Preparing for Te Araroa might seem like a daunting experience, especially if it’s your first through-hike. Yet it is not as hard as it seems, and the key rule is to remember that most things will explain and solve themselves when you are out there. The best piece of advice we’ve read before starting was to “worry less and eat more”, and we would most certainly recommend this as a rule of thumb to anyone in their preparatory stages.
1. What to expect and when to start
To get an idea of what to expect of Te Araroa, we’ve written a small impression and introduction of the trail on this page.
One of the key things to keep in mind is that New Zealand tramping and what Europeans and Americans refer to as hiking are not the same. Tramping is much more on the edge between hiking and mountaineering. New Zealanders love to combine their walk with a bit of climbing, so expect a lot of scrambling on the way. Trails are rough, unformed, and more often than not you’ll feel as if you’re just going cross-country following orange triangles. There are few trails that meet the ‘hiking standard’ outside of the Great Walks and popular grounds such as Nelson Lakes National Park.
As for the question if you should walk both islands… The choice is yours. If you have time, consider walking both. Don’t be set off by all the comments about the north island being boring but go and discover for yourself. The north island has a brilliant trail community and community engagement unseen on the south island. The landscape contrasts are immense. PJ and I always summarize our experience as follows: we enjoyed the actual walking on the south island more because of the huts and the better track conditions. But we were far more impressed by the north island because of its scenery, its contrasts and its people.
A good time to start is half of November. I wouldn’t start in the end of October again and definitely not before. By half of November most of the wet New Zealand spring will have passed, the weather will settle and you’ll have much less trouble making your way through the muddy forest tracks on either end of the trail.
On average we resupplied every six to seven days on both islands. On the north island it is possible to resupply more frequently if your aim is to carry as little as possible. We chose to carry more because buying what you need in small dairies located in small villages is an expensive affair. Especially chocolate and nut bars are very pricy in smaller towns. So we carried from big supermarket to big supermarket.
We usually took one day of extra food just in case the weather would turn and block our progress. This is definitely something I would recommend during spring, fall and for sections with high mountains or rapidly rising rivers/creeks. In that case it is not a problem if you find yourself stuck while waiting for the weather to improve.
Resupplying on the north island is quite straightforward while it poses more challenges in the south. Villages are further apart and because of the remoteness of the trail not always easily reached. We had to carry larger supplies in the south, with a maximum of 11 days of food in our packs. In some places we hitched off trail and into the nearest town to resupply.
To get an idea of how much we needed to carry and where the most critical points are, we found this overview made by through-tramper Charlie Barran extremely useful:
3. Poste Restante and Food Drop
The NZ Post has a bounce box system known as Poste Restante, where post offices can hold packages for up to three months. Unfortunately, none of the Poste Restante locations are located on the first half of the south island where resupplying is at its most difficult so the system cannot be used to send food. We used it for the following items:
- Clothes. The north and south islands host very different climatic conditions and hence we needed some different clothing on both islands. In the box we had extra socks, gloves, woollen base layers and some clean clothes we could use when we had the box with us.
- A small computer. Used to update our blog when we had access to our package, to store pictures, to contact home and for general use when we were done with the hike and traveled across the country.
- Travel guide
This fellow tramper has set up a useful map and list with Post Restante points on trail:
24 Wellesley Street
|1010||09 379 6714||09 377 4622|
|Hamilton||563 Angelsea Street||3204||07 838 2708||07 838 1842|
|Invercargill||51 Don Street||9810||03 214 7702||03 214 4140|
|Kaitaia||104 Commerce Street||0410||09 408 6159||09 408 3101|
|Kerikeri||6 Hobson Avenue||0230||09 407 9721||09 407 9722|
|Levin||228 Oxford Street||5510||06 367 8159||06 368 9405|
|Paihia||2 Williams Road||0200||09 402 8623||09 402 7803|
|Palmerston North||328 Church Street||4410||06 353 6195||06 355 4167|
|Picton||72 High Street||7220||03 520 3021||03 573 6137|
|Queenstown||13 Camp Street||9300||03 442 4972||03 442 7976|
|Taumaruui||47 – 49 Miriama Street||3920||07 895 8146||07 895 8147|
|Whanganui||115 Victoria Aveue||4500||06 345 0348||06 347 8009|
|Wellington||2 Manners Street||6011||04 801 2422||04 801 2428|
For resupplying on the most remote and mountaneous stretches, we used a Food Drop. On the south island, resupplying is more difficult especially until you reach Tekapo. We sent out food parcels before taking the ferry out of Wellington to the following places:
- Havelock: There is a Four Square in Havelock, but due to the long supply time on the Pelorus River and Richmond Alpine Tracks (9+ days) it can be useful to send more varied food. The supermarket in Havelock is small and expensive. Blue Moon Lodge accepts packages for people staying there, call them to confirm before you send.
c/o Bluemoon Lodge
48 Main Rd Havelock
- St Arnaud: is remote, and catching a ride back after resupplying in Nelson or Blenheim is very difficult. There is a supermarket in the village but it is tiny and expensive. The Alpine Lodge accepts packages for guests. Contact them directly for the address.
- Arthur’s Pass: more active tourist town, so hitching to/from AP is easier than say, St. Arnaud. The Mountain House accepts packages for guests, or non-guests for 10$:
c/o The Mountain House
P.O. Box 12
Arthur’s Pass, 7654
Some people have also sent parcels to Boyle Village (end of Waiau Pass Track) and Lake Coleridge (Rakaia north shore). From Boyle Village we chose to hitchhike into Hanmer Springs and have a soak in the hot pools, a welcome break after the Richmond Ranges and Waiau Pass alpine sections. There is an alright supermarket in Hanmer as well.
From Lake Coleridge we hitched into Methven and resupplied in town. Most people will choose this option as it rules out one package and you can get transfered on the school bus right to the Celnt Hills trailhead (25$ per person, Monday-Friday, ask at the Mount Hutt Bunkhouse where you’ll also get a TA discount!). If you have a parcel at the Lake Coleridge Lodge you will only have to hitch to Rakaia Gorge where a bridge spans the river, about halfway to Methven. Note that there is very little traffic on the south shore road and most people have to walk a good part of the road to the trailhead. If you stay at the lodge they will give you a ride.
The cost of sending parcels will probably rule out any price differences between the big supermarkets in Wellington or the little dairies on the way. The big advantage is that you’ll have much more choice and can take lighter/better/higher in calory food with some variety. In my opinion, this was worth it.
The maps available on the TA website are good. We printed them out double-sided and carried them in sections from one bounce box drop the the next. Other than that we relied on our phones for additional navigation. The Te Araroa wiki lists a number of useful apps. If I would start over I would take a GPS instead. In the land of the long white cloud, covered in dense bush there was not enough solar power available to keep our phones charged enough to completely rely on them.
- iHike GPS NZ (Apple)
- Back Country Navigator (Android)
- Tide Time NZ
We also took a compass.
From time to time the markers, the maps and the GPS files will point you in a different direction. Sometimes you’ll end up in the same place regardless of which one you follow, but sometimes one of them is wrong. Or two of them. So which one to follow? Well… the honest answer is you won’t know when you are there. Consider it part of the challenge.
5. Safety & Insurance
Unfortunately, all over New Zealand there are a few tragic fatal accidents every year. A few others could have ended bad if it wasn’t for PLB’s or a note left with intentions to assist the SAR teams.
Te Araroa passes through remote back-country areas with no cellphone coverage. In all cases, but especially if walking solo, consider taking a PLB with you. Always leave your intentions in the hut books, which are the first leads to be checked by rescuers if you would go missing. Leaving intentions narrows a search area down considerably as teams know which stretch of the trail they should focus on. With a PLB there are often no teams involved as a helicopter will come and pick you up based on the coordinates of the distress signal.
These simple things make the difference between a wait a few hours, days or weeks long. And in crucial times, this difference will be all that matters. It only has to go wrong once.
Being covered by good insurance is one of the most important things for any traveler, especially if you are planning to do something adventurous. Coming back with high hospitalization or search and rescue bills is not exactly what most people have in mind.
Most insurances only cover travels up to 90 days, but many have an option to prolongue this duration against a montly fee. New Zealand requires a valid insurance for the entire length of your stay, so it is important to check up on this before. We have unlimited medical cost coverage and PJ has unlimited search and rescue costs (I have a maximum amount of 5000 €). This was also a requirement for our visa.
There is loads of information out there on Te Araroa from the Trust and former hikers. The Te Araroa trail notes are about 250 pages long. The notes are full with helpful tips, telephone numbers and contact details of companies to get across rivers, rent kayaks, and even private landowners you should call before accessing their farmland. To avoid massive paper loads we carried an e-reader and this was one of the most useful items in our packs. They have long lasting batteries and it’s really easy to have everything you need at hand. Plus you can carry unlimited amounts of books on them too!
Going through 250 pages of information is still a lot so we were very happy when we we found this 22 pages long summary by Joe Delfino. It includes as good as all necessary information in a practical excel layout. Because it is also already over a year old, we still added the freshly updated trail notes to our e-reader so in case something does not make sense we could check it up.
We’ve been making our own notes as well based on the walking guide. The guide was published in 2011 but since its early days the trail has been changing a lot so the book is out of date. However, it is still a good read to get a general impression on the trail, its hazards and its points of interest. The trail passes by a lot of cultural heritage and places of historical importance. You can find and download our notes here (note: made in 2014). In this document, we have sampled information we found important in the guidebook, information we found on the internet and information we got from the Lonely Planet. It includes general info on New Zealand, accomodation options and places to get cheap/good food on the way. And all pizza places en route!