talked to says the people are the best part of the North Island. And meeting them couldn’t be planned. It was random, spontaneous and always wonderful.
One last thing, I've been getting the occasional request for my excel track notes. This was where I took the hundreds of pages of track notes that prints from the TA website and copy and pasted the revelant information into excel making a 26 page front/back document to carry. Definitely the way to go. However, it's now 3+ years since I created these and I'm sure there have been lots of little and maybe lots of big changes to the Notes. I don't mind sending my excel file out, but I don't think they are relevant anymore. You should probably create them on your own and then share them with the current hiking class.
OVERALL: Go hike the TA. No matter what I say below, go hike the TA.
CAVEAT 1: I'm going to assume you have hiked a long trail before and know what you are doing. I won't be writing about the basics of thru-hiking.
CAVEAT 2: The trail is only going to get better over the years so something I say here might be better when you hike it. Don't think I was exaggerating!
WHAT IS THE TA? The TA is an approximately 3,000 km trail from Cape Reinga at the top of the north island to Bluff at the bottom of the south island. Neither point is the actual northern/southern-most point but they are very close and this is where the trail starts/ends. The trail was a dream of a kiwi, Geoff Chapple about 20 years ago. He did an epic end to end scouting hike in 1999 and since then has pieced the trail together to the "official opening" at the end of 2011. He was New Zealand's first Social Entrepreneur because of the TA.
WHAT DOES AN OFFICIAL OPENING MEAN? Jack shit really but it's nice to say the trail is "complete". There is a continuous route but it isn't all trail (see more on that below). You can't just throw together a country spanning trail. You do your best for a while, call it "done" and then spend the next 20 years getting it off the roads and private property and making it better. Every trail in America was built just like this.
HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO THE AT, PCT OR CDT? Well I wouldn't even try to compare it to the AT or PCT. It's most similar to the CDT but a lot harder than the CDT today. I would compare it to the CDT many, many years ago. Totally hikable but not a ton of information, not a ton of hikers have done it and the trail isn't really complete and the trail tread can be very tough. That being said I never felt more exhausted than the CDT. I think this is because the CDT has such a short weather window that I was always pushing while I was able to take more time on the TA. The TA is certainly way, way crazier but at the end of each day I felt fine.
WHO HIKES THE TA? Well, this is an interesting one. There were a few hardcore hikers over the years in the 2000's but really a core group of people only started hiking this trail the last 3-4 years or so. I'd say it is about 1/3 kiwi's, 1/3 Americans and 1/3 others. The most surprising thing is that many of the non-americans have never hiked a long trail before (see more below). This year is the biggest year ever and I'd say there are maybe 30 people going end to end but easily less than 10 who will have actually hiked the whole way.
DO I NEED TO HAVE HIKED A LONG TRAIL BEFORE? Yes and no. Very surprisingly a lot of the hikers out here have never hiked a long trail before. However, I only know of only a few this year who will actually complete the trail without skipping trail and hitch hiking a ton. This is a hard trail. Go hike one of the amazing trails in the US first like the PCT. If you have done that go hike the CDT. The TA is only going to get better and better every year as more and more trail gets completed.
I just think there are better trails to cut your teeth on and the TA would be much more enjoyable having some long distance experience. Keep in mind, that pretty much every new hiker (and lots of veterans as well) out here has skipped significant sections of trail via hitch hiking or quit right away or gave up at some other point. If your goal is to walk the whole way you have a better chance at success with some experience. Of course this is just my opinion.
WHY ARE YOU TELLING US NOT TO HIKE THIS AS A FIRST TRAIL WHEN THERE ARE LOTS OF NEW LONG DISTANCE HIKERS OUT HERE? I just think there are better trails to cut your teeth on and the TA would be much more enjoyable having some long distance experience. Keep in mind, that pretty much every new hiker (and lots of veterans as well) out here has skipped significant sections of trail via hitch hiking or quit right away or gave up at some other point. If your goal is to walk the whole way you have a better chance at success with some experience. Of course this is just my opinion.
WHY DO YOU KEEP TALKING ABOUT HITCH HIKING? Because of everyone who hiked this trail this year (maybe 30?) less than 10 actually walked the whole way and my estimation is that we were 2 of about 7 who did it all. I know this is a controversial subject but to me it matters and there's a certain dignity for myself and respect for the trail by hiking it all. Because there are so many opportunities out here it's never just one hitch. It's a ton and it's 50, 100, 200 or more kilometers. It's a slippery slope. Once you've hitched once why would you keep walking the roads. Might as well get a ride. I'm not talking about being a crazy purist and knocking hikers for missing 1k or 5k of trail. I'm talking about skipping large sections at once. Read any blog and it's inevitable you see they hitched. Yet they say they hiked the Te Araroa when in reality they missed a ton of walking.
It's all part of the trail experience. The good and the bad. So don't hitch. WALK the whole length of NZ. I guarantee you'll be proud of yourself when you get to Bluff.
WHAT ARE THE COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS OF THE TA? The biggest misconception is that this is New Zealand and NZ has awesome hiking, NZ has the "Great Walks", so the TA must be amazing and EASY. This couldn't be further from the truth. Of the 9 Great Walks that everyone who visits NZ does, the TA only touches 2 of them (and one is a canoe trip!). Don't even think that the TA is anything like what you've heard hiking in NZ is like. I'd estimate that 80% of the trail is trail that pretty much no one but TA hikers hike. This of course is awesome! (more later).
Another misconception from an experienced American hiker view is that this trail is a disaster and shouldn't be hiked. This is because a few brave hikers tried the trail 3-5 years or so ago and it was a disaster. But trust me, a lot has been done in those 5 years. A lot. This trail is ready to be hiked.
The last misconception that I personally had was that navigation would be hard and the trail would be "trail". Well, the exact opposite is true. Navigation is fairly easy and the trail is usually never "trail" (more later).
WHEN SHOULD I HIKE THE TA? I will definitely not profess to be an expert on this. NZ has wild weather and they love to say it can snow at anytime, anywhere. Real helpful! The north island is the warmer island and usually drier while the south island is colder and wetter (keep in mind things are the opposite of the US). The west coast of the south island is famous for insane rain but the TA doesn't go over there. The TA mainly stays on the eastern side of the alps which isn't dry, but is drier than the west. Due to work stuff we started December 10 from the north, walked at a good pace and finished mid April. Personally I would suggest starting in November and finishing end of March. April on the south island can be fine but it is getting colder. A bunch of people will finish in May but that is crazy to me. I think you would definitely be hitting bad weather. So to me the core best months southbound would be November-March and October and April would definitely be shoulder months. Going north I'm not sure when it is good to start in the south but the north is milder so hiking into May up there I think is better.
Our weather was very rainy on the north island which we were told is very unusual and then very good mostly dry weather on the south island which we were told was also somewhat unusual. Overall, I would say to make sure you have gear/clothes to be able to hike in a cold rain (like high 30'sF). Sure it could snow in the November-March timeframe but it is unlikely to stick around.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO HIKE THE TA? We moved at a good clip, but nothing insane and it took 4.25 months. I know people could easily hike this faster than us but the majority of the hikers out here were on the 5.5-6.5 month plan. Some just liked to take their time and some struggled so much that's how long it took. Our 4.25 month hike to me is the equivalent "effort" of a standard PCT hike from late April to mid-September (although we did slow down a bit at the end). One nice thing about this trail is that the weather window is wider than the PCT and CDT. Keep in mind that daily distances are shorter than a standard 20-25 mile day on the PCT. On the north island a typical day was 30k (19 miles) and on the south island 25k (15 miles). Some days we could barely make these mileages. Trust me, there will be slow days. Pay attention to the times (hours) listed in the track notes for tramping tracks in particular. DOC typically lists hours on signs and not distances because people severely underestimate the time it takes to hike on a tramping track. This actually makes a lot of sense but they are ultra conservative and I never took longer than the minimum time. You'll figure out how you hike and how much you normally beat the times. It's helpful because if I see 5 hours for a 10k hike I know for some reason it's gonna be tough (even if the description doesn't sound tough). I know it won't take me 5 hours but I know it won't take me 2 either.
WHICH DIRECTION DO I GO? Well, intuitively I thought going north would make sense since walking into Fall on the north island is better than walking into Fall on the south island. But the track notes are written north to south so most people go that way although some do go the other way. The track notes in the correct direction are most helpful on the north island where you are always jumping from one "trail" to the next whereas on the south island I don't think hiking the opposite of the track notes would matter at all. Another consideration is that on the north island the Whanganui River is a several day canoe trip (this is the official trail!) and the river runs south so hiking northbound means a pain in the ass. Lastly, the north island was fun but the south island is world class and I would much rather finish this way.
SO WHAT IS THE TA ACTUALLY LIKE?
The north and south islands are 2 completely different hiking experiences. I'll tackle them one at a time.
NORTH ISLAND: You'll hear a lot of bad stuff about the north island but don't pay any attention. There are a fair amount of people just hiking the south island and if I had to recommend only 1 island then yeah, do the south. But if you want the ultimate experience then do both. I didn't know what to expect from the north island and thought I might not like it but I loved it. Totally different than anything else I've ever hiked. Yeah, there were lots of roads but it was mostly in farm country and farm country is gorgeous. Yeah, it's mostly not a true "wilderness" experience but that's where we met the most locals and had some amazing experiences and overnight stays. Yeah, it hits a ton of little villages but eating ice cream all the time is awesome. Yeah, some of the worst trail tread ever was up there, but that's what I now remember most! To me it's like hiking the AT after having hiked the PCT. Yeah, the PCT is way more spectacular but if you go to the AT with the right attitude it can be an awesome trip just the same. The north island has the most spectacular beach walks, the most spectacular farmland dirt road walks, the most food (once a cafe every day for 2 weeks!), the best daywalk in the country (Tongariro alpine crossing and climb Mt. doom) and the coolest official non hiking trail (paddling for 4 days on the Whanganui river). It also does awesome walks into the 2 biggest cities in the country, Auckland and Wellington. So poo on those who refuse to hike the north island. It kicks ass! Ok there were some bad stretches too (road walks!) but I would 100% recommend hiking it.
SOUTH ISLAND: Well, the south island is awesome. I won't even bother trying to describe it. It's just amazing. No need to convince you to do this one.
WHAT ABOUT ALL THESE ROADWALKS? I'm sure the big goal of the TA is to get the trail off the road as much as possible but this will take many, many years. The reality is that getting a trail 100% off road takes time. The south island road walks are fairly minimal. Maybe 10% of the total trail (paved) and usually when you are walking into or out of a town. Trust me, you will be begging for these little road walks on the south island. They are breaks from the insanity!
The north island is much more populated and has much less trail to work with so the trail really is a series of connections of lots of bits of trail. The north island can be kind of crazy. On any given day you might do 6 different things. An ocean walk, old farm road walk, tramping track, gravel road walk, trailess farm walking, easy tramping track and paved road walk. All in one day. Here's the truth. I thought I would hate road but it turned out to be just fine. All the non-paved road walking was generally through gorgeous farmland and very desolate and remote. Rarely would cars come by. Even some of the remote paved road walks were so remote I would just walk in the middle of the road without fear. All of these roads allow you to pound out the miles with ease and beauty. However, then there is the State Highway (SH) walking. These are the main roads of NZ and really, really, really no fun to walk. The roads are narrow and the shoulders are narrow to non-existent. These can be sometimes even dangerous as you are pinned to a cliff a foot from the road as a huge truck comes around the corner. Seriously, I learned to hate these walks. Usually it was bad leaving or entering a town and the middle stretches were mostly traffic less and fine. Drivers are generally very courteous and move over if they can but they can't always do that. It also only takes 1 careless person to plough right over you so always walk into traffic and always pay attention.
As for quantity I would estimate about half of the north island is "road" and half is "trail". So that's 800k of each. Sounds like a lot but of the 800k of road most of it is dirt, gravel or super remote paved road walking and very pleasant. It's just the state highway walking that is bad and a basic guess would be 300k of that max (just a guess). Long story short, don't let the road walking deter you.
SO WHAT IS THE REST OF THE TRAIL TREAD LIKE? Mostly insane! The north island has short stretches of "tramping tracks". I assumed a tramping track was a trail maybe like the PCT or even the CDT. Dear lord. A tramping track is typically the biggest piece of shit trail you have ever walked on. A lot of these trails weren't built as trail but as a common footpath over time that is now called a trail or an old farmers track. Or a goat made it. Seriously. They are the STEEPEST, rockiest, rootiest, muddiest, overgrown, hardest trails you will have ever walked. You'll just have trust me on this. A good speed would be 1.5 miles per hour (if you are lucky) and you could be on this for 5+ hours going mentally insane. Oh, and the word switchback is not a concept over here. Keep in mind that a tramping track is what it is. It will never get better. The Department of Conservation (DOC) defines a tramping track like the above (using nicer words) and purposely will not improve them. If you want good trail go do a Great Walk which DOC steers everyone to and 99% of tourists do these.
Easy Tramping tracks are nice and like trail you are used to. There are not a lot of these!
Then there is what I like to call the TA connector trails. These are trails that were not in existence and have been recently built for the TA. They are usually over private farmland and due to lack of money awful. Well marked and styles going over the million fences, but the trail is nothing more than a goat track if you are lucky. I always know it's gonna be rough when I see one of these.
Beach walking sounds and can be awesome but depending on the tide can be tough as well. High tide can push you into slow sand.
The first half of the south island is almost all tramping tracks but at least most of these people actually walk. They are still tough and rugged but definitely better than a north island tramping track. Much of the 2nd half of the south island is tussock country with no trail (only a poled route). This is difficult. There is also lots of river valley walking. No trail. Just walk up the river on rocks and boulders and cross the river a million times. Also difficult.
Long story short, if you thought the trail tread on the CDT was hard well you ain't seen nothing yet. It's not even comparable. The CDT is like a well groomed trail compared to the TA. Although, when you are on road on the TA you are cruising so that's easier than the CDT.
NAVIGATION: Overall, this was surprisingly easier than expected. With track notes, maps and a gps I never got lost and very, very rarely was off the trail. DOC does an amazing job of marking the tramping tracks with an insane number of orange triangles nailed to trees. There might not actually be a trail on the ground but you'll be able to see 4 orange triangles leading the way. Really, the only issue there is that every trail is marked with the same orange triangles so you could be following the wrong trail but there are not a lot of trail junctions so the risk is low. On the south island a lot of the trail isn't a trail at all but a trailess route marked by orange topped poles. In good weather you can almost always see the next pole in the distance. In bad weather and low visibility you won't be able to see the poles and navigation can become challenging. A gps helps here. Probably the biggest chance of getting misplaced is on the north island and just missing a road turn or missing the entrance to a trail or exit from the beach walking. There are so many turns off/on trails in any given day that you do have to be careful. This is where my favorite saying comes into place. Just PAY ATTENTION and you will be fine. You don't have to be an expert at navigation out here. Follow the track notes so you know when to expect that turn or trail entrance. Look at the maps and think about which way you should be walking and pull out your compass and double check you are vaguely walking the correct direction. Turn your gps on and confirm location if you think something might be off. These are all simple things that anyone can do and you'll pretty much never have a problem. Don't pay attention and you are guaranteed to walk by an overgrown junction or miss a road turn. The TA trust has been putting up a lot of markers the last couple years and even the road turns are marked in a lot of sections but not always so you do have to PAY ATTENTION.
WHAT ABOUT THE HUTS? Buy a 6 month hut pass from DOC. It's about 90NZ. It isn't good for the Great Walk huts or some other popular one's but it doesn't matter. Almost all of the huts on the TA are covered under this hut pass. There are very few huts on the north island. I stayed in maybe 8 total. There are none before Auckland so you can buy your pass at DOC when you get there. The south island has a ton of huts. I stayed in huts around 20 nights on the south island and took breaks in twice as many. The huts are amazing. They range from tiny little shacks to palaces. They all have bunks/mattresses and either are on a creek or have a rainwater tank. Many have wood burning stoves. They are heavan after a hard day of hiking on the TA. Most we had completely to ourselves.
WHAT ABOUT CAMPING? You can pretty much camp anywhere you want but the problem is, is there a flat cleared spot for your tent? The forest here is called "bush" but I like to call it "jungle". Almost impossible to get your tent up in it. Usually I timed it so I was exiting the jungle onto farmland and camped on a nice little piece of farmland. If I was on a major road I usually timed it to finish up that walk and camp off of a minor road. Even the major roads at night are quiet and the minor one's have no cars at all. Very occasionally if stuck on a major road I would knock on a door and ask to camp in their yard. People are super friendly and they will say yes. This is all good with few people hiking the TA but I wonder what it will be like when there are lots of hikers. It's impossible not to camp on private property on the north island but these are mostly huge tracks of farmland. The south island camping is easy. If not in a hut you are still in the middle of nowhere and can put up your tent anywhere decent although finding somewhere not exposed can be tough.
WHAT ABOUT GEAR? I won't go into crazy detail on this as you probably already know what you are doing but here are a few TA specific gear things to think about:
-Go as light as you can/want. The trail can be so steep and poor quality that a heavy pack is brutal on this trail more than any other.
-Bring a shelter you like. It rains a lot in NZ and if you have a good shelter you will be happier! You will also be much less likely to bail into a town and spend a lot of money on an expensive motel or B&B late at night.
-The sun is intense here. A hat is a must as is sunscreen and chapstick with SPF.
-I almost never carry long pants on a hike but I desperately needed them here. The overgrown trail in certain places was giving me a major allergic reaction and there is lots of overgrown trail to tear up your legs. Zip off pants saved me when I got them. I would actually even consider wearing knee high gaitors from Methven (near Rakia river) on although my pants were just adequate enough protection that I probably wouldn't carry gaitors. Speargrass and other plants can tear up your legs.
-Have good rain gear for the south island. I had a very unusually wet north island experience but it was almost always warm so the rain was annoying but bearable. The south island is cold and cold rain is very tough. Especially when you are exposed which you are for most of the south island.
-Wear the hardest core shoes you are comfortable in. I stepped up from running shoes to pretty solid trail runners (Vasque Mantra). 1 pair lasted most of the north island and just survived to Wellington. The south island chewed up the 2nd pair much faster and basically fell apart the last week. In hindsight 3 pairs would have been better. It's a balance. Your feet are always wet from creek crossings, etc so sneakers are nice but damn, the rocks and roots, etc. can really do a number even on trail runners and boots certainly might be nice. Personal preference. I would do trail runners again and just have 3 pairs instead of 2. Definitely don't do plain running shoes.
-Hiking poles are essential. I seriously would have died without then many times. Seriously.
-Wear a Merino wool t-shirt. Merino is the best ever. No smell and comfortable. And your sheep probably came from NZ.
-Make sure you are happy with your gear and bring anything you think you might want (bounce box, see below). Gear is insanely expensive over here and you don't want to have to make any major purchases over here.
SHOULD I HAVE A BOUNCE BOX? I'm not usually a fan of mailing stuff along a trail as post offices mean lost packages, commitments to get somewhere, etc but I would definitely recommend one out here. First off, the maps are 65 pages double sided and I wouldn't want to carry those the whole way so you'll probably have a bounce box anyway. Second, some "stuff" over here is incredibly more expensive than in the US or just impossible to get so having a nice little bounce box along the trail is great. The postal system here is good and cheaper than the US. General Delivery here is called "Poste Restante". Works the same as in the US except only certain post offices use it so Google it and read the list on the post office website so you know which one's to send it to. There is also a holding charge if your package is over a certain weight so read about that too.
Here's some stuff to put in it that you might not think of. These things seem trivial but stuff over here is expensive (you would be amazing how much batteries cost!) and if you already have a bounce box for your maps you might as well throw this stuff in too. Keep in mind that backpacking gear is incredibly expensive over here and anything that you need to buy extra or replace will cost you a ton. Also, except for a few big cities you won't be able to find what you want.
-Extra shoes! Shoes over here are insane. Expect to pay over 200 for a decent pair of sneakers. Bring your own extras.
-Batteries for your GPS, headlamp, etc.
-Extra trekking pole tip(s) (these are almost impossible to find)
-Seam seal for your tent (very hard to find seam seal for a silnylon tent)
-Trial size toiletries are non-existent over here (toothpaste, hand sanitizer)
-ear plugs (for huts/roads)
-single serve Crystal Light packets (they don't sell these over here and the best i could find was something similar but not as good and i barely ever saw them). They only seem to consistently have the heavy powder mixes.
-Any other "consumable" item you have to buy over and over
AM I GOING TO MISS THE BEST PARTS OF NZ? This is a major misconception. Everyone will ask you if the trail does the Great Walks. I've done most of the Great Walks and trust me, they are incredibly overrated. They are for the typical tourist and used to herd everyone into one place for environmental, safety and money generating reasons. The TA is so much better than the Great Walks. You will spend thousands of kilometers in some of the most scenic country ever while a Great Walk might pop up into the alpine for 5k and that's the highlight of the whole walk. The 2 best Great Walks are actually the Tongariro and Whanganui river and the TA actually does both of these.
You will also meet a lot of locals who will tell you that you are missing this part of the country or that part. Please, I walked 3000k through NZ and saw so much amazing stuff they have no idea. I can't tell you how many times someone told me I missed the beaches of the Coromandel Peninsula or Bay of Plenty. I walked HUNDREDS of kilometers on the beach and you think I missed something? People mean well but, please.
I will admit that the trail does seem to miss some good mountains by Mt. Cook, Mt. Aspiring National Park and west of Wanaka/Queenstown. I don't think there is any way to walk a different trail the whole way but you could probably hike a bunch, hitch, hike, etc. The trail spends a lot of time in the high country stations which are amazing but seems to miss the real rugged, jagged peaks around Mt. Cook and north/south of there. Also, the last couple hundred K's are in Southland which is nice but not as nice as Fiordland to the west but I don't know where they could put a trail over there.
ALONE OR WITH SOMEONE? If you are lucky enough to have a hiking partner take them along. If not think about the following. There is almost no one on the TA. There are very few TA hikers so don't expect to find someone out here to hike with. Even if you cross paths with someone what are the odds you will be compatible? On the north island no one hikes on the TA. No one! On the south island there are definitely other trampers around in certain areas but mostly not. So if you go it alone then expect to be alone a lot! This of course has safety implications as well to think about. It all depends on what type of person you are. (2015 UPDATE: There are a lot more hikers so maybe not as lonely).
SHOULD I CARRY A PLB? A PLB is a personal locator beacon and very popular in NZ. Push the help button and fairly quickly a helicopter will most likely be rescuing you for free. Search and Rescue here seems to very much encourage hikers to carry one. It would be very easy to break an ankle, leg or fall into the abyss on the TA as the trail is routinely in terrible condition. The odds of someone coming by to help you are generally slim on most of the trail. I didn't carry a PLB as I had a hiking partner (not that that solves all but it helps a lot). If I went alone I would consider one. It's definitely a personal decision. They are very expensive (like 500 plus I think). A SPOT might be a cheaper alternative, although I don't know how reliable it is in NZ.
RIVERS: This is by far the most dangerous thing on the trail and the one thing that can kill you. Seriously. Nothing else on the trail in my opinion was terribly concerning. But more people die in the wilderness drowning than anything else. Just use your head. The rivers here rise very, very fast in heavy rain but also drop fast when it stops. You will be amazed how deep a little creek can get in the rain. I forded a small creek that is normally an ankle deep crossing up to my chest! You need to be prepared to go around something if necessary (if possible) or even camp/hut and wait out the rain. Because of all the rain we had on the north island we had to take 2 detours around flooded rivers. Luckily it was the north island and there is usually a good chance there is a way around by foot. On the south island this is doubtful and you have to be prepared to wait out the river.
"RIVER HAZARDS" - The track notes talk about 3 "river hazards". They basically say that these are dangerous, not part of the TA and hitching around them does not constitute skipping. The first is the Rakia river (between Arthurs Pass and Lake Coolridge/Methvan) which where the TA crosses it is completely unfordable. Don't try to. I heard of some hikers getting a ride upstream and crossing there in good weather. The 2nd is the Rangitata after Lake Coolridge/Methvan and can be forded in summer without rain. This valley is 10k wide with 10+ river braids. We were lucky with good weather and easily crossed the Rangitata. The 3rd is Lake Wakatipu which is a massive lake at Queenstown. There is no trail around it and no service to cross it so you are basically forced into a somewhat easy hitch. This one is kind of annoying that there is no trail around it. Seems like there should be. Other than these 3 "hazards" you should be able to walk the whole trail.
WATER: I don't ever treat my water and I've never been sick. Annie treated all her water (filter) as she has had giardia before. The water for the most part on the north island is pretty bad. Most of the trail is low and in farm country and therefore most water sources are marred by cow or sheep. On the plus side it was generally not that hot and I never seemed to have to carry much water. I only ever had 1, one liter water bottle (that i rarely even filled to carry) and that was fine for me (but i don't like to carry water and will takes risks, Annie generally carried more than me). Most of the north island tramping tracks were on ridges and you might not get water for at least 4 or 5 hours up there. It was also usually easy to get water from a local when the water was really bad. The trail passes a lot of farms and we would occasional knock and ask for water. The south island was much better as you are up higher without livestock. It was also usually cool so I didn't need to drink a ton. The good news is that the water was generally always clear and flowing, even in farmland, if that counts for anything.
RESUPPLY: There is a separate entry with every town you pass through on the entire trail. See that for details. High level summary is that resupply on the north island is easy. You hit a ton of villages. The bigger one's have real grocery stores (New World, Countdown, Pak N Save) and the smaller one's either have a 4 Square or a Dairy. 4 Squares are all over the country and are small groceries where the prices are a bit higher but you usually can get by ok if you are careful with what you buy. A Dairy is a generic term for a small store with exceptionally high prices. Never try and resupply from one of these. They will bankrupt you. We always resupplied from a big grocery and then supplemented that with all the cafe stops along the way and would pick up extra snacks if needed at a Dairy. This worked real well and we rarely carried a lot of food (usually less than 4 days). The south island is much less populated and the choices much more limited. There are also some long hauls of 6-7 days for us (10+ days for others we heard). The resupply was better than expected though. Mostly 4 Squares or Fresh Choice but I never felt like it was terrible. Certainly a bit more than a large grocery but not bad. We only needed to send 2 food boxes (Arthur's Pass, St. Arnaud) and only had to hitch a few times to get into and out of a town for resupply. Hitching in NZ is generally very easy and very safe but the south island can take some time if you are a lone male in a touristy area.
FUEL: Denatured alcohol/HEET here is called methylated spirits and is purple and comes in a 1 liter bottle. People here use it for cleaning so you can pretty much always find it in every major grocery or 4 square. I don't know much about canisters.
PHONE CARDS: I don't know anything about cell phone plans over here but if you want to use payphones get the Yabba calling card from Telcom. It's the only card that doesn't charge you extra for calling from a pay phone (since Yabba is owned by Telcom NZ who owns all the pay phones). To call the US it's only 10 cents per minute, no extra fees. Other cards will be like 40 cents per minute from a payphone because of payphone fees.
LODGING: There are tons of people traveling around NZ and this is definitely a hostel culture. Most towns you go to have one or more hostels. Dorm room bed usually is around 30nz. If you have a hiking partner this is best as you can get a private room for not much more than 2 dorm beds. The hostels range from awesome to crappy. Depends where you are and what you pick. I liked the north island one's the best. The south island was a lot more touristy and the hostels seemed more run down and owners sick of people. Motels here are more expensive than the US. You never will see a real cheap motel. Best case 80nz, usually 100nz or more. Pubs also usually have decent, old lodging.
ALTERNATES - We didn't really know of or take many alternates. As I mentioned a couple times we had to roadwalk around flooded rivers but this probably won't happen to you where it happened to us but will probably happen to you somewhere else. It's tough to avoid at some point. We generally stuck to the TA as we didn't know of anything better and the trail seemed just fine. Here's just a few....
-Most people found a boat ride (from local/tourists) through the Ngunguru/Hora Hora river estuary and avoided the 30k roadwalk around and horrible short stretch through the Mackeral forest. We didn't but wish we did!
-The ridge after Stagg saddle (see my track note page....i think this is now the official route)
-Paddle the Whanganui for 4-5 days. See my track note page.
Also check out my track note page for some other minor suggestions. Definitely read other blogs for other thoughts. Surely there are options out there.
WHAT MAPS, ETC DO I CARRY?
In the last few years the TA Trust has produced several good things that has made this trail hikeable:
-MAPS: There is a free PDF mapset on the website to download. Print double sided in color. I did regular 8.5x11 but 11x17 would be better (but twice the weight). The topo maps are 50k, 20 meter contour (60 feet) which is the most detail NZ produces and more than twice as high level as the USGS quads. Hence, on 8.5x11 size difficulty in seeing detail, however I never felt the need to see more (see Navigation below) and would use that size again. Others probably would prefer larger. The maps are amazing to have and are free, but were a bit of a work in progress when I hiked. 3 years later (2015), I suspect they are more complete and nicer looking. I am pretty sure much of the trail on the maps was drawn using the computer/hand and not actual GPS data from hiking it and therefore can not be completely accurate. Sometimes it's spot on, sometimes it's not. None of this is a major issue but you should be aware of it so you know what you are dealing with. There really should be a note on the maps at the beginning discussing the above just so users know what they are using. Some people just viewed the maps on an Iphone or something. Not carrying a paper map and compass is pretty much the dumbest thing I can think of on any trail.
-TRACK NOTES: The track notes are free on the TA's website. The only problem is that they are by section and printed would be several hundred pages. We made an excel spreadsheet with columns (section name, distance, time and detail notes) and then did the mundane task of copying from the website to excel. This took many, many hours but the end result of 26 pages front and back. A far cry from 300 so worth it. The track notes are generally very detailed and a great resource. They are very accurate although the occasional error pops up.
-GPS FILE: On the website is now a "gpx" track file which you can easily import into a Garmin GPS. You'll probably need a newer Garmin that can take lots of tracks/points. The older models (like the Etrex Vista) won't take a file with this many tracks/points. FYI, on a new Garmin, you may have to go to track manager and turn "on" the track you want and voila, you have the TA as a "line" on your GPS. This is very helpful and awesome to have. Keep in mind it is not 100% accurate as someone didn't walk with a GPS to create this track, they created it on a computer. So when you turn your gps on and see that you are slightly off the gps line but you know you are standing on the trail, this happens all the time.
I only used 2 sets of batteries on the north island (1 lithium, 1 regular) and 1 set on the south island (lithium). I turned on my gps a lot to check out where I was or for fun but rarely left it on.
You don't need a super, crazy fancy GPS. The new Garmin Vista 20 is perfect and around 200 dollars US. To get the best use out of it you also need the NZ topo mapset which I think is around 200 NZ. This is a micro-sd card that you pop into your gps and you have all the NZ topo maps on your gps. Technically because you have the "track" on your gps you don't absolutely have to have the topo maps on the gps but I would recommend it. Otherwise you will be looking at the track line with blank space under it.
-GUIDEBOOK: Very recently Geoff Chapple produced a TA guidebook with awesome pictures and amazing 3D maps and a description of the 100+ "trails" that make up the TA. Buy this as an awesome souvenier of your trip but don't carry it on your hike. It is super heavy, the maps are not suitable for hiking and the text is mostly similar to the free track notes on the website. Also, the trail keeps improving and the website track notes are updated so the guidebook will be outdated. I would highly recommend buying a copy of Geoff's 2002 book about his 1999 hike. It is an awesome read and super inspiring to go out and hike the TA.
Te Araroa Trail (3,000 Crazy Kilometers Through New Zealand)
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