What an amazing time I had on Te Araroa! 128 days sprinkled with great views, new challenges and awesome people. Looking back at my adventure, I have to say it's one of - if not the best - thing I have ever done.
Surely, I had more than one moment, when I was on the verge of despair, the moments when I asked myself the question "Why am I doing this?". Be it the never ending muddy sections on the North Island, the busy, suicidal highways and river crossings, the cold, rainy and windy days or the sandflies. But these "negative" moments were well outnumbered by all the positive ones - the ones that kept me going and made the journey so memorable.
Below a few thoughts and stats I want to mention at this point. I already mentioned parts of it in my blog but I think it's a good place to write them down again.
TRACKS and HIKING
I tried to follow the Te Araroa whenever possible and overall I guess I was quite successful. A small number of tracks were closed for lambing or Kauri Dieback Disease. Out of respect to the nature and the land owners, I always swallowed the bitter pill and followed the official detour (mostly involved road walking).
The only other time I diverted from the official trail was on the Whanganui River as I couldn't find anyone, who wanted to canoe from Mangapura Landing (you need to be at least a party of two), so I entered the river already in Whakahoro.
Te Araroa consists of a mix of road- and beach walks, easy tramping tracks, tramping tracks and routes.
There's not much to say about road sections, which Te Araroa has lots of, especially on the North Island. Sealed, gravel or forestry roads as well as cycle paths. It's usually easy, fast progress, but hard on the feet. Many people I met didn't like it, I never really had a problem with road bashing, unless the roads were busy and narrow and thus pretty dangerous.
If road walk isn't your thing at all, it might be the best to consider waiting a few years, until some of the road sections are replaced by hiking tracks.
Hiking, or tramping as they call it here, is different in New Zealand. While the tracks I know from Switzerland are usually well maintained and clearly marked (here these kinds of tracks are called easy tramping tracks), the tramping standard tracks and routes here are a bit more... adventurous - and I certainly struggled with them more than once. To be honest, in the beginning, when hiking through the Northland forests, I was a bit shocked about the tracks.
The concept just seems different: Why build a bridge when a river can be forded? Why construct a costly, effortful benched track in sloped terrain, when you can just mark a trail along the top of a ridge? Why build tracks at all, when riverbeds or scree fields can be used to walk on?
Beside that, more than once I had the impression that no one seems to look after the tracks, which, especially on the North Island were sometimes barely walkable. Mainly due to slips, fallen trees as well as steep, muddy, slippery sections. Track-wise, the South Island was different. Not only was the ground rockier, which I personally liked, but the tracks seemed to be in a generally better shape. Probably as they are more frequently used.
I was moaning about the difficult tracks in my blogs. In retrospect though, I'm happy the tracks weren't always a-walk-in-the-park-standard. It made the whole trail much more rewarding.
Another point worth mentioning is the diversity of terrain Te Araroa crosses. Cities, thick bush, with lots of roots and mud, sandy beaches and volcanic areas on the North Island and bottom of the South Island, tussock, rocks, scree, long riverbeds and dry flats on the South Island. They all were challenging in different ways and thus made the hike very diverse.
After finishing Te Araroa, I traveled and tramped through New Zealand for another 4 months. And while I have visited many spectacular places during this time, they always reminded me of a region I've seen while hiking Te Araroa. So I think, the routing of Te Araroa shows you most, of what Aotearoa has to offer.
Many locals I met told me it was the worst summer they ever experienced. The weather certainly wasn't always on my side: Numerous wet, cold and very windy days made for some really uncomfortable hikes and nights in my tent. Especially as the NZ weather is, in my opinion, much harsher than the one I'm used to in Switzerland (e.g. the weather conditions at 1000 meters in New Zealand roughly match with the ones at 2000 meters in Switzerland).
Still, I had a good number of stunning days as well and didn't "loose" a single day due to the weather. Mainly because I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time (unlike all the hikers who got stuck when the weather-bomb hit the Nelson-Lakes and Arthur's Pass area), but also because being proactive helped to avoid delays. Whenever the weather was good I pushed on order to cross that river, which might not be fordable the next morning after heavy overnight rain.
Even though the weather didn't cause any major delays for me I was always happy to know that I won't run short of time in case I had to wait out bad weather. Thus I really recommend arranging enough time for the hike!
Most of my gear worked as promised. The MSR Pocket-Rocket with its broken thread and my broken hiking poles (partially my fault ;) were a bit of a let-down though. Beside a dry bag, which got blown away, I haven't lost/forgotten any gear neither, which is surprising, given the fact that I often left the huts before sunrise.
One of my favorite items on the trail was the Spot GPS Tracker/Locator Beacon, which I mainly carried in case I was in urgent need of help. Besides giving me an ensuring feeling the tracker also transmitted my position every 10 minutes to the website. Many people who were following my hike, told me they enjoyed the "follow me" feature.
Moreover, I was fairly impressed by my Seek Outside Backpack, which did fabulous job. I like it being a panel loader and even though it might sound paradox, its sturdy aluminum frame makes the pack very comfortable to wear. During my hike I fell a lot and usually landed on my backpack; I scraped the pack numerous time on rocks and walked with it through some nasty thorny bush. Still, beside some minor scratches, it looks like new. Amazing. Well worth the investment and the rather heavy weight.
Speaking of weight: with a base wheight of over 15 kilograms (without food), my pack was definitely on the heavier side. During the first days I was struggling with it, but the longer I was on Te Araroa, the less I noticed the wheight (minus the long, steep climbs...).
My very personal opinion: a light pack is, without doubt an advantage but counting every gram seems to be a bit of an overkill.
WALKING IN SANDALS
I hiked every step either barefoot (beaches) or in my Luna Sandals. Through mud and snow, over sharp rocks and scree as well as Spicky Spaniard infested tussock.
Walking in sandals wasn't always easy and often slowed me down as they don't offer much protection. Furthermore all the grip between the bottom of the foot and the Luna is lost as soon as mud got in between - something which continuously happens... Mud also made the Velcro useless with time, as the dirt prevented the Velcro from sticking.
The wear was quite bad as well. I chew through four pairs on Te Araroa. But to be fair: it wasn't the rough terrain but rather the road walk that killed them. The rough surface of the tar sealed roads literally abraded the rubber on my sandals, which made hiking on tramping tracks slippery and dangerous.
No question: I'd hike Te Araroa in Sandals again. They dry within minutes, don't cause many blisters and even the muddy, snowy parts were okay once I started using my Injinji Socks.
However, wouldn't recommend the sandals to anyone, who hasn't walked in Lunas before as the feet and ankles (there's no support at all) need time to get used to it.
Five Müesli Bars for breakfast, a ~200 grams nut/dried fruit mix for lunch and a warm dinner (pasta, quinoa, lentils, soba noodles, dried peas, etc.). That's basically what my vegetarian/mostly vegan diet on the trail looked like. Not very inspiring but, then again I'm not particularly picky - so that was more than okay for me. And I usually splurged a lot while passing through towns.
Maybe that's the reason why I'm now weighting 70 kilograms, 5 more than when I started.
But I actually hope it's the muscles I built up rather than fat ;)
Luckily, I never suffered a serious injury, which, given all the roots, sharp rocks, slippery sidling sections, rivers etc., couldn't be taken for granted.
Beside my shin splints, which I suffered in the Tararua Range and led to an extremely painful 4 day hike until I was out of the range as well as my knees which struggled a little with the continuous steep ups and downs on the South Island, I only had some minor scratches and bruises. Despite all my tumbles.
North Island, South Island, both?
Both! No question. While the South Island sports the better tracks, views and less road walking, the North Island is more about the culture and the people. In my opinion only hiking both Islands gives you a complete picture of this amazing country.
Do I have a favorite island?
This might surprise a little, but I actually preferred the North Island over the South. Not particularly the muddy tracks and days of walking through thick bush but all the beach and coastal walks at Ninety Mile Beach, between Paihia and Auckland, as well as north of Wellington were most enjoyable. Moreover it was far less touristy and less crowded (obviously because it was still off-season) and (thus?) the contact to the local people easier. Another aspect: with rain forest, beaches and volcanoes, the landscape is different from the one I'm used to.
The scenery of the South Island is great for sure. The island however is quite similar to the Swiss Alps (minus the tussock, which I didn't particularly like) and - I hope I won't hurt anyone - simply not as spectacular as the European Alps. I fear I'm too spoiled from what I'm used to.
NOBO or SOBO?
Good question and hard to answer, as I've obviously only done SOBO. As I started in September, NOBO was out of question. Way to early. Still too much snow on the South Island.
If planning on starting around New Year or later, it's probably a viable option as well. Whichever way you choose: The first few days are easy with road and beach walk. Going SOBO you have Herekino and Raetea Forest after the beach, NOBO's will have some fun in the mud once entering Longwood Forest.
There are a few things that would personally bother me going NOBO:
- as you have to start around New Year or preferably later, NOBO's will meet dozens of SOBO's, who are only days away from finishing. I'd probably be struggling with this a little.
- starting in Bluff, you have the beach on the second day, bush after a week and rock (-scrambling) as well as tussock within 2 weeks of setting off. There's nothing really new afterwards. Going south, it's all a bit slower. IIRC the first time I climbed above 1000 meters above sea level was in Pureora Forest, way after Auckland, and the first real rocky section was the Tongariro Crossing.
When to start?
Starting in late September as I did is probably early. The nights were often cold, the weather not very stable and the tracks muddy.
I heard stories that a few weeks after me, e.g. October/November, when the weather is usually better, up to 10 hikers a day started their TA adventure. Not really a problem up north but once reaching the first huts, I fear it gets really crowded. Especially on the South Island when these SOBO's meet the NOBO's.
And with Te Araroa getting more and more popular really fast... Puh...
There were only a handful of other hikers starting within a week of me, which I actually quite liked. I had the forests and the majority of the huts on the North Island for myself. Something I enjoyed a lot and therefore I don't regret starting so early at all. In retrospect, it actually was one of the best decisions I made.
...an ongoing topic on the trail.
The majority of hikers I met, hitch-hiked parts of the trail - mostly road sections. This was always out of question for me. I wanted to walk as much as possible. So that I can say with a clean conscience: I've completed Te Araroa. I knew, the way Te Araroa is laid out, it wouldn't be possible to walk every step of it (something that I really don't like about Te Araroa!). On the North Island for example the ferry crossing from Devonport to Auckland and the Whanganui River; the Rakaia, Rangitata and Lake Wakatipu on the South Island. And of course the obvious Cook Straight.
Some of these obstacles are surmountable by ferry, some by Kayak or Canoe.
The Rangitata and Rakaia could be crossed when conditions are right. As they are not part of Te Araroa (so called Hazard Zones) it's "allowed" by the Te Araroa Trust to hitch around. Same with Lake Wakatipu. And these sections, beside hitching in and out of a town for resupply, were actually the only places, where I hitched a ride.
On on the road walk into St. Arnaud, workers wouldn't let me walk past the road works and drove me one kilometer to the end of the road work. Call me crazy but this actually bugged me a bit.
I guess in the end everyone has to decide for him-/herself. HYOH - hike your own hike. Be honest and comfortable the way you do it.
I really don't know where to start. There are so many people I want to give thanks to - without them the journey would have been nowhere near as good.
All the motorists, who gave me rides up to Cape Reinga (thanks Karen and Liz!), around the Hazard Zones and when I had to resupply off-trail.
Then the trail angles, who offered me food and/or a warm place to stay and a hot shower, which, after spending days in the bush was always such a treat. The comfy bed and amenities at Matt's place, the roaring fire in Richard's house, the sheltered camping spot at the Rangiriri Heritage Cafe or the farm worker at Tiroa Station, who let me sleep at the Station's sleeping quarter after a miserable day along Mangekowa Stream - all wonderful experiences.
A special thanks goes to Rob and George as well as Lionel and Robyn who really went out of their way to support me, when Te Araroa has taken its toll on me.
Last but not least Hetty and Fredy, who offered the perfect support from home and dealt with organizational stuff I wasn't able to handle while on the track, I yield thanks to.
Official TA-km (incl. Whanganui River Journey and 3 short ferry rides on the North Island):
GPS-km (incl. Whanganui River Journey and 3 short ferry rides on the North Island):
Time hiked (including lunch breaks etc):
Zerodays (due to injury):
Zerodays (due to weather):
Longest day (distance, excl. Whanganui River):
50.6km, incl. 3km boat ride (day 24)
Longest day (time):
14h 16min (day 62)
Shortest day (distance):
4km (day 74)
Shortest day (time):
1h 12min (day 74)
Fastest day (avg speed, excl. Whanganui River):
5km/h (day 78)
Slowest day (avg speed):
1.4km/h (day 61)
Average km/day (incl. Zerodays):
26.1km (23.5 official TA-km)
Average km/day (excl. Zerodays):
29.4km (26.3 official TA-km)
Average hiking time/day (excl. Zerodays):
Nights in huts:
Nights at private homes:(Couchsurfing/Trail Angels):
Nights at Backpackers/Cabins:
Night not fitting in categories above:
1 (sleeping in AKL's Intl. Terminal)
NOT SO HARD FACTS
Mostly rainy days:
Mostly sunny days:
Wet feet days:
Dry feet days:
not many - maybe 10...
Rabbits seen (alive):
Rabbits seen (dead):
Possums seen (alive):
Possums seen (dead):
Kiwi Birds seen:
0 (3 on Stewart Island :)
Favourite day overall:
Day 17 - Pataua to Urquharts Bay
Worst day overall:
Day 35 - Pahautea Hut to Km879
Mentally most challenging day:
Day 7 - Raetea Forest
Physically most challenging day:
Day 110 - Tin Hut to Stody's Hut
Technically most challenging day:
Day 61 - Matawai Hut to Nichols Hut
basically all beach walks, especially Turkino Beach to Fusilier Beach (day 55), Waiau Pass Route (day 88)
Least favourite tracks:
Morepork Track (day 15), basically all sidle-tracks, especially Mangaokewa Stream Track (day 37/38), Wairoa River Track (day 83) and Otira Flood Track (day 94)
Favourite camping spot:
TA-km 2273 between Clent Saddle and Double Hut (day 100/101)
Worst camping spot:
behind woodshed of Lower Wairaki Hut (day 121/122)
Bog Inn, Downes, Rocks, Starveall, Rokeby
Caroline Bivy (I decided not to stay), Martins Hut (too crowded)
falling down 5 meters into a blackberry scrub (day 38), swept away while crossing Otehake River (day 94)
Work-out with the Rose and Dylan at Downes Hut (day 51/52)
Helo landing right in front of me, dropping two Swiss hobby gold miners (day 115)
Most painful moments:
stepping barefoot on an electrified stile (day 15), the whole Tararua's (shin splints, days 60-63), hitting rocks and logs with my small toes
Most emotional moment:
first kilometer on Te Araroa (day 1)
Seek Outside Backpack, Spot Tracker
Favourite trail food:
Risone, OSM Bars