Te Araroa is New Zealand’s long trail. It is 3000km (1860mi) long. It can be thru-hiked. I thru-hiked it. It was fucking wonderful.
Te Araroa is a new trail. There isn’t the wealth of information available about it that there is for (say) the AT, the PCT, the Camino, or an E-path or GR. Most of the information is either very broad (Wikipedia, the TA Trust), or very detailed (Trailnotes, Guthook comments). A lot of the info is heavily referential to other trails. There’s not much info in the middle, which makes it hard to plan a thru.
This here is my quick guide to Te Araroa. It’s designed to be detailed enough for your to form a general plan, but simple enough that you won’t get lost in the tussock.
This is based on my thru-hike in 2018-19, and informed my by also having thru-hiked the AT and (in progress) the PCT.
I hope it helps. Kia kaha, hikertrash.
davekov dot com
1 – Brief Overview
2 – Length
3 – Timing
4 – Culture
5 – Things You Need
6 – Gear
7 – What you’re probably here for: A Step By Step Overview Of The Trail
1. BRIEF OVERVIEW
Te Araroa is a long trail entirely in the country of New Zealand.
New Zealand is predominately on two islands, the aptly named North Island and South Island. Te Araroa runs the length of both, from Cape Reinga in the north to Bluff in the south. The total distance is 3000km (~1800mi).
The hike offers an incredible diversity, both of the lands you see and how you move across them. You will do a little bit of everything: hiking, trailrunning, river crossing, bushwhacking, orienteering, urban walking, suburban crossing, bicycling, canoeing, maybe even rafting. Some days you’ll feel like a mountain-climber, some days a champion athlete. Some days you’ll feel like a minor character in an early Mark Twain novel (or Hunt for the Wilderpeople). New Zealanders refer to this, not as hiking, but as tramping.
Te Araroa is a hell of a thru-tramp. I recommend it – with all my heart.
Each island takes between 50 and 80 days to hike. As the TA says, 50 days is fairly fast (but not crazy), and 80 days is pretty slow (but hardly unheard of). These time estimates include a reasonable number of days off (for rest, for side hikes, for side trips that aren’t hiking, or to avoid bad weather or the like).
Some people only hike the South Island, cutting the trip in half. Some people skip certain sections – especially some of the roadwalks – and this reduces the length of the trip, especially on the north island. And some people add side quests, which makes things longer. Te Araroa is the true king of Hike Your Own Hike.
Te Araroa *can* be thru-hiked at any time of the year, in the same way the AT or PCT *can*. But you probably want to hike it between mid-spring and late fall.
This is mostly due to weather. Winter in New Zealand is no joke, especially in the Southern Alps (which is the majority of the trail on the South Island). If you hike in winter, you will need *serious* cold-weather gear, snow/ice/mountaineering equipment, and the skills to use them. You’ll also be going a lot slower. You’ll also need to disregard most of the experiences of other hikers, including mine – so I won’t dwell on this option.
Remember that this is the southern hemisphere. The seasons are reversed. New Zealand’s climate is varied (and complicated) (and basically insane), but speaking VERY BROADLY, spring is Oct-Nov, summer Dec-Mar, fall Apr-May.
Most people who are hiking both islands do so southbound. They start between early October and early December. I started November 7th; I could have started weeks earlier or later, without trouble.
If you’re going southbound, you’ll want to aim to finish by mid-April at the latest. Most people who I started with (and who finished), finished sometime in March.
If you’re only doing the South Island, you can go northbound or southbound. I think nobo would be a bit easier, but there’s no wrong answer. Either way you’ll probably want to start in mid December at the earliest, mid February at the latest.
If you’re going northbound… well, I honestly don’t know if anyone has ever done both islands nobo. But the climate of the north island is a lot more temperate, especially the north half of the north island. Except for the Tararuas and Tongariro, I’m guessing you could thru-hike the North Island in the winter. It might be cold and rainy, but not any more than you might experience in summer in the South Island.
New Zealand is really, really awesome. Straight up.
Kiwis tend to be well-educated, worldly, and compassionate, while also being earthy, outdoorsy, and practical. Any random Kiwi has a good chance of having been to more countries than you. And also having hiked more than you. And being able to drink more than you. Tip top country all around.
English is the lingua franca of New Zealand.
Maori is an official and common language for all New Zealanders. Learning a few phrases of Maori is both useful and really respectful.
You will run into a lot of people who speak a lot of other languages both on and off the Trail. It’s hard to overemphasize how multiethnic NZ has become. Half the population of Frankfurt seems to live in Queenstown and Dunedin is basically a suburb of Amsterdam.
Most of NZ is also really, really tolerant of people who don’t speak much English. I know a guy who thru-tramped the TA with hardly a word of English, and nobody in his group spoke his language. It wasn’t easy for him. But he crushed it. Gratulujeme, Tomáš!
If you need gear, there are several outfitters in NZ. The big chains are Macpac, Bivouac, and Torpedo7, and there are lots of small outfitters here and there throughout the country. Some have incredible gear (Trek N Travel in Hamilton), some won’t even have stove fuel (anywhere in Hamner Springs!) If you need any big purchases, like a backpack or whatnot, you’ll want to go to an outfitter in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, or Queenstown.
There are no predators in NZ. There are no poisonous animals. There are a few small animals who might try to break into your food bag, but that’s it. You don’t need to hang a bear bag or use a bear can, you don’t need to worry about wildlife basically at all. Coming from America, it’s DELIGHTFUL.
Some random protips:
The drinking age is 18. It is enforced sporadically.
Marijuana is illegal, but also, very common.
While opiates are rare, the country has some struggles with meth. The Maori term for meth is “P.” Please don’t fuck with it ever, it’s bad for you and bad for NZ.
The Maori letter combination “wh” is pronounced like the English “ph.” So Whanganui is pronounced “Fanganui.” (Enjoy saying Whakahoro to your mom.)
“Dairy” is the local word for… a convenience store, a small market, a deli, or anywhere in between. They almost always have hot food, beer, and enough food to do some sort of resupply. A brand-name pie from a dairy hot case is probably better than any food from any American convenience store. And a real NZ pie is, well, paradise.
NZ uses the metric system. I recommend you set Guthook to KM, and start thinking in KM generally. It took my American ass a while, but I got it eventually. (Rough conversions: 3km = 2mi, 300m climb = 1000′ climb, 1kg=2lbs, 100kph=highway speed, 1 pint = a good start)
NZ is not a tipping country.
When you go to a restaurant, you go up to the register when you want to pay.
Almost every hotel or motel room will have a full kitchen, with cookware and dinnerware. A lot of them will also have multiple beds – like 3 or 4, whether you want ’em or not. They will also have single-serve instant coffee packets… which are great to pack out. Nudge. Wink.
They drive on the left there. Since you’re going to be roadwalking a lot, you NEED to remember this.
Hitchhiking is really common in NZ. Really, really common. For hikers. For everybody. Stick out that thumb.
You can also hitchhike on boats. Or helicopters. (Я кланяюсь Татьяне).
Most people will not know what Te Araroa is, and if you explain it, will think you’re absolutely mad.
…but they’ll give you a hitch anyway, because that’s how Kiwis roll.
5. THINGS YOU NEED, OR AT LEAST REALLY REALLY WANT
-You need permission to be in New Zealand. If you’re doing the entire trail – both islands – you’ll want permission to stay for 6 months.
-You need a backcountry hut pass. These can be purchased online from the Department of Conservation (DOC, pronounced “Dock.”)
-You can get your hut pass through YHA (Youth Hostels Association, I think). This also gives you a YHA membership. I recommend this. I ordered mine ahead and had it shipped to a hotel in Auckland where I spent my first night. This works. Alternatively, have it sent to the YHA in Kaitaia, where you’ll almost inevitably end up spending at least one (if not two nonconsecutive) nights.
-You’ll need money. If you can, I recommend 2000 New Zealand Dollars per month, and budget for a 6 month trip. I know people who did it for less than a thousand NZD per month, and had to finish in 4 months – but it made it difficult. This is in large part because food in NZ is expensive, gear is super expensive, and as on any thru hike, stuff happens. And also because NZ presents some incredible opportunities to spend money on other things.
-Plus you’ll need enough money to get there and get back. And remember, New Zealand is one of the most geographically remote places on Earth. If you live in Australia or some Pacific Islands, you can get there pretty cheaply. If you live literally anywhere else, it’s gonna cost you.
(From Boston, Massachusetts, USA, to Auckland, cost me about $1300 USD each way. Oy vey.)
-Remember: if you end in Bluff, or in Wellie, you’ll probably have to get back to Auckland before you can fly home. Fortunately, long-distance buses in New Zealand tend to be real cheap… and flights within NZ can sometimes be cheaper than the buses! Just make sure you budget a couple hundred extra, just in case.
-I strongly recommend you get traveler’s insurance, unless your country allows you free access to New Zealand’s health care. So for my fellow Americans… traveler’s insurance :-)
-I strongly recommend a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). I did not hike the trail with one, and I regret it. (I actually spent like one THOUSAND miles trying to buy or rent one, but everywhere was always sold out. And Christie almost MURDERED me because of it. GET A PLB.)
-I strongly recommend a local SIM card. Unlock your phone before you go. Otherwise, buy a local phone with a local plan, or use your own plan’s international option… but getting a local SIM is almost assuredly cheaper.
-Get a headlamp. But, be warned: the vast majority of the TA is NOT CONDUCIVE TO NIGHT HIKING. I did ZERO night hiking the entire thru – and I love me some night-hiking. But you’ll want one around camp and around huts. Because you won’t be night-hiking, a big battery isn’t a big deal; rechargeable is probably great. Make sure it has a red light. Make VERY sure it’s waterproof.
-You’ll need general thru-hiking gear, which I’ll discuss below.
-The most important thing is to carry a smart phone. This especially because of Guthook, the standard map app for Te Araroa. It would be hard bordering on impossible to thru-hike the TA without Guthook. So, you need a smartphone.
-If at all possible, GET A WATERPROOF SMART PHONE. New Zealand can be MAD RAINY, there are SO MANY WATER CROSSINGS, and there’s a multiday section where you’re ON A CANOE. Seriously. For the love of God. GET A WATERPROOF SMARTPHONE.
If that’s too expensive, keep your phone in a dry bag – or even two.
-You need a backpack. Of course.
Standard thru-hiking advice applies. Watch some YouTube videos. Buy what Dixie tells y’all to buy :-)
DCF’s waterproofness comes in really useful in NZ. If you do use a DCF pack, I recommend using thick material (like the Hyperlite Porter 5400 which I used), because NZ terrain – especially thorn bushes – are NOT kind to cuben.
There’s a reason that Kiwis refer to cuben gear as “that American ultralight nonsense” :-)
There’s a Kiwi backpack manufacturer called Aarn Packs. They’re weird but awesome. Check ’em out.
-You need a sleeping bag.
What temperature rating you want depends on the time of your hike, the type (direction/length) of your hike, and your personal preference.
For a sobo starting around November, you probably want a bag with a comfort rating of 0C/32F, because you will likely experience near-freezing or freezing temps on both the North Island (around Ruapehu and in the Tararuas, and whenever NZ just suddenly decides to get cold for a night), and literally anywhere at any time of year on the South Island.
You probably don’t want a bag that is too much warmer, because you can also get crazy hot tropical nights (especially on the North Island – but again, not exclusively).
I recommend a quilt. This way you can wrap yourself fully when it’s cold, or open it up when it’s hot, giving you maximum versatility. Also you can open it up like a blanket when you’re sleeping on bunks in huts. Also, they’re lighter than mummy bags. But that’s just me.
I used a down bag, and most people do. But because NZ can be so durn wet, a synthetic bag is a pretty good option too.
-You probably want a sleeping pad. Same as any other thru hike.
-You need a tent. Same advice about cuben fiber as above.
I strongly recommend a double-walled, because NZ can be more humid than seems physically possible. I strongly recommend that it be good in the wind, because NZ can give these sudden gusts that can blow over a tent – or worse, rip out the gussets and damage it. Above all, make sure it is BUG PROOF, because the South Island has SAND FLIES, and they are the DEVIL, and >:|
-I strongly recommend hiking poles. I recommend aluminum, not carbon fiber, because the terrain in NZ is very rough on poles. I went through three pairs of heavy aluminum poles. If I’d used carbon, I’d have gone through… more.
-For clothing, I strongly recommend merino. You are going to get some very hot and some very cold days, and a lot of rain, and a lot of water crossings. Merino is the more versatile insulator. Also there are some long stretches, and synthetic is going to STANK by the end of them.
Fortunately, NZ is the world capitol of merino. Icebreaker outlets… need I say more?
-You will need to carry cold weather gear. Anywhere in New Zealand, you can get sudden and dramatic changes in weather and temperature – a 90F day and a 20F night, a 20F day and 60F night, rain -> windstorms -> snow -> bright sun, anything. I used my puffy jacket often, from Northland to Southland and everywhere in between. I recommend a merino mid layer, warm gloves (possum is the best, and local to NZ!), and dedicated sleep socks or booties. For jacket, most people carry a down puffy; if I was to do it again I’d use a synth puffy, or maybe a Merino outer layer like the Icebreaker Descender so I’d be less worried about getting wet.
-I’d also recommend you carry town clothes, or else that you buy hiking clothing that is semi-presentable. New Zealand is a very informal country, and like literally half the people there are tourists who are just there to hike, so wearing hiker clothing at all times is super okay. But you’re also going to be passing through a lot of towns, and sticking out your thumb for a lot of hitches, and maybe getting asked by a lot of people if you want to come over for dinner or a bed. Looking presentable is more useful than on (say) an American long trail.
–Rain clothes. Bring them. Do not skimp. I recommend a rain jacket with hood and pit zips, and rain pants. You *can* use a rain skirt (I did) – but the underbrush will be so high that it won’t really do much to protect you.
-Make sure you have a long-sleeved shirt and a full-legged pant that you can hike in. This is for long stretches in the sun. I ended up wearing my heavy base layer on 90 Mile Beach. If it had been ten degrees warmer, it would have been… horrible.
-Shoes. Most people hike the TA in trailrunners. But plenty wear hiking boots – more than on an American trail. HYOH.
I do not recommend waterproof shoes. They will get wet. They will stay wet. Don’t do it.
As any thru-hiker knows, trailrunners have a lifespan. On Te Araroa that lifespan tends to be on the short side – I got about 500 miles out of my Altra Lone Peak 4.0s, 700 miles out of 3.5s. Hiking shoes tend to be real real expensive in NZ – in the case of Altras, almost $300NZD per pair. You might consider bringing multiple pairs and putting them in a bounce box.
-Trekking poles are the other thing which I consider basically disposable. They are insanely expensive in NZ – some outfitters charge nearly a hundred bucks per pole. You might consider putting them in a bounce box, too.
-You’re going to want a power bank. The size you want depends on the size of your phone’s battery, and how efficient its draw. In general you’ll want enough charge for 5 full days of phone use. For the Whanganui and the Richmonds you’ll probably want more. I carried a 5000mAh phone and a 21000mAh battery pack, and it was overkill – but not unpleasantly so.
-You’re going to need a wall charger that works in NZ. You can get these at the Auckland airport (or basically anywhere, because half the people in NZ at any given time are from other places).
-A water filter. You’ll definitely need it a lot. I strongly recommend using it at all times. Giardia sux. Filter your damn water.
-Because you’ll probably spend a lot of nights in huts, cooking on Te Araroa is easier and more comfortable than on a lot of other long trails. Stove it up! I do not recommend going stoveless. Then again, I never recommend going stoveless, ya filthy coldsoaker.
-Carry a sun umbrella. Highly suggested.
-Carry a bathing suit. Trust me.
-Carry camp shoes. Trust me.
-Carry sunglasses. Period.
-On the South Island: BUG SPRAY. I carried a can that weighed almost as much as my TENT. I USED IT.
-On both islands: SUNSCREEN. Fun fact: NZ has the worst sun radiation in the world! It’s basically impossible to get less than SPF50 there, which is good. You’re going to use a lot of it. You should use more. Skin cancer is bad; sunscreen up.
–Hi Viz. Consider whether you’re brightly-colored or reflective enough for you to safely hike on the side of a road. Especially because you might be there in bad weather or dawn/dusk. Some people buy those bright orange roadworker vests, and honestly it’s not the worst idea.
I wore all black with a black backpack. In retrospect: DO NOT DO THIS. FOR REALSIES.
–Money. Credit cards are accepted most places in NZ, but not in some small or out-of-the-way places (like the blessed pie shop in Rangiriri). Carry folding money.
Fortunately NZ money is waterproof, which, IF YOU’RE LISTENING AMERICA, PLEASE, PLEASE DO THIS, PLEASE, THANK YOU, LOVE SILVER.
7. OVERVIEW OF THE TRAIL
A) THE APPROACH
You’ll probably fly into Auckland.
You can hang out there, but it’s pretty expensive. Also, you’re going to be passing through as a hiker in a few weeks. And you’ll be there for days, because Auckland sprawls and you’re gonna hike through all of it. So I personally recommend not hanging around at the beginning.
If you’re going nobo, you’ll probably take a series of planes to Invercargill, then walk or hitch to Bluff. Not all that complicated.
If you’re going sobo, you’ll need to get to Cape Reinga.
The easiest way to get to Cape R is to take a bus from Auckland to Kaitaia, then book a spot on one of the local charters to the Cape.
OR, it’s a pretty easy hitch to Cape R. That’s what I did. Took me 3 cars, but only about 2 hours. I also know people who hitched from Auckland to Kaitaia, but that’s more challenging.
The road from Auckland to Kaitaia is pretty bendy. Also the road from Kaitaia to Cape R. I recommend motion-sickness meds. Also for any other time you’re going to be in a car for a while in NZ.
If you want to hang out for a day or three before you start the trail, the easiest options are Kerikeri and Kaitaia. Kerikeri is bigger, generally fancier and easier, but more expensive. Kaitaia is not a bad town. By NZ standards it is a little rough – Northland and Southland are the two poorest parts of the country. I really liked being hikertrash there. There’s cheap food, a Pak n Save supermarket, an awesome library/community center with free wifi. The Kauri Arms is also the diviest dive bar in all of friggin’ NZ.
I recommend the YHA right downtown. Otherwise, any of the local motels. (The hostel across from the YHA is the worst hostel I have ever stayed at, across 3 long trails and plenty of international travel. It’s probably a meth den; if it’s not I’m even more confused. There’s a reason it’s not listed on Guthook. Stay at the dang YHA.)
There is a hunting/fishing store in Kaitaia where you can get a lot of the small necessities like stove fuel.
Remember that the TA goes through Kaitaia and Kerikeri. So you’ll be back.
B) 90 MILE BEACH
As this is the first piece of the trail, this is a great opportunity for you to download and read the TRAIL NOTES for this section. DO IT.
Here’s my overview:
Cape Reinga is really lovely. There’s a bathroom, and a water fountain. Camel up.
The first few miles are some of my favorite on trail. Really enjoy them.
This stretch is kind of like a sampler of the TA. Quick terrain changes, small water crossings, even a little route-finding. It’s a real good intro to the trail.
It’s only a few miles to the first campsite. But at high tide it can be difficult, or even impassable. Download a tide chart. Don’t be afraid to hang out and wait for the tides to change – this, too, is good prep for the rest of the trail.
A few miles in there’s a tiny stream you have to cross. You will get your feet wet. Your feet will not be dry again until Bluff :-D
At the first campsite, you will find a lot of possums. Most people sleep with their food in their tent, and over the course of the TA will never have a problem. I kept my food in a dry bag, and kept the dry bag inside my dry-bag-esque DCF pack, and left the pack outside my tent (because it wouldn’t fit inside!) – and never had a problem.
Eventually you hit The Jump Off. You see true 90 Mile Beach sprawling before you. You’ll be on that beach for the next 90 km (60mi). Plenty of time to love it and hate it too.
You will almost assuredly go from campsite to campsite. General thru-hiking advice applies here: don’t push big miles at the beginning! Even if you can, it’s bad for your body, and will catch up with you. Your tendons will probably hate the beach enough as it is.
People have very different reactions to 90 Mile Beach. For me, walking on the sand was really hard. Even though I started the TA with trail legs from the Appalachian Trail, I’d never done a 30km walk on sand – let alone three in a row. It took me all day just to go from campsite to campsite.
Some people found it easier to walk on the dry sand up by the bluffs. Some people, like myself, preferred the wet sand nearer the ocean. You might enjoy sitting out high tide, then walking on the wet-but-drying sand as the water recedes. You also might find it helpful to walk in the car tracks.
Yes, car tracks. 90 Mile Beach is an official NZ road. Cars go up it all the time. Tour buses, too. The good news is, there’s usually plenty of room for them to ride around you. But if you happen to be hiking in a group, be careful you don’t hog the whole “road.”
One of my favorite memories of this section is watching the same cars go by on the 2nd and then the 3rd day, and thinking how funny it must be for them to see me slowwwwly progressing down the beach. Especially since I was wearing my PJs to hide from the sun, and was bent into the wind, and basically looked like a pilgrim from Dark Souls 3.
If you do need to bail out, you can probably hitch off with one of these cars or trucks.
SLATHER YOURSELF IN SUNSCREEN. Even if you’re smart and have a long-sleeved shirt with a hood & long-legged pants. I got a tan underneath my hiking shirt. But noted ginger Matt Mataira did the beach; you can too.
Bring ear pods. Bring music. Bring podcasts. It’s a long beach, baby. I recommend “Dopesmoker” by Sleep, or the audiobook of Dune :P
Another favorite memory is meeting a hiker with slightly longer legs than mine (Tony The Pony!), who hiked maybe 2/10ths of a mile faster than I did… and watching him slowly move ahead of me all day… and then all day the next day too. 90 Mile Beach is crazy.
I hope you see some crazy dead fish on the beach. I saw a whale, and a hammerhead shark, and woah.
Eventually you’ll get to Utea Park. It’s a great place to spend the night – running water, showers, cabins if you want a bunk, and Miss Tanya will make you a fruit smoothie. PROTIP: If this smoothie is your first time having raw local fruits, your stomach might take a day to… adjust. SECOND PROTIP: Tanya refers to herself in the third person. This is not a Maori thing. It is a Tanya thing. THIRD PROTIP: Ask her, or her husband, about the meth bust. It’s… it’s a good story. FOURTH PROTIP: This is the last time you’ll be on the west coast of NZ for the next, oh, 1200km. Enjoy the sunset :-)
Finally you get to Ahipara. The beach is over. You done did it. You’re on your way. Ahipara has a YHA, a small dairy with great fish-n-chips, and NO MORE BEACH. Hang out and rest, or walk (or hitch) to Kaitaia.
There are three forests in Northland. The Trail was originally designed for you to hit the first forest (Herekino) straight out of Ahipara; go right into the second (Raetea); then cruise into the third (Puketi) before the lovely trail into Kerikeri.
As of 2018-19, Herekino and Puketi are both closed to help control the spread of Kauri dieback. I’m not sure if Raetea is open – it might be closed to dieback, it might be closed because it’s so tough. But this is my guide based on 2018-19, so I’ll discuss it as if it’s open, and the other two are still closed.
From Ahipara, you roadwalk back to Kerikeri. This is your first real opportunity to decide if you’re going to be a purist and hike the roads, or only hike the trails and hitch the road sections. I recommend 1) that you at least try hiking a road, 2) and consider hiking all of them, 3) or at least, most of them. I’ll get more granular about individual roads as the guide goes on.
Resupply in Kaitaia. Pak n Save! Hooray!
From Kaitaia you walk to Raetea. Guthook says it’s a super dangerous roadwalk. It’s not. All roadwalks are dangerous. This one is basically average for NZ.
You then enter Raetea. It’s often considered the hardest part of the entire TA. It has the highest elevation you’ll hit until Tongariro, the worst mud you’ll hit until Pirongia, and the longest time you’ll go without a water source on the entire TA.
You might be able to get through Raetea to the dairy in one day, but plan for it to take two. That means carrying two days of food, and more importantly, two days of water. How much you need depends on your water needs, how hot it is, and whether you plan on cooking with water. I’d carry food that doesn’t need water to cook, just in case.
I hit Raetea when it hadn’t rained in several days. It was still the worst mud I’d ever experienced in my life. Even with trail legs, mind, it took me eight hours to get through the 18km forest. This is fast enough that I’m actually proud of it. The average is more like twelve hours. And plenty of people make camp and hike out the second day.
The best camp spot, I’m told, is on top of the mountain.
Lots of people trigger their PLBs here. Try not to be one of them. Don’t worry if you are.
Use Guthooks. Often. It’s easy to get off trail here. Apparently one hiker got so far off trail that she fell down a 60′ waterfall and could easily have died. (And it’s a mark of how hard this section was that every thru-tramper’s reaction to this story is, WAIT, WHERE DID SHE FIND WATER IN RAETEA?)
Stumble out to the dairy. Treat yourself to a bevvy and some Tip Top ice cream and a pie or three. Then it’s a roadwalk around Puketi. Guthook does not list water sources along this road, but there are several. Then it’s a lovely trail walking into Kerikeri, which is a real cute town. And a lovely trail walking out.
You do a bit of road walking, then a bit of walking on a forested logging road. Whenever you road walk, keep no more than one ear bud in, so you can hear cars coming. This is true on logging and quarry roads too, however rustic or lightly-trafficked they appear. (It’s also true on bike paths, which this is one).
You will walk past the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Go in. You might not appreciate the importance of the Treaty now. You will by the end of the hike. I’m real sad I didn’t go in.
Your next town is Paihia. It’s a real nice beach/tourist town, with lots of hostels – several are YHA affiliates, several restaurants, and a Foursquare supermarket with full resupply. It’s also, according to Adrien “Frenchy Longlegs” Falwee, got some of the best diving in, like, the world. And he should know, because he’s French, and they are required by law to all be world-class divers, I think.
The coastal route from Paihia to Opua is delightful. Again, be careful of tides.
From Opua, rent a kayak and paddle to Waikare. They will not rent kayaks to solo trampers. Either hang around at the (really nice) dairy on the docks, and wait for another tramper to ruck up. Or, if time is a factor (or the weather really sucks), take the car ferry across the bay, and roadwalk from Okiato to Waikare. (I will tell you that this roadwalk is long and often has blind curves – I eventually hitched, and I’m real glad I did, it was dangerous.)
At Waikare, go up a long country road. You’ll see some weird nonsense on this road – cars with windows shot out, the remains of cows and deer that got butchered. Don’t worry, it’s totally safe, just a little Stephen King looking. There’s also a trail angel or hostel somewhere around here, if memory serves; I didn’t stay. Again, read the Trailnotes!
From there you walk up a river. Not a trail that runs alongside a river. The trail *is* the river. This is not the only time this will happen on the TA, but it’s the most relaxed riverwalking of the whole trail. Also, it can be done at night, and there can be glow-worms.
You hike through Russell Forest, which is a real NZ jungle, and the Morepork Track, which is like better cleaner and MUCH smaller Raetea but will still make you work for it. Most people camp behind the public toilets at Helena Bay. For $10 (tenting) or $25 (an old camper van), you can go to the Oakura Bay Fish-Dive-Cruise and crash in this awesome dude’s front yard. There’s a dairy in Oakura too, and a really great beach. He’d never heard of the TA when I showed up. He’s one of the dudes that I sent one of my “I finished the TA, thank you!” postcards – because I feel that, as the trail develops, he might end up being a wonderful magical little part of it. Remember, the Trail is new, and you are helping develop it. Be a good ambassador. Always be thinking about ways to make it better. It’s your responsibility. And it’s also a REALLY, REALLY SPECIAL OPPORTUNITY.
There’s a great campsite in Whananaki. It’s a “Holiday Park,” which is an NZ term that doesn’t quite have a US equivalent. It encompasses “trailer park” and “KOA” and “hostel” all in one. Like most holiday parks, this one will charge you a tiny bit to tent, OR you can get a bunk in a communal dorm, OR you can get a cabin to yourself. I stayed in maybe 20 holiday parks throughout NZ; all of them were awesome. Every one.
Cross “the longest footbridge in the southern hemisphere” and then do a bit of beach walking. Go through some beautiful timber forests. Head back into the bush.
Eventually you get to James’s Place; you need to call him to pick you up and get you across the river. Or just sit there and wait for some other hikers to pile up. Know that James can be busy, you might sit there a while. James’s Place is really awesome; I LOVED staying in his cabins, with the wood panels and ladders and bug netting like from an old movie. James is a little nuts, but very sweet – he will take 2 hours to explain how to cross the rivers, when he could explain it in 30 seconds, but, well, c’est la randonneur.
In essence: you hike out when James says to hike out; ford the first river (water to mid thigh but clear and slow, very easy); hike to the second river; wander up the muddy banks for a few miles (keep your shoes tied tight, so the sand doesn’t suck ’em down!); then cross (long, but shallow and easy). Otherwise it’s mostly road walking. Then back to the bush again!
On the far side is the crazy trailer that the 18-year-old owns, in the middle of a field that’s in the middle of the woods, that has a donation box and you can just come in and stay there if you want, it’s so New Zealand, God I love it.
Eventually you’ll end up on the Bream Track at Whangarei Heads. It’s a great hike, a bit tough but really beautiful. Or so I’m told; I did it in a blinding rainstorm :-) Afterwards I stayed at the Green Bus, which was delightful. Then you can hitch (or walk I suppose) into Whangarei, or hire/hitch a water taxi across the bay. I went into Whangarei, which has a full resupply, lots to do, and a ridiculous awesome clock museum that Steph “Sugarbush” Booth knows was my favorite thing ever.
E) AUCKLAND, then WAITOMO
South of Whangarei things start getting more built up. The forests are a bit more groomed – the big forest here has a damn CAFE on the top – and pretty soon you find that you’re in suburbs. Full disclosure: I started to hate this section, and skipped from outside Whangaparoa to Pukeno. My thought was, I could always fill them in later if I wanted to. I did want to, but by the time I hit Bluff I had bad stress fractures and couldn’t fill it in. Sadness. But yeah, if I had to skip any section, I’m real glad it was this one.
From south of Auckland to Mercer you go through a forest, which is now closed, I think also to the dieback. So it’s all road walking. It goes on forever. Marco and Bojan did this 80-odd-kilometer section in a day-long death march, just to get it over with. Enjoy walking along the highway, walking right up to a highway rest stop (like the Cajon Pass McDonalds on the PCT, except you don’t approach it perpendicular, but friggin’ parallel!).
You cut through a lot of farm country. Some is just on roads. Some you literally cut through farm after farm. Some protips:
-Many electric fences have gates where you can safely unhook them and go through.
-There’s this one kind of electric fence that looks kind of like white rope. You can safely step on this type of fence, and just walk over it, jesus CHRIST but do I wish I’d learned this 1500km sooner.
-Look before you sit. Lotsa cow poop around here.
-Be careful of barbed wire. Especially if your backpack is waterproof.
-Stay away from cows, they’re not always the nicest. Especially bulls. And not all NZ bulls have horns, so, just always assume there’s a bull nearby.
-If there are bulls fighting each other in the paddock… go around.
You make it to Rangiriri. Go to the pie shop. Best. Pies. In. New. Zealand. Also you can camp there. Also there’s a pub just up the road. Huntly is a lot like Kaitaia, but has full resupply and lots of food. Hakarimata is a fantastic hike, real NZ bush, but to get up and down to ridgeline the trail has steps installed – go slow, it’s murder on the knees. At Ngaruawahia there’s a motel that will let you camp in the courtyard for a little money, there’s an RSA nearby (Returned Serviceperson’s Association, their version of the American VFW) that has a killer buffet. The walk into Hamilton is a long flat lovely stroll. Crush it.
Hamilton is a cool little city. It has a bit of everything, and a great outfitter, but not a lot to do. Leaving the city you get to Whatawhata (remember what I said about pronouncing Maori names?). There’s a pub-and-grill there that will often let you camp in the backyard. Then up into high sheepfold, some really beautiful country and a bit of route-finding and then forest. Then you get to Pirongia, which is the devil.
Mt. Pirongia is only 900m high. For me it was the muddiest part of the trail – worse even than Raetea. It took me forever to get up, and a good slice forever to get down. Most people camp at the DOC hut on top. This is probably your first DOC hut. They’re not all this big or this nice, but, God they are a blessing, every one. There’s water, a foot-washing station (NECESSARY), and many bunks. I met a lot of wonderful people here. It’s a treasured spot, an oasis amidst muddy death horror bits. Enjoy.
On the far side is a long country roadwalk. Then you head into Waitomo which is a big tourist town, known for glow-worm caves. There are several hostels here, good pubs and a great cafe for brekkie. Then you cross a bunch of cattle fields, rolling hills, lovely land. You end up in the nice little town of Te Kuiti, which has supermarkets and motels.
The bit of trail out of Te Kuiti is very, very bad. I have begged the TA Trust to pull it from the Trail. Others have as well. It starts off fine, then the trail disappears and we got very lost, then you’re on this very shallow cut halfway up a very high, very steep, VERY muddy riverbank. The trail kept giving way beneath us. I got dumped about 15′ down the mountainside and had to self-arrest before falling very, very far. Christie and I had to do some preposterous acrobatics to cross some sections. It was really, really sketchy. If you do this section, be very, very careful.
You come out into a pleasant new growth forest, and can camp in a little shed in a cow pasture. Then you make your way along a road to the Timber Trail, which is a well-groomed trail – mostly for biking – that is probably the closest to America-style thru-hiking trails on the entire TA. It’s a good place to open up the throttle; if you can do back to back marathons, it’s a two-day hike with a lovely campground in the middle. Above the campground is a lodge, it’s very expensive and requires advanced booking. However, you can walk in and buy a beer or mixed drink. You know: roughing it!
The Timber Trail also has the most lovely suspension bridges. Something like 14 of them, the longest of which is hundreds of feet long. In the middle is a mountain that takes about half an hour to climb. You can then go down the trail on the other side of the mountain and return to the Timber Trail; however, as a sign says, the trail down the far side of the mountain is not maintained. However… by now you’re a TA hiker. You’ll have done much, much worse. No worries.
F) THE WHANGANUI
You get to Tamaranui, another small NZ city with everything. Go to the I-Site and they’ll arrange your trip down the Whanganui River. The more people you have, the better, in my opinion. Feel free to hang out at the I-Site for a while and see if other hikers ruck up. Or even, camp out behind Tamaranui Canoe Hire for a day or two and see who else shows up – they even have tents set up for you to use, and will shuttle you into and out of town while you’re there!
There are several different ways to do this section. Mainly because, if you go from the top of the Whanganui to the bottom, you miss Tongariro, and you don’t want to miss Tongaririo. I really recommend you do the whole Whanganui River trip, then double back to do Tongariro (and Ruapehu!) as a side quest. Otherwise you miss the first 2 days of the Whanganui River, which is the most rocky and fun part of the paddle.
So I recommend:
-Hire the canoes for 7 days.
-Buy 7 days worth of food… and beer.
-….make it 10 days worth of beer. Look, it’s a long trip.
-Paddle from Tamaranui all the way to Whanganui.
-Hitch or bus up to National Park.
-Do the ENTIRE Round The Mountain circuit (around Ruapehu), which is not on the TA but a lot of TA people do it.
-Do the ENTIRE Northern Circuit, which includes the Tongariro crossing.
-Hitch or bus back down to Whanganui and hike on.
Advice on the Whanganui:
-The days won’t be super long, or super tiring on your body. That’s just the nature of the way the shelters/campsites are spaced out. So bring books, or cards, or bottles of Chartreuse (salut Baptiste!).
-Just because you’re trying not to flip over, doesn’t mean you can’t also jump in and swim.
-Book campsites, not huts. If it’s raining and there’s a hut there, you can ask the caretaker to sleep inside, and just pay the difference in price.
-There is food at the Blue Duck, and (some) at the canoe-hire place in Pipiriki. There are drinks at the Bridge To Nowhere Lodge. I think the Flying Fox has both; it was closed when I was there.
-Talk to the people that you meet along the river. It’s, ah, worth it.
-If you run into Wattie, in Pipiriki or elsewhere, tell him Silver sends his absolute bloody best.
G) TONGARIRO, RUAPEHU, DOOM
Either hitch up from Whanganui to National Park, or hike from Pipiriki (I think) up the 42 Track to the beginning of the Crossing.
The Tongariro Crossing is the most popular day hike in New Zealand. You might well see a few thousand people on the Crossing. It’s mind-blowing.
The trail is a Great Walk. This means that it is groomed to Great Walk standards, all except a few hundred meters at the very top of Tongariro. Great Walk standards = incredibly easy. Like, there are stairs, and boardwalks, for a lot of it.
Everyone hikes the Crossing going nobo. Except us, who hike it sobo. This is a lot like trying to swim upstream. Or crowdsurf in zero gravity. Have a sense of humor about it – it’s either real funny, or real, real annoying.
I strongly recommend that you also hike the off-TA sidequests called the Round The Mountain Circuit and the Northern Circuit.
It remains one of the best weeks of my entire life.
RTM takes you through real backcountry – there’s often not a lot of trail, but there are markers, so it’s a good gentle introduction to route-finding. It takes you through a myriad of volcanic landscapes. White sand. Black sand. Yellow sand. Forest. Desert. Crushed basalt. Giant canyons like something out of Mordor. Water crossings. Epic waterfalls. All with mighty Mt Ruapehu always looming over you. I’d do it again.
The Northern Circuit is much easier, with a clearly marked trail. But it’s incredibly, wonderfully beautiful. The Tongariro Crossing is… well, there’s a reason it’s so popular. It’s worth it. Holy crap. It’s absolutely worth it.
I’d go back here and hike it all again in a heartbeat.
RTM starts at Whakapapa Village (or a trailhead a 6km roadwalk from the town of National Park). It goes around Mt. Ruapehu to the south, then turns sharply at Waihohonu Hut and goes back to Whakapapa. The Northern Circuit takes the same route from Whakapapa to Waihohonu Hut, goes up and around Mt. Ngauruhoe and over the Tongariro Crossing. All roads lead to Whakapapa.
As such, you can either do both circuits, with a rest in Whakapapa in the middle, and just rehike the 14km between Whakapapa and Waihohonu… or you can skip that 14km entirely and do both circuits as one big loop. That’s what I did.
The huts on the RTM track are first-come, first-served DOC backcountry huts. With a Hut Pass, they are free. They have fireplaces, pre-cut firewood (that for most of them is helicoptered in!), rainwater tanks, and bunks with mattresses. Consider this a glimpse of what the South Island will offer – almost every night.
The huts on the Northern Circuit are Great Walk huts, which means you have to book them online. Alternatively, Waihohonu Hut has a campsite nearby. Alternatively, you *can* freedom-camp here, just as long as you’re (I think) 500m away from a trail. Alternatively you can just ruck up to Waihohonu and see if there are empty bunks; this, um, worked out real well for me and some friendos.
Waihohonu also has a HIKER BOX!
Going RTM, I recommend hiking two huts a day; that’ll give you about 10 hours of fairly intense hiking and route-finding per day. You might pack an extra day’s worth of food if you want the option of zeroing out bad weather. The Northern Circuit is a Great Walk, and is graded appropriately; from Waihohonu up and around to Whakapapa took me a mere 7 hours, with a full pack and plenty of photo ops.
The I-Sites in Whakapapa and National Park have brochures about the walks (or you can download them from the DOC website). There is no Guthook map for this [at time of writing].
You can also climb Mt. Ruapehu – I didn’t, it was too snowy and technical for me at the time. You can also climb Mt. Doom, but there are cultural issues that you need to research and consider first. A lot of people do it. A lot of people think it’s more respectful to Maori history to leave it be.
But the stargazing from the edge of Mt. Doom… yeah, that, that I recommend.
H) WHANGANUI TO PALMY
It’s 100km of road walking. Good sweet Christ.
The bit from Whanganui to the beach isn’t terrible. The beach is black sand – volcanic ash washed downriver from Ruapehu’s many eruptions – and is really cool, a wonderful memory of 90 Mile Beach en inversée . Just in front of Bulls you come to Mayhem’s Roost which is one of the best trail angel spots I’ve encountered across 3 long trails, bar none. From Bulls to Palmerston North the roads are terrible, really dangerous, and I recommend hitching.
Alternatively: rent a bike in Whanganui. Bike to the beach. Bike to Palmy – stopping overnight at Mayhem’s is recommended. Lots of people do this. I’ve asked the TA Trust to add the option to Trailnotes all official. Seriously. If you die while hiking, that’s tough but epic; if you die while roadwalking TO PALMERSTON NORTH, that is not epic, that is just lame.
Palmy isn’t a bad town. It’s like Hamilton or Invercargill or most any of the other small NZ cities. There’s not a lot to do – locals make terrible fun of how boring Palmy is. But it’s got cheap hostels, cheap motels, great outfitters, supermarkets, tons of affordable food (the pho place on the edge of the park is to die for), and if you happen to be there on New Years, they do a hell of a firework show.
I) THE TARARUAS
You hike into the foothills of the Tararuas. The approach to the Makahika Outdoor Pursuits Centre (“the OPC”) is a long tough bush section, reminiscent of the Northland forests. The OPC is absolutely awesome, free camping, showers, rides to town, baller as baller can be. The people who run it will also give you a rundown on how to do the Tararuas safely, depending on the upcoming weather report. LISTEN TO THEM.
The Tararuas have the worst weather in New Zealand. That. Is saying. A lot. I crossed in midsummer, during a “clear weather” window, and I still had gale-force winds on exposed mountain ridges and nights that got near freezing. Bad summer weather is hurricane-force winds that last for days. Bad winter weather is, I assume, Ragnarok with a side of bacon.
Generally it takes three days to get from the OPC over Mt Crawford and down to Otaki Forks. I did it in two, because there were only two days of clear weather. The second day I hiked over 16 hours straight, which included a lot of elevation change and some fairly fancy footwork (think the White Mountains if someone sprayed them with Miracle-Gro). The people in my group who didn’t do the long day, ended up getting stuck for two additional days at Nichols Hut. There were 12 people there. It is a 6 person hut. So. Yeah. Listen to the people at the OPC about weather windows.
On a clear day, from Mt Crawford, you can see the South Island.
From Otaki Forks it’s a much easier hike to Otaki. Otherwise, it’s a fairly easy hitch out (but a tough hitch back). Otaki is a cool little town with a weirdly large number of outlet stores, including for Icebreaker. Otaki Beach is basically Ahipara if you want to spend a day offtrail in sun and sand and surf. After this you’re pretty much back to civilization. Paekakariki has a great holiday park, and an awesome cafe with Cuban coffee right by the railroad. The Escarpment is a cool walk above the ocean. There are several dairies and food places along the way.
Finally you go up and over bald Mt. Kaukau, and suddenly from the top there’s WELLINGTON, and the END OF THE NORTH ISLAND, and HOLY CRAP, and ~~~HOORAY~~~!!!
is a great town. Enjoy.
Go to Te Papa. I especially recommend the exhibit on the history of NZ. There’s this triptych of maps that show the whole country A) before humans, B) after the Maori arrived, and C) after the Europeans arrived. Mostly it shows how much fucking deforestation each group accomplished. But the biggest lesson is that the third map, which is NZ currently, shows how few forests remain… and how basically the TA through the North Island goes through all of them. It suddenly made sense why the TA goes where it goes… because there’s nowhere else for it to go. Fucking fascinating.
I also recommend the Wellington City Museum, especially the attic; the Weta Caves; and Cuba Street, from brunch to dinner to last call.
To get to the South Island, one generally takes the giant high-speed ferry. It’s relatively cheap and very easy. Take your motion sickness meds. Everybody. The Cook Straight gets huge swells, and the ferry will not turn around until they’re over 10 meters tall. That’s… that’s a lot of motion to get sickness on. Take your damn Dramamine.
It’s a beautiful crossing, especially the South Island approach. It’s honestly worth delaying a day or two to wait for good weather, if you have to.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~YOU’RE NOW ON THE SOUTH ISLAND YA LEGE~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The South Island is pretty durn different from the North Island. There’s almost no “native bush” jungle, but rather, deep forest and alpine meadow; there’s a lot more mountains, and a lot more rock and scree; there are tons of backcountry huts, almost every night; fewer towns, and the towns are much smaller; almost no roadwalking; and a lifetime’s supply of beauty.
This is also where the concept of “DOC times” comes into play.
The Department of Conservation publishes estimates of how long it will take you to hike each section of the TA on the South Island. These estimates are usually pretty good. I beat most of them. A few I beat by a lot. A couple I came really, really close to missing, but I never did. They’re good guidelines.
The reason you should look at DOC times, and not km, to plan your trip (food supply etc), is because the terrain on the South Island varies wildly. Sometimes, but rarely, it will be good clear hiking like the PCT. Sometimes it will be tough but fair hiking like the AT. A lot of time it will be… more of a challenge.
For example, the DOC time for hiking from Old Man Hut to Little Rintoul Hut is 5 hours… to cover 2.7 miles. It took me 4 hours 57 minutes and I am PROUD, dammit. So. Y’know. It’s Different Down Here(tm).
K) BOUNCE BOXES AND CHICKENS (The Queen Charlotte)
You resupply in Picton. It’s basically Paihia – a cute beach town with everything you need. I recommend the Fresh Choice for resupply.
The TA Trust recommends that you send yourself food packages to cover about the next MONTH of hiking – all the way from Picton to Methven. This is not a bad idea – I did it – but not necessary.
The TA Trust says to send yourself food packages to Pelorus Bridge; to St. Arnaud; to Boyle River Outdoor Center; and to Arthur’s Pass – the latter to give you enough food to get to Methven. That’s a recommended 11 days, 6 days, 5 days, and 6 days, respectively, totalling 28 days. Add the food to buy to get you to Pelorus Bridge, and that’s about a 33 day resupply. GOOD. LORD.
My two cents:
From Picton to Havelock took me, I think, 4 days – and the first day was a nero because of the ferry. At Havelock you can buy food to get you to Pelorus. And there’s a bomb cafe at Pelorus with excellent wild venison pies.
From Pelorus to St Arnaud – the Richmond Range – took me 5 1/2 days. Each day was full, and good tough hiking, but I never hiked more than 12 hours, never left early, never rucked up late, never failed to take a good long lunch at a hut with Father Damon, Sundown, Babyshark, Matt & Steph. But, I had great weather. If the weather turns sour, some of those mountains and ridges can be very dangerous. Moreover, the rivers can rise rapidly, and become very, very dangerous to cross. So when the TA says to pack 11 days of food, they are telling you to pack for zeroes. And they mean it.
I packed 11 days of food. In 5 1/2 days, I ate it all. Yeah, it’s tough hard hiking. Bring peanut butter :-D
St. Arnaud has an acceptable resupply. It’s not great – it’s like resupplying at a nicer dairy/convenience store. It definitely can be done.
From St Arnaud to Boyle River took me 5 days. It was a bit easier than the Richies.
Boyle River sells drinks, snacks, they make you awesome artisanal pizzas, OR you can hitch to Hamner Springs and do a proper resupply in a real nice town. I hitched to Hamner anyway because I needed a dangol break. It’s a tough hitch – probably the toughest on the trail – but everyone I know who tried, got one eventually. Also I think the Center now has a daily shuttle service, so, :P
From Boyle River to Arthur’s Pass took me 4 days. It was not too hard, except the Deception Track, which was RUFF
Arthur’s Pass is probably the toughest resupply. It has a small dairy/cafe. BUT, and this is real important, the DOC office there has a store, that sells backcountry meals and Canterbury Biltong and fuel and other things. Between the two it’s totally doable to reup here.
Remember that you *might* be going to Lake Coleridge and then shuttling to Methven, which is a decent sized down with a full resupply. But you also might want to push on across the Scaryrivers, through Babylon Station, all the way to Geraldine. So size out your food-carry accordingly.
Send food ahead to all, some, or none of these places – you’ll be fine.
Anyway, the Queen Charlotte:
The Queen Charlotte is a Great Walk. You need to buy a special permit, but they aren’t limited. You also need to arrange transportation to the beginning. Take the mail boat. It’s a little longer. It’s worth it.
Like all Great Walks, the QC is easy. It’s a perfect soft path, the highest point is like 400m, you can really just trailrun it. There’s at least one opportunity to walk a few tenths off trail to a restaurant and pub.
The biggest natural obstacle are the Weka, aka The Dreaded Larcenychicken. These looks like kiwis – fat flightless birds – but they are faster, smarter, diurnal, and larcenous. They like stealing. They like stealing food to eat it, sure. But they also like stealing anything not nailed down. Do not let them near literally any piece of gear you have. They will try to run off with trekking poles. Just to be dicks. They are dickbirds. Post sentries. BE AWARE!
Pretty soon you end at Havelock, where there’s a holiday park, a pub with cheap lodging upstairs (protip: this is common in NZ, always ask at bars!), a great cafe and bakery, and a small market. You can do your Richmond resupply here, but it’s very expensive. You can also get to Havelock, then hitch back to Picton to do your resupply and hitch right back. Leonhard “Beyonce” Oberzaucher did this, and it worked quite well for him, and also he’s the best.
L) THE RICHIES (Pelorus Bridge to St Arnaud)
The Richmonds are my favorite part of the TA. I will go back. I swear it. I swear to God that I will hike the Richies again.
From Pelorus Bridge you follow a farm road up into the forest. You then begin to ascend. After Captain’s Creek you are in the damn mountains. You’ll be there until St. Arnaud. You’ll really be in the Southern Alps pretty much until Te Anau. Welcome to the South Island… now bend over :-)
The hiking is mostly tough but fair. At times it is straight up not fair. It is dangerous. People get heli-evac’d out of here all the time. Go slow. Take your time. Other synonyms. Do not die.
The traverse between Rintoul and Little Rintoul is the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done in my life. The scree-glissade down Rintoul is also high on that list. The river-crossings were all extremely low for me; if they weren’t, they would have been real sketch. And in a few places the trail just does not exist at all. Have fun!
I saw baby goats playing at Rintoul Hut. ^.^
M) NELSON LAKES (St Arnaud to Boyle River)
You come out at St. Arnaud (pronounced Sin-Arrnud), a tiny stop in a high mountain pass. There’s a hostel, a hotel, a great dairy, and the hotel has a great gastropub… that has an all-you-can-eat buffet on, I think, Sunday nights. It was EPIC.
From St. Arnaud south the trail is more developed than in the Richies. You follow a beautiful mountain lake. You follow a river through a long field. You keep following that river for like 30km straight up into the mountains. Until its source. Which is Blue Lake. Which has the clearest waters in the entire world.
You go over two mountain passes here – I think it’s Traverse Saddle and then Waiou Pass. Traverse is a good solid climb but very good trail – reminded me of Tuckerman’s Ravine up Mount Washington. Waiou Pass is a 600m scree slope. The far side is so steep and scrambly that I think it took me longer going down than it did going up the scree! Good Lord, it was a tough day. Majestical. Savage as.
From there you get onto the Saint John’s Walkway, which is similar to a lot of the South Island – following long, relatively flat riverbeds, with mountains towering to either side. This section is predominately beautiful trail, really trailrunnable. Anne Hut is outstandingly gorgeous. Enjoy.
N) DECEPTION (Boyle to Arthur’s Pass)
Boyle River Outdoor Center is basically the OPC. They sell some food and snacks you can eat there, and sometimes a little resupply. They sometimes sell bunks, and/or showers. They also accept packages. There’s also cell reception and camping at a site just outside.
They do not have a hiker box. If you leave anything behind – like, extras from a resupply box you sent yourself, or the like – they will take it, put a price on it, and sell it to the next hikers. I think this is a little off, but ah well, they’re a huge help to us, I ain’t gonna begrudge them a little capitalism.
The hitch to Hamner Springs is tough, but totally doable. I only know one person who couldn’t get a hitch, and he was a crazy douche who kinda radiates crazy douchiness, so, um, karma.jpg. The rest of us got hitches fine.
Hamner is a cool town, full resupply, cool bars, and I hear the hot springs are pretty great as well.
The hitch back from Hamner is tough. I gave up after half an hour, ended up roadwalking the entire 8km out of town to the main road, where I stood with my thumb out for an hour before a police officer took pity on me. But like, POLICE CAR HITCH. Epic. Ain’t complainin’ at all :-)
From Boyle River to the Deception Track is pretty easy. You’re just following a river valley for days. It’s a bit boring actually. After the first day – after Kiwi Hut – I put my Guthook away and just orienteered myself. It probably made it a lot harder on myself. But I was in the mood for a challenge. It stopped being boring in a hurry that way!
The Deception Track is not boring. It is a challenge.
There’s no trail. There’s just the river. You’re in the river, going back and forth across it, boulder-hopping – and it can be deep and very swift. When I did it, a storm came up while I was halfway up. The rocks were slippery, the river was roaring, the river started rising… if it wasn’t for Deception Hut I could actually have been in some real, real trouble. As it was, Deception Hut – with a roaring fire, and the best of company – remains perhaps the best night of my life.
All the nobos I met said that from Deception Hut to Goat Pass Hut was super hard. It was way easier than the path up to Deception. Fuckin nobos! :-)
From Goat Pass down to Arthur’s Pass is easy trail. We couldn’t get a hitch into Arthur’s Pass, so, yay 5km roadwalk!
O) SCARYRIVERS (Arthur’s Pass to Lake Coleridge to Geraldine)
Arthur’s Pass is about the size of St. Arnaud. It has the DOC office (which again, sells fuel and meals and resupply), a dairy and cafe, a restaurant and bar, a hostel, a campground, and several (very small) hotels. Be careful of the campground, because, kea.
The Kea are a species of alpine parrot. They are very large, and really gorgeous. They are very smart. They are also MAD LARCENOUS. They are like if the world ran on Pokemon rules and the Wekas evolved. The Kea will steal food off your plate if you let them. And they FLY. Be. Aware.
From Arthur’s Pass, you follow a braided river for the better part of half a day, crossing sluices from time to time. There’s a roadwalk – passing a hotel with a cafe – and then you bop up into the mountains again. It’s real hiking, but good trails and fair grade. Plenty of huts. Great views. Lovely.
From Hamilton Hut to the Harper Campsite is all in a lonely river valley. Incredibly beautiful. A bit rote by this point.
Here, you have to make a decision about the Scaryrivers.
After Lake Coleridge is the Rakaia River. If it’s relatively dry, the river is very crossable. If it’s been raining – or worse, suddenly starts raining – it can get real dicey real fast. The same is true of the Rangitata River a few days beyond. Your call.
If you’re going to cross them, you need enough food to cover that time. There’s no resupply of any sort in Lake Coleridge. The only thing there is the inn – which does have a small bar(!) and wifi (!!!), but meals are only cooked for guests, and it’s rather pricey to stay there.
Otherwise, you’ll need to get around the river. The way you do this is to go down to Methven – which is a nice town with full resupply – and then go back up. You can try to hitch down to Methven – it’s not the worst hitch ever. But going back up the other side of the river is essentially impossible, you’ll need a shuttle.
You can also arrange a shuttle from Lake Coleridge to Methven. The problem is, it shows up at something like noon. And the nearest campsite is Harper which is 28km away. You have to do 28km before noon. Have fun, hiker!
I got up at 5AM, left at 515, and showed up at 11:30 without trouble. Honestly, because it’s very rural road-walking, it’s one of the few places on all of the TA where it’s pretty safe to night hike. I recommend it. Night-hiking in that valley, amidst those extinct volcanic cindercones, was awesome.
Also, Lake Coleridge is maddeningly, heartbreakingly, beautiful.
Whatever you decide to do about the Scaryrivers, the section between them is really great. The triangular hut right after the Rakaia was so awesome that a bunch of us got there at noon and just never left. So. Fab. 10/10 huttitry.
After (or before) the Rangitata, you will go down to Geraldine. Right before the Rangitata it’s about 8km roadwalk to Mt. Sunday, which was the filming location of Edoras (Rohan) in Lord Of The Rings. Number one, it’s an insane view for such a small mountain, 100% worth the side trip. Number two… it’s a popular location for Nerd Pilgrimage Activities, so, very easy hitch to/from :-)
P) ALPS AND ALPS TO CLIMB (Geraldine to Wanaka)
Geraldine is a nice little farmtown, full resupply and services.
This stretch is constantly going up and down into a rough river bed, climbing high into alpine meadows and mountain ridges, seeing mountain goats staring down at you going WTF is he even doing?, and, occasionally, kea. It’s tough. It slows you down. It’s awesome. It’s the heart of South Island hiking.
This eventually brings you to Stag Saddle, the TA high point. There’s a sign saying TA high point. Right next to this is a clear path that goes… higher. Which, like, Te Araroa as :-)
Unless the weather’s real bad, I strongly recommend that you take this side path up; climb the peak there, and break 2000m; and then follow the ridge down. I won’t spoil it for you, but the view is, um, good. Trust me. Ridge walk. DO IT.
At the bottom is Tekapo. It’s a busy little tourist town, but has several hostels and hotels and a full resupply. It was Chinese New Year when I was there, and I couldn’t even get a camp spot. I ended up stealthing in an abandoned rock quarry up the road! Hooray!
From Tekapo to Twizel is 54km. There’s no camping the whole way. Zero. Zilch. The TA recommends that you rent bicycles and bike to Twizel. I second this. Also, again: TA as.
Twizel has lots of motels, a trail angel (look up “hobbit hole” in the trailnotes), and a full resupply too.
From TwiVegas to Lake Ohau is a bike path, very cruisy hiking. Lake Ohau is outstandingly beautiful, but there’s no goods or services there. Afterwards you bop up a mountain and it’s pretty route-find-y. You’re in some high lonely valleys and on some exposed ridge. It’s beautiful, it’s rugged but not technical. Crush it.
You get to a river valley – I think it’s called the Ahuiri Track. It’s real real tough. Scramble, rough canyon-side tracks – it’s super tough! It doesn’t end until the (very steep) bop up to Stody’s Hut. You then go up to Breast Hill summit, which is not hard.
Going down Breast Hill is hard. It’s extremely steep, very close to scrambling, and basically the longest knife’s-edge hike I’ve ever even heard of. It can also be very windy. But man is the view of Lake Hawea gorgeous, every single centimeter of the way.
At the base of Breast Hill is less than a km walk to a beach. You can jump right into Lake Hawea. Awesome.
Lake Hawea has a dairy, some pubs, and a hotel that lets you camp behind it (showers and laundry too!). Then it’s a very cruisy bike path into Wanaka.
Q) OPTIONS (Wanaka to Queenstown)
Wanaka is a beautiful town. It’s like Vancouver shrunk down to pocket-sized. It has everything, from world-class food to little clubs, there’s even a locally-made kind of vegetarian backpacker’s meal that is to die for. It is, also, pretty dang expensive. Fairly warned.
If you’ve a mind, drop by the Anglican Church. Father Damon is a thru-tramper, and the nicest and funniest guy I know.
From Wanaka to Queenstown there are two options. One, follow the TA route over the Mototapu Track – lots of up and down, but really beautiful, good honest hiking. Two, do a 50km-in-a-day roadwalk, and then go over the Mount Aspiring glacier into the Roteburn Track – which unless you can get (and want to pay for) a room in one of the Great Walk huts, you’ll have to do start-to-finish in a day. You’ll have to do your own research here, but several of my friends did it – and all that did said it was perhaps the best hike of the entire trip. So. Um. Really look into it.
If you take the regular TA route, you end up in Queenstown. It’s a hell of a city. It’s like really insane that a city can be this beautiful. It’s surrounded by hiking, climbing, sailing, gliding, helicopter rides, all sorts of skiing and winter sports. But it’s also the tourism capital of NZ – which again, really saying something – and it’s expensive, and kind of has no personality, and is just full of 19-year-olds on Working Holiday visa who smell like lager and who can’t wait to hump your leg. Plenty of hostels, each louder and more expensive than the last. Plenty of outfitters, but a lot of them sell lifestyle rather than thrubie gear. I spent one afternoon there and that was enough. But I’m an old stick-in-the-mud, and, :P
R) SOUTHLAND (Queenstown to Colac Bay)
From Queenstown you need to get around Lake Wakatipu. I don’t know if there are water-crossing services. Most people hitch or take a shuttle right to the Greenstone/Caples Trailhead. If you take the Mount Aspiring track, you end up in Glenorchy, which also has shuttles (and much easier hitches) to Greenstone/Caples.
Greenstone is not a Great Walk but it is as easy as any Great Walk. The huts are huge, and modern, but also tend to be very crowded. Then you peel off onto the TA, and the trail is rough and empty again. Ahh. Did ya miss it? I sure did.
The trail goes into yet more river valley. There’s not even a trail a lot of the time, you really just have to make your own way – pretty fun. If you have a fishing rod, this is the place to use it. If you don’t, maybe a local at one of the huts will let you borrow theirs. Eventually you make your way to Te Anau, which has a full resupply and a lot of side quests, but is also very expensive – this town is built up around adventure tourism, and so is kind of like St. Arnaud on steroids.
The Manapouri Track is surprisingly rigorous, but short. There’s some tussock you have to make your way through. This is where I got real bad stress fractures, so, be careful of tussock! This whole area is charming and desolate and beautiful.
You get to Mt. Linton Station. You have to cross the whole station in a single day, but it only took me 7 hours, and I got lost several times, and I had stress fractures and was actually limping, so, not a lot of challenge. If it’s raining, it becomes a very cold rough spot. There’s surprisingly little water for the second half, so camel up accordingly.
At the end there’s a shearer’s hut that rents bunks. Guthook says they sell beer, but they were out. After that there’s a cool forest, a muddy annoying forest (Lockwood), a well-groomed little day trail, and then, can you damn well believe it… the sea, the sea.
S) THE HUNDRED MILE WILDABEEST (Colac Bay to Invercargill)
You’re almost at the end.
Full confession: here’s where my stressfractures really started to get the better of me, and I basically hitched to the end. But from Colac Bay to Invercargill is just another beach walk, and from Invercargill to Bluff is just a roadwalk. So. :P
Colac Bay has food and camping. So does Riverton. InverVegas is yet another Small City That Has Everything. Including a comical number of opshops (thrift stores), if you want to spend some money right at the end. I bought a DrizaBone. Because apparently I’m 13!
From Invy to Bluff is mostly just a long roadwalk. But like, do it. Crush it. And stop at the liquor store for Scrumpy along the way.
Bluff to The Signpost is about 2km. It’s surreal. I mean… jesus christ.
The Signpost has a bar right next to it. For $15 they sell you giant medals you can wear around your neck. This is also the price of a pint of beer. The food is way, way more. But the view ain’t bad. Neither is the triumph.
Go back to Bluff. There’s a little Chinese takeout place, a small bar that has great burgers and seafood (Bluff Oysters… really are that good), a pub or two, and, yeah, basically it’s Kaitaia. The trail is weirdly circular in many ways. I kind of like it. It’s not border-to-border like an American trail; it truly is end-to-end. And every end, yep, is also a beginning.
There’s also a hostel. Stay there. Chill out.
From here you can go to Stewart Island and hike more. Many people did. I didn’t, mostly because limpy. You can go trailrun a greatwalk or three. Go climb Mount Cook, or at least Taranaki. Go to Dunedin or Chch. Go get a hot bath in Rotorua. Or take a cheap flight to Bali and spend two weeks getting two-dollar massages in temples. You know, because you’ve got stress fractures. I’m just sayin’.
Te Araroa is a more complicated, more difficult, more varied, and more beautiful trail, than most other thru-hikes, yeah I said it.
It’s very special how it’s so new. You can really have a hand in shaping it. If you’re good and kind to locals, your kindness will reverberate for years to come. If you have a suggestion, write to the TA Trust and they may very well make it happen. And please, please, send thank-you postcards to the people you met along the way. Remember, this random person who’s never heard of the TA (or even of thru-hiking) before, and lets you sleep in their backyard… ten years from now they might be a trailangel with a hundred comments in Guthook. This is how these things develop. Be a part of it. Give koha, get koha, indeed.
It’s not easy. It’s not cheap. It can be pretty dangerous. It is wonderful. And the struggles that you will face – arm in arm with other trampers – will form the deepest sorts of friendships.
If you’re curious, here’s my I Finished post. If that don’t make you want to hike the TA – what will? :-)
And here’s my instagram. Right now it’s PCT pics. Scroll back a little, and there’s the TA.
Honestly, I’d consider hiking it again. I’d never re-hike the vast majority of the AT or PCT. I’d re-hike vast amounts of the North Island, and literally every inch of the South Island. And then I’d add side quests galore. So, yeah, I recommend it.
It’s just worth it.
(David Axel Kurtz)
….dolla dolla billz yall