What is the Te Araroa?
The Te Araroa is a hiking trail that stretches the length of New Zealand, covering both the North and South Island’s beautiful terrain over roughly 1,900 miles. This trail isn’t just a green back-country backpack over mountain passes and across beaches, but also cuts through a variety of towns and cities allowing hikers to meet a range of people and make genuine connections all the way along. Doesn’t it sound fabulous?
Starting at the tip of the North Island in Cape Regina, hikers walk along New Zealand’s tremendous tectonic plate landscape that has created mountains, valleys and volcanos, ending their hike in Bluff at the bottom of the South Island. It’s a relatively new trail so not many people have thru hiked it yet – this is perhaps a big part of its appeal to me. Around thirty people hiked it in 2011 – the year it opened officially (although many parts of the trail were already established paths in their own right) and in 2016-17 some 500 people attempted it. This steady creep of hikers shows a popularity which is bound to keep accelerating.
There have been huge numbers of people hiking the AT and PCT in recent years with genuine worries that such high footfall will damage the pathways that people are, some say; ‘loving to death’. This might be why hikers seem keen to get on a trail that’s a little less popular and still feels semi-untrodden. The TA brings a variety of challenges that more established trails have ironed out or avoided, such as navigating through the heart of busy cities or waiting for tides to change so you can cross estuaries (a little reminiscent of the South West Coast Path!).
These may be tricky, but they do add charm and a thrill to the adventure, as long as it’s safe. I think those that go and hike it, as I wish to, need to be ready to change tactic, direction or plan at any time – a real ‘seat of your pants’ experience. I definitely want to get there sooner rather than later and was all set to meet my Appalachian Trail buddy Josh in December of this year (2020) to hike it after my Pacific Crest Trail Southbound hike, but sadly both big trips were shelved due to Covid turning all our lives upside down. I’m hopeful that I’ll get there this time next year in 2021, but until I do a deeper blog dive closer to the time, here are three notable things about the TA.
Stunningly varied terrain
There’s no getting around it, some of the TA’s terrain looks to be jaw droppingly beautiful and equally tough. There’s a beautiful 90 mile beach walk to start you off, being wary of that baking sun! Once you’re across this you the trail the Herekino and Raetaea Forests. These have been described by hiker’s who’ve been through them as more like jungle than forest; thick and gnarly with steep cliff drop-offs. You’ll also face the challenge of underfoot obstacles – roots that grab your feet (like the AT in Maine!) and foot sucking, knee-deep mud. Once though these, the saying goes that you’ll probably make it to the end! You’ll then get into river crossings, lush farmland, creeks and volcanoes, seeing first-hand the scenery made famous by Lord of the Rings. The on the South Island you head to higher elevation, up along the spine of the Southern Alps range with scrambles and giddy heights over unbelievable views, then through to the end at Bluff. To have such varied terrain in one Thru is truly a magical gift from the trail gods.
No animals that can kill you
One added bonus beside the stunning scenery and friendly people, is that just like in the UK there are no wild animals that can kill you. No big snakes, bears, spiders or other beautiful beasts that you need to be fearful of. Mosquitos are apparently in abundance in some places, but it’s the prickly grasses and plants you might need to look out for on your tender hiker legs.
Let’s get one of the most commonly complained about things up front and get that squared away – more than half of the trail on the North Island is along roads. For some, it makes the TA a less-interesting option. But the trail is a work in progress, and the TA trust is planning to move away from roads into the backcountry over time – it’s still a new trail. All these long trails evolve and improve as people use them, and also as they grow in support and funding. Road walking isn’t great fun, especially if it’s a heavily trafficked route. Trucks can whizz by fast, kicking up dust and grit and buffeting you near off your feet with the blast of air behind them. Tarmac also really hurts your feet and the impact vibrates up your body over time. I think you could probably ameliorate some of that with well-cushioned footwear, even if only for the road section itself.
I am sure that the trail is currently being hiked and loved by its native New Zealanders, which makes me happy for them. I’ve now got the luxury of even more time to look forward to getting there myself…