Maps

The Official Te Araroa Maps

The accompaniment to my written guides are maps. You need both, and to use them together. The primary map source is the downloads on the official Te Araroa site. Print the maps out A3 double-sided and in colour if you can. Some people do it on A4 but this is a bit small. And it needs to be with a laserjet printer: the inks on a home inkjet machine will run when wet. Some people laminate them but this makes them heavy. You might be able to get them printed on waterproof paper though. You don’t have to carry a full set all the way as you can send bundles of them ahead with your food parcels. Likewise with the guide notes from this site. You might think you can dispense with paper maps (and guides) if you download them to your phone, but what happens when your phone battery runs out, you drop the phone in a river, or the mapping app stops working? Yes, definitely download maps to your phone but treat them as backups (or if you prefer, consider paper maps as the backups to the digital versions.)

Interactive Maps to Take with You

There are several options here. I’d take at least two, again for back-up reasons in case something goes wrong with one of them. The best place to start might be the pdfs on the official TA site. If you download the ones that can work as single maps to your phone AND install the Avenza Map: Offline Maps app then you can plot your position on them with your phone’s gps. Avenza comes with a compass, the ability to record your route, plan routes and calculate distances (in straight lines only, unfortunately), and it will give you precise latitude and longitude co-ordinates anywhere on the map you roll the cursor pinpoint over. There are also downloadable maps in the app, including some free NZ Topo ones. Unfortunately, like the TA maps, these are not continuous, but consist of single ‘sheets’. So you have to make sure you have full coverage of where you are going and don’t fall between the pages.

Another thing to be aware of is that the NZ Topo maps can fall behind changes in topography, roading and re-routing of tracks. The Te Araroa Trail constantly evolves and each year brings with it new routings. Now that the official TA maps are overlain on the NZ Topo maps you often see tracks labelled as ‘Te Araroa Trail’ in small print besides dotted lines while the current route is clearly marked in the usual heavy coloured line nearby. These will represent the former route. So definitely don’t rely on the NZ Topo Maps without an overlay giving the correct route.

Te Araroa – The Trail App
This was launched in Oct 2018 and is available on Google Play and Apple’s App Store. You should get it, especially since it is free. You can download relevant NZ Topo maps for offline use within the app for free. Just don’t forget to download the maps you need before you leave home. My experience with the downloading is that it constantly hangs (a time-out problem?) and needs to be coaxed along, making for a time-consuming experience, so don’t leave this step for the last night before you hit the trail. Google maps are also available within the app but for online use only. The official TA SoBo guides are included though, so that’s a bonus. On the downside, the app is only available in Android for version 6 and above, meaning you can’t use it on older (and lighter) Android phones.

Te Araroa Hiker
This app by Guthook seems popular. You get the TA Trail maps by downloading the Guthook Guides app first from the Google Play or App Store and then selecting your trail. It costs $23 per section (four sections for the whole country), or $47 for the lot (as at May 2021). I presume that is in universal currency (i.e. USD). An initial download will give you 60 kms north from Auckland to try out for free. I’ve used it for Hamilton to north of Auckland and it worked well. Accommodation, tent sites, forks in the track and water sources are all marked. There are also user comments on the trail, but I couldn’t figure out how to arrange them in a way that was useful to me – they are just in order of latest posting, from the entire trail, Bluff to Cape Reinga. This could be a nice feature, but in practice it is pretty useless. There is also a social media function (I guess you hook up with friends somehow and message them) but I haven’t used it. And you can send a message to someone to tell them your location, but the message they receive shows your location on Google Maps, not the NZ Topo map on Guthook, and you can use Google Maps to do this anyway (see below).

How do the Guthook and TA – The Trail App compare? I don’t think there is a lot of difference. Guthook does show accommodations (ones listed on the official TA site), but not always accurately. Both purport to show water sources, but these are mostly theoretical (i.e. wherever there might be a stream by the trail despite few being usable). And Guthook has the user comments, social media messaging, and sharing of locations, if any of these are of use to you. If you are going to pay for the Guthook app then you may as well also download The Trail App as a backup in case the former fails to work, since it is free; but whether it is worth spending the money to do the reverse I’m not so sure.

New Zealand Topo Maps Pro
So you get the LINZ NZ Topo Maps with both the above three apps, but only for a corridor either side of the trail. If you want to get coverage on the rest of the country, or simply to have a backup app, then there are several apps offering these maps. Check two things before downloading though: does the app offer offline maps? Online-only is next to useless as you won’t have wifi or cellphone coverage in the areas where you actually need the Topo maps. And will they show your position with GPS?  The application I’ve used is New Zealand Topo Maps by Atlogis. Here is what you do to get it:

Go to the Google Play Store and search for New Zealand Topo Maps. It says it is free, but if you want the off-line maps then you need to pay. Once installed, before you go hiking, select ‘New Zealand Topo50’ from the menu at top left of the screen. Then approximately find the bit of NZ you need to download at high resolution for off-line use. Use the menu below the screen or at top right to select ‘Cache Map’. Press ‘Cache Map’ again from the next menu. Now you have a rectangle with blue dots overlain on your selected area of NZ. Pull the sides of the rectangle to cover only as much of the land as you want to download, using the plus or minus buttons at right to zoom in or out as necessary, and shifting the map underneath the rectangle by moving your finger on it. Then touch ‘Cache Map’ at top right. You will be prompted for the level of resolution you want. I always move the slider to the maximum zoom level. Press download and wait. The higher the resolution and the larger the area selected the larger the file and the longer it will take to download. The size and time could be significant, so bite off selected areas at a time.

In the field, first turn on ‘location’ by pulling down quick settings at the top of the screen, then press the circle with the red dot in it at the top of the NZ Topo Pro application. When the GPS has found your location (best done in an  area open to a broad area of sky) there will be a ‘dink donk’ sound and the map will automatically centre on your current location with a direction arrow. It is best to then turn the location setting off until you need to get another fix, as GPS drains the battery fairly quickly.

You can also download street maps, and satellite images with NZ Topo Pro. The latter are very large files of course. A dice game overlay is probably not under development.

Tour of New Zealand game designed by Dudley Bain, 1950sTour of New Zealand game designed by Dudley Bain, 1950s

Google Maps
Offline Google Maps can be useful when you are in town or road walking. You need to have a Google account and be signed in to download and save the maps. You also need the Google Maps app loaded – in recent versions of Android it will be located in a button with other Google apps. Just drag it out to sit on its own. In the app you select an area you want to download and then click on the three horizontal bars at top left to open up the menu that includes the option ‘Offline Areas’. Just follow the instructions. The maps expire after about a month unless updated (which will be automatic unless you have disabled that option). This feature only seems to work on a mobile device, so you may be out of luck with a notebook computer, unless perhaps it is a Chromebook.

Maybe everyone knows this already, but I only stumbled across it recently after using Google Maps for years: If you press the blue circle showing your location on a map (when you have location services switched on), you are offered several options to let a friend know your location (on What’s App, or email, etc). I think if you are both signed into Google this is live. Otherwise they get a map image showing your location when you sent the message. Could be useful for meeting up with someone when you don’t really know the area.

Other Maps

Google Earth map
On the official TA site you can find the downloadable kmz file for Google Earth that traces the TA trail over New Zealand, complete with locations of camp sites and km markers. You need the programme installed on your computer (from Google) before you can do anything, and a fast internet connection, but it does give a wonderful 3D perspective on the trail that you can rotate, zoom in on, etc. Not really practicable while walking, since the image data is pulled of the internet as you view, but good for getting a better idea of the route beforehand. I have taken some images from the TA trail on Google Earth and added them to my pages, so that does allow you to compare text and image, and relieves you of having to download Google Earth. Note that, as with most 3D topographic images, the height is exaggerated for effect. So rest assured, the mountains are not that high and steep!

New Zealand Topo Map
The LINZ NZ Topographic map can be viewed on any device online. It has a great feature at top left of the screen in the form of a slider that allows you to see more or less of the satellite image layer. You can also see public access areas by going to the ‘More’ menu and selecting ‘Info layers’. And you can select a square and download the information in it as an image (tiff) file for offline use. The online NZ Topo map from the LINZ site is useful for planning as there are times when you just want that extra bit of information that you can’t get form the apps.

DoC Maps
The Department of Conservation has a map site with interactive maps that show you locations of huts, DoC campgrounds, areas where freedom camping is prohibited, hunting areas, etc. You can even see the whole Te Araroa Trail on their Discover the Outdoors map.

Public Access maps
Walking Access Ara Hikoi Aotearoa has a selection of maps that show you public sections of land and property boundaries. This can be useful if you are going off trail or want to figure out where you can legally camp. To switch from one map type to another it seems you need to have pop-ups unblocked. As noted above, public access areas are also visible as an option on the NZ Topo maps.

Te Araroa Map
The Te Araroa Map by Cmor is an app that overlays the trail route on Google Maps. I like it because it gives you an overview of where the trail goes through NZ, which is hard to get from the more detailed maps. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been updated since September 2019 at the time I write this in May 2021.

Accommodation and Resupply Map
Anthony Page made some maps in 2016 with accommodation and resupply points. They  still broadly apply.

Lord of the Rings movie locations
There are various web sites dedicated to finding the actual places where scenes were shot. Here is one built on Google maps. You can zoom right in and click on icons for details, though exact GPS co-ordinates are not given.

GPS on your Phone

You will have GPS on your phone but will this tell you the actual co-ordinates of your location? No, not unless you have a special GPS app. Your average mapping app (like the TA Trail app or Guthook) probably won’t give you these as numbers. If you have an emergency it may save your life to be able to communicate the latitude and longitude to other people. I use the GPS Test app. It is free and it shows you what satellites your phone can see, the degree of accuracy of your location and other things besides your location in degrees, minutes and seconds. Having said this, you may have a facility on your phone that automatically gives your location to emergency services when you call them. But best to have a manual option too I think.

Dedicated GPS Devices

Some people take these and the Garmin etrex is popular. But the cost, weight and technical know-how required to operate them outweigh their advantages, especially when you have the option of mobile phone maps, and you are probably already taking a phone with you anyway. The official TA site has downloadable GPX files for Garmin devices. You could also check out this site for unofficial open data (OSM) Te Araroa maps. You can even contribute to making them better.

Leslie Adkin - Tongariro National Park, August 1925Tongariro National Park, August 1925, by Leslie Adkin. Gift of G. L. Adkin family estate, 1964. Te Papa (A.006014)

Last updated 23 May 2021