This is a guide for people wanting to through-hike the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand going from south to north.
What is the Te Araroa Trail? It’s a walking track about 3,000 km long from Bluff at the southern tip of the South Island to Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island that was officially opened in 2011. It ranges over mountains and farmland, through forest, along beaches, on back roads, and in a few parts, through towns and suburbs. It takes about 4 to 5 months to walk.
Why Northbound (NoBo)?
Most people walking the Te Araroa (TA) go from north-to-south. So why go the other way? And why is it mainly Kiwis who are doing it? Well, it’s because they know the weather is warmer the further north you go. Most TA hikers going SoBo (southbound) will start around November and end up in Southland in March or April, walking into autumn in the coldest part of the country. Better to walk away from the increasingly cooler, wetter weather. Doing this also gives you a larger window of start dates if you are walking the entire country, because you end up in the so-called ‘winterless north’ (17 degrees average in April vs 10.5 in Invercargill in the same month). See FAQs page for more on when to go.
Are there any good reasons for going north to south, besides the fact that the main guides are written that way? Well, maybe they have been written in that direction because the Whanganui River section in the North Island consists of canoeing downstream. If you want to do the North Island NoBo, then working round that is tricky but do-able. Or you could always walk the South Island NoBo and the North Island SoBo.
Camp Stream Hut, Two Thumb Range, South Island
Something else to consider is people. Since the default direction is south-bound then if you are doing the same you will find yourself with a cohort of others also going south. The composition of the group of people going at your speed and on your route will change over time, but the end result is that doing the TA SoBo can be quite a social experience and making friends on the trail is what some people like about it. When you go NoBo there will be a much smaller group of you, which might create a closer sort of connection. But the majority of people you encounter will be hikers coming towards you. You will meet most of them around the middle of the day, or in the evening in huts and campsites. These are good opportunities to swap info about what is coming up on the trail but you won’t see these people again. And over the course of your hike they will bunch, so at the beginning you will only meet the few who started early, and towards the end, those who started late. So the huts and campsites can be empty at the beginning and end but fill up around the middle.
South Island vs North Island?
If you have only limited time, the South Island is the more spectacular, more back country part of the total Te Araroa Trail. The North Island certainly has its moments, but it does involve more road walking, less time away from civilisation, and takes a little longer. I have walked the full South Island trail in one go, but I have only done sections of the North Island.
Between Camp Stream and Crooked Spur huts, South Island
Well, it’s a matter of personal choice, but it seems to me that if you want to say you have walked the Te Araroa Trail, you need to have walked all of it. Many people pick and choose sections, and no doubt by leaving out the boring bits that gives them a more enjoyable experience. Some, particularly Kiwis who can’t get enough days off work, do a section at a time, and by adding them all together eventually get to say they’ve done the TA. Others doing them in sequence regularly go off-trail for supplies and rest. Or simply stay another day or two at a nice spot. And others again, particularly the majority who are visiting from overseas, might want to see a bit more of New Zealand than simply the TA, and head off on diversions here and there. There is a trail saying, ‘Hike your own hike’, meaning there is no right or wrong way and you shouldn’t judge people who are doing it differently from yourself. My approach to the South Island was to do it in one continuous hike, walking every single metre, and so that’s the way I’ve written this guide: for through hikers. Hence it covers the whole she-bang, including the sometimes tedious bits of road between back country trails. But I’m sure it will also be useful for people who want to do sections only as well.
Kapiti Is from Waikanae Beach, North Island
Why This Guide?
I have written it because the official guides are not so well suited for through-walkers going north. The southbound guides have a good amount of information but because they are oriented towards the greatest number of users (section hikers) a lot is repeated and bits between sections are left out. Using the guides in reverse, as I did, is quite tricky. The new official northbound guides (at the time of writing, for the South Island only) are better, but their layout is still not space efficient, meaning there is more paper to carry than you need. They also exclude details of accommodation, transport and options for going off-trail, requiring you to go to the southbound guides for that anyway. So the pages here offer the best planning and take-with-you guide.
How are the Guides Written?
For the bits I have walked (the whole South Island plus Wellington to Orewa, north of Auckland, and Opua to Kerikeri in Northland) my guides are divided up into sections of approximately eight hours walking a day (making up 63 days to cover the length of the South Island), but because towns, huts and campsites are not evenly spaced eight hours apart there are parts where some days are longer and a few are very short, effectively turning these into rest days (‘zero days’ in trail jargon).
Times of each section are the actual times it took me. They include short rest stops every hour or hour and a half, but exclude lunch breaks. I would say I was walking at a fairly average speed. The schedule of days is based upon a strategy of sending food parcels ahead at nearly every opportunity, which meant there were no off-trail trips that added extra time. But it did mean a lot of work organising before departure.
For the parts of the North Island in Auckland and Northland I haven’t walked I have used the official notes as a basis by re-writing them in reverse and using Google Maps, NZ Topo Maps and other sources to clarify the confusing bits. There may be a few errors, as it can be tricky turning directions going one way into something that makes sense the other, but probably no more than if you did it yourself – and I’m saving you the trouble. The walking times here are, of course, simply those given on the official site.
The guide assumes you are using the official TA maps, so for the sake of brevity, not every twist and turn of the trail is covered. In many places you can manage with the maps only. Also, to keep the text short, comment on the landscape and its history has unfortunately had to be kept to a bare minimum. There is a little more in the TA guide notes and in the Department of Conservation (DoC) website as well as the DoC brochures that cover some sections. See the Links page for these and other sources of information.
I have been reluctant to add in accommodation prices and transport timetables because these will always change, but some are included as indicative. Please check them if you are going to rely on them. And feel free to send through updated information.
How to Use the Guides
You can print out the guides. I’ve deliberately not included pretty pictures in the guide pages so you don’t have images taking up space. And you can send them as printed installments to yourself on the trail with food parcels to further cut weight. As with the maps, once you’ve finished with them they are good for starting fires, or you can leave them in huts for other people. If you have an e-book reader there is software online to convert pages to the file format required. Or you can save them to your cellphone. There are several routes to either printing or cellphone saving:
I may make the files downloadable as pdf files – you’ll find them at the bottom of the South Island and North Island Guides menus. This preserves the formatting, skips the images at top, and the links still work. You can print out from here or save to your mobile phone (in the Documents folder on Android phones). One advantage of pdfs is that you can print two pages on one side of an A4 page, giving you 4 on a sheet – if your eyesight is good enough to read them at that reduced size. The downside is that if I update the webpages during the season with a detail or two then it is not really worth me updating the pdfs.
You can also make your own pdfs by printing the web pages but choosing ‘print to pdf’ as your printer. You will be stuck with the images at top of each file though, so my versions will be a bit more economical of paper in printing out.
If you are just going to read the guides on your phone then I recommend saving the web pages offline, as that way they will be current as at the time you saved them. In the Chrome browser on your phone click the three dots at top right, then select the download arrow symbol. If this doesn’t appear, try ‘more tools’. To later reload the page offline, select Downloads from the three dots menu.
Finally, you can copy and paste the pages into your usual wordprocessor and print out the pages, or again save them to your phone. This method will lose some of my formatting but it allows you to make your own edits.
The core component of this site are the day-by-day walking guides. But there is lots more here. And there is of course the official website, which you should visit if you are going to take up the Te Araroa challenge. The TA Trust issues revisions to the route each year around the end of September and I incorporate these into my pages soon afterwards. You can check the bottom of each page to see when I’ve last updated it. Also, make sure to check the date on official maps so you know you have the ones for your season.
On the subject of updates, Covid-19 has had an impact on travel and accommodation services. In particular, I see that bus and train services are often running on reduced hours or days. I have amended these where I can, but always check.
And also for this season (2021-22) note that NIWA has issued a long range outlook for the summer period that says, due to a La Niña weather phase, NZ can expect hotter temperatures everywhere, less rain and lower river levels in most of the South Island and the potential for tropical cyclones hitting Northland.
Well, a projected wave of the Omicron variant is expected in NZ over Feb to April. This has serious implications for TA walkers. Consider what would happen if you were to get symptoms of Covid on the trail. Not very likely you might say, walking in the open air. But back country huts, hostels, campgrounds and small country stores all sound like very contagious settings. If you do get symptoms you would need to get tested at the next major town, and these are not so common on some sections. If the diagnosis was positive then you are supposed to self-isolate for 10 days. How are you going to do that? Campgrounds and motels etc won’t want you. You could camp somewhere remote, but you would need 10 days worth of food, and you are not supposed to visit a supermarket to get it once you have been diagnosed. Staying in a DoC hut is a definite no-go. You are only allowed to return home to isolate by private car. So you would need someone to drive you (who has already had Covid perhaps?) or who can drop a car off to you. Travel by public plane, bus, train, ferry is not allowed. Now, the government Covid website does say you can stay at a MIQ facility if travelling, and the cost is free, but that’s assuming a vacancy was available and there was somewhere you could get to. All this sounds to me like hiking the TA shouldn’t be attempted at all during an Omicron outbreak. I think the TA Trust is seeking government advice, so keep a check on their site.
Athol McCredie, 18 February 2022