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.
This post is a follow-up to Te Araroa Logistics I, where most of the basic info, maps, resupply lists and charts are posted. I haven’t copied all of those here, rather in this one I wanted to put some additional information and things that we would do differently now that we have finished the trek. For what to bring, check out our gear list and gear reviews (still in progress).
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.
On the south island, resupplying is more difficult especially until you reach Tekapo. Most people will send food parcels out from Wellington before taking the ferry over. We have opted for this as well in 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.
In our first post we wrote that we would save weight and rely on the GPS apps on our phones rather than maps. This was a bad, bad idea.
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 solely rely on them. From Auckland on we carried maps with us all the way down to Bluff. Both maps and GPSes are recommended as it is hard to find your way sometimes.
These phone apps work great:
- iHike GPS NZ (Apple)
- Back Country Navigator (Android)
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.
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 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 an hours long, days long or weeks long search operation. And in crucial times, this difference will be all that matters. It only has to go wrong once.
There is loads of information out there on Te Araroa from the Trust and former hikers. 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!
After destroying our first e-reader in a monsoon-like storm in the Raetea forest we kept number two in a ziplock bag that was sealed in our map case. Like this it survived all the way down to Bluff.