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Te Araroa: New Zealand’s Hiking Trail

Photo by Steve Philip on Unsplash

As I read through The Two Towers on my Kindle, Lord of the Rings fever has piqued a new interest in New Zealand and its fairly young mountain trail, Te Araroa. Scenes from the movies are cemented into my memory, and I can see the mountains and the colorful landscape, the forests and the rivers and the rolling hills. It looks as wild a place as could be found. And it is possible to immerse yourself into this wild through Te Araroa. You may be making post-pandemic hiking plans, and Te Araroa should be on every long-distance backpacker's bucket list.

As of 2021, Te Araroa is only about ten years old. It took a decade of hard work by hundreds of volunteers to finally finish the trail in December of 2011. Being a fairly new trail, there are still plans for future updates, and many sections are still along roads and through private land. But much of Te Araroa is on protected land, and the trail is beginning to grow in popularity. There is also world-class trout fishing along the trail, so check with New Zealand’s Fish and Game department about licensing.

Distance and Time Commitment

Te Araroa stretches from its northern terminus at Cape Reigna on the north island to its southern terminus at Bluff on the south island, traversing over the country’s two largest islands. The trail is roughly 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles) long. A thru-hiker will need to make a 3-6 month commitment in order to finish the trail, so foreigners from outside New Zealand will need to look into getting extended travel visas. Check with an embassy near you for more information on visas or visit New Zealand’s immigration website.

What to know before you go

Hikers of all experience levels will find a challenge in Te Araroa. Many stretches can be remote, and the weather unpredictable, especially in the southern island. For southbound hikers, it is recommended to start after mid-September but to finish before the end of April. This puts your hike in the more temperate summer climate and will help you avoid harsh high country weather. Be prepared for all kinds of weather, and make sure to pack the appropriate gear and clothing. Also be prepared for river crossing, and pack food and supplies for up to ten days where certain sections of the trail are very remote. New Zealand’s Department of Conservation offers a backcountry hut pass that will allow you to use a system of backcountry huts along Te Araroa, but make sure to carry a tent in case huts are full.

Dangerous wildlife

There are no dangerous predators to worry about along Te Araroa. Unlike the U.S., which has mountain lions, bears, wolves, and other dangerous animals, New Zealand is free of predators and large mammals. There are, however, a few spiders that may hurt you in the rare event that they do bite. Although hikers will still have tremendous challenges to overcome on Te Araroa, dangerous animals are one less thing for the hiker to worry about.

Trail Conditions and Safety

Some sections of the trail get a lot of traffic, especially near more populated areas. But some sections can be much more harsh and remote where thru-hikers will have to pack extra food and gear as they may be unable to resupply for nearly two weeks. Make sure you are familiar with the route and have a plan in place. There is a risk of hypothermia in some parts of the country, so make sure to be prepared and have the proper gear and experience to avoid this deadly condition. Hikers of Te Araroa will also need to be prepared for river crossing and make arrangements to use a kayak in some places.

For safety, always let someone you trust know where you are and where you plan to be. Log your intentions in the online trail registry and let other hikers know your plans. Hitchhiking is common when going to resupply along the route, but use your best judgement. If you’re going to be hitchhiking or taking rides from strangers, try to at least go with another hiker.

For more information about the trail and to plan a hike, visit the Te Araroa Trust for everything you’ll need to know. You can also email info@teararoa.org.nz for any other questions that you have about hiking Te Araroa.

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”

-John Muir

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