Here is an introductory guide for anyone planning to hike New Zealand’s Te Araroa, particularly Americans or those familiar with US long distance trails. Credit to PMags for the original Quick and Dirty Guides.
Before reading, familiarize yourself with my Dictionary of Kiwi English.
Te Araroa (TA), or “The Long Pathway,” is a hiking trail across the North and South Islands of New Zealand. For a country rich in natural beauty, it is perhaps one of the most thorough ways to see all that New Zealand has to offer. Along its meandering route, the TA crosses through native bush forests, rural farmland, stunning alpine vistas, and even Auckland’s city center. The rewards of thru-hiking are many, but the trail presents equal parts challenge.
Te Araroa at a Glance
- In existence since 2011.
- Administered by the Te Araroa Trust.
- The Department of Conservation (DOC), the NZ equivalent of the American NPS or USFS, oversees much of the land, but Te Araroa is really a network of various existing trails, easements, and roads. About 10% of the TA is located on private property.
- ~50% single track, 30% roads, 15% beaches, 5% rivers.
- Is 3000km (1860 miles) long (Note: New Zealand uses the metric system like every other country except for the US, Liberia, and Myanmar. Get used to converting miles to kilometers, pounds to kilograms, and Fahrenheit to Celsius).
- Northern terminus is Cape Reinga.
- Southern terminus is Sterling Point, Bluff.
- Goes through 10 regions, 4 National Parks, and many conservation parks.
- Highest point is at Stag Saddle (1925 meters).
- Marked by an assortment of TA signs and orange triangles. Some sections are very clearly marked, while in other sections markings are non-existent.
- Includes a river section along the Whanganui River, where hikers can paddle and/or bike.
- Takes most trampers 3-5 months.
- An average hike costs $3-6,000 USD.
North Island vs South Island
- North is more populated, while South is more remote.
- North is 1700km, while South is 1300km.
- On average, you can resupply every 2-3 days on the North Island, and every 4-5 days on the South Island.
- Most road walking is on the North Island.
- The North Island is characterized by beach walks, farm roads, and thick bush forest hiking. The South Island goes through tussocky valleys and above tree line.
- South Island is more mountainous than North Island.
- North Island is more of a cultural experience, while South Island is more of a wilderness experience.
- North Island is more “incomplete.” Many of its tracks are shorter and linked together by road walks. The South Island still has road walking, but gives more of a continuous feel.
- On average, the North Island is warmer and stays at a lower elevation than the South Island.
Permits and Passes
There is only one place on the trail that requires a permit to hike:
There are a multitude of places on the trail where a permit or pass is required to camp:
Australian and UK Citizens can visit New Zealand for 6 months visa-free. Most other nationalities can visit for up to three months without a visa. Check this list to be sure. Most thru-hikes take longer than three months, so a visa is usually necessary.
There are two popular visa options: the Visitor Visa and the Working Holiday Visa. The Visitor Visa allows you to stay for up to 9 months. For people ages 18-30 (35 in some countries), the Working Holiday Visa allows you to stay for up to 12 months and legally work while in country. Here is the link for Americans interested in a Working Holiday Visa.
Maps & Guidebooks
The principal guidebook to the Te Araroa is A Walking Guide to New Zealand’s Long Trail: Te Araroa. It provides an overview description of the trail and can be useful in the planning stage. With lots of history and geology, this is something best left on your coffee table and not in your backpack.
The main source for trail information is the TA Trust, which publishes and maintains a mapset and notes for each section of the trail. They also provide a thorough FAQ. These notes provide a description for each section, navigational caution, time estimates, and other useful tidbits. You can download and/or print the maps and notes for free. There are also mobile-friendly versions available for download.
As far as I am aware, there is no town guide (a la AWOL’s or Yogi’s). Most hikers seem to rely on Smartphone Apps.
In the age of smartphones, most hikers use some form of GPS-enabled phone app during their hike. While these applications are incredibly useful and convenient, they do not replace navigational skills. Batteries run out, phones break or die in rivers—responsible hikers should not rely solely on these apps.
- Guthooks (iOS | Android) – Maps, trail markers, planning info, and profile views.
- iHikeGPS NZ (iOS) – Free topo maps that cover both islands. You can download 1:25000 and/or 1:50000 scale, as well as GPS overview for the TA.
- New Zealand Topo Maps – Information source that can be pulled from by a variety of iOS and Android offline mapping apps.
- CamperMate (iOS | Android) – Free app designed for car campers and tourists, it contains a wealth of info, particularly for towns, such as laundromats, libraries, wifi, supermarkets, etc.
- New Zealand Tides Pro (iOS) and New Zealand Tide Times (Android) – Useful for water crossings, particularly north of Auckland.
- The TA Trust’s GPX file can be imported into other navigation apps like BackCountry Navigator and Gaia GPS.
While on the topic of phones, there are two main cell providers in NZ: Spark and Vodafone. If your phone is unlocked (check with your cell provider before flying), you can get a SIM card and basic plan set up quite easily. Just pop into either store once you land.
Also, WiFi: WiFi is abundant in most towns. Free WiFi is available at many libraries, i-SITEs, McDonalds, Subways, and Burger Kings. Spark also provides 1GB WiFi for free at their repurposed phone booths to customers on their $20+ plans.
Resupply is very easy on the TA. The Trail passes directly through numerous cities and towns, particularly on the more populated North Island. In general, you can resupply at least every 3 days on the North Island and once a week on the South Island.
There are three large supermarket chains:
- Countdown – Large, good selection
- PAK’nSave – Large, good selection
- New World – Can be large or small, typically a little more expensive
Additionally, there are little convenience stores called “dairies” everywhere. They all sell convenience store snacks (potato chips, candy, soda) and can get you by in a pinch. Some have grills where you can get a hot meal.
Unless you have a specific diet or swear by mailing food boxes, there really isn’t a need to do so on the North Island. On the South Island, many hikers send one or more food boxes between Ship Cove and Lake Tekapo, with the most popular places being St. Arnaud and Arthur’s Pass. Both spots have convenience stores (expensive!) and hitching to another town is possible but time consuming (~100km hitch each way). For more information, check out the TA Wiki’s Resupply Overview and my resupply summary.
New Zealand’s postal service equivalent of the US’s “general delivery” is called Post Restante (or “counter mail,” as one mail clerk corrected me). The post office will hold it for up to one week for free, then charge a small fee for each subsequent week. You can send a package ahead to a specific post office using the following structure:
Auckland City 1010
A full list of post offices near or along the trail can be found here.
Many hikers choose to keep a box of backup gear and supplies that they mail to themselves along the trail using the Post Restante system. This is a popular option, especially for sending gear you know you will need to replace such as shoes (which are quite expensive in New Zealand).
Cost can vary significantly depending on a variety of factors. If you have hiked a long trail in the US, expect Te Araroa to be slightly more expensive. Tramping up New Zealand has an excellent cost overview and I broke down my expenses as well. Gustofrenzy also did a write up.
Te Araroa Specific Considerations
Section Hiking vs Thru-Hiking
- The majority of thru-hikers go southbound (SOBO), trying to optimize the weather window.
- If you only have time for one island, the South Island is generally considered more spectacular. If you are only hiking the South Island, I recommend you hike northbound (NOBO) to save the most strenuous (and possibly spectacular) sections for last. Is doing the South Island NOBO right for you?
- Many people pick and choose parts of the North Island, skipping connecting road walks and some of the less scenic forest/farm sections. While hiking all of the trail is rewarding, this is one way to get the best bang for your buck (and time). Highlights on the north island include:
- Mangawhai Heads (KM 380-400)
- Tongariro Crossing (KM 1118-1145)
- Tararua Range (KM 1502-1599)
For those familiar with US distance trails, note that many thru-hikers on the TA take a less “purist” approach. Many TA trampers will take alternates, bike road sections, and/or hitch around sections. The TA Trust even says that some sections are not passable on foot.
One other noticeable difference in trail culture between US trails and the TA is gear. I won’t talk about gear selection here, but know that lightweight or ultralight backpacking is not as common in New Zealand as it is in the States. Additionally, the majority of thru-hikers come from Europe, where traditional backpacking is more the norm. That said, the TA is still great for ultralight backpacking. There are an abundance of gear lists online: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10.
While tramping Te Araroa will lead you through absolutely gorgeous and beautiful scenery, one criticism of the trail is that it omits what some consider “the best parts of New Zealand.” While That label is highly subjective, it is true that the TA Trust made the conscious decision to avoid most of the Great Walks, which would cause logistical and environmental complications. Here is an overview of some common alternates and side trips to consider.
Additionally, some thru-hikers take side trips along the way to see sights (e.g., Hobbiton, Mt Taranaki, Milford Sound) or hike some of the Great Walks near the route of the TA (e.g., Abel Tasman, Kepler). Great Walks require separate hut/campsite reservations in advance—sometimes up to a year.
The trail is relatively new and still contains numerous road sections. While The Trust claims that less than 13.5% of the trail is on roads, most thru-hikers will agree that this number feels closer to 30%, with 40-50% of the North Island on roads compared to 20% of the South Island. These roads vary from gravel or dirt farm roads to paved state highways. The TA Trust is gradually working to move the trail off these parts. Some hikers choose to hitchhike the road sections.
The weather window to hike the TA is quite large. October to April represents the traditional hiking season. Closures for lambing limit trail access much earlier than October, and cold weather becomes a concern by April. New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere, so its summer stretches from December to February.
The North Island is tropical, while the South Island is temperate. Typical weather is warm, sunny days with moderate nights. Regardless, weather in New Zealand is unpredictable and it can storm for days. While the weather tends to stabilize a bit in January and a February, it can snow in the mountains any time of year.
Because of the unpredictability of the weather, packing an extras day’s food is commonplace. You will most likely have to wait out at least one storm somewhere along your journey.
The biggest weather-related concerns are water crossings and the sun.
New Zealand gets a lot of precipitation, and rivers rise rapidly. It’s not uncommon to have to wait for the river level to drop. A tiny brook one day can turn into a raging rapid the next. Learn about river crossing techniques beforehand. There are numerous difficult crossings throughout the trail. River crossings are probably the most dangerous aspect of Te Araroa.
There are many notable waterways. For some, you will have to take a ferry or canoe. Here’s a rundown:
- KM 179-185 | Mangapukahukahu Stream – The first and longest river walk. No boat needed, the trail is literally the river. This area is subject to flash floods, so you should check the weather before entering.
- KM 253-264 | Waikare Inlet – A large inlet where hikers can take a ferry (in Opua), rent kayaks (in Paihia), or deviate from the official trail and walk/hitch around.
- KM 338-339 | Ngunguru River – A large river crossing. A local named James (021-0242-1632) will ferry you across for a nominal price as long as you call a couple hours in advance. He owns the property on the far side and runs a hiker camp where you can stay for cheap as well. I’m not sure exactly what his agreement with the TA Trust is, but I’ve heard a couple stories of him getting angry with TA walkers who managed to ford the river without his boat and attempted to cross his land without permission/payment.
- KM 366-369 | Taiharuru Estuary Route – A wide estuary best crossed at low tide. This can get quite muddy and deep. Use either of the tide apps listed above, or check tide info for Marsden Point here.
- KM 397-398 | Whangarei Bay – You need a boat to cross this bay. There are a number of trail angels that will take you across for a small donation (David Capey: 021-722-369; Duncan Thorpe: 027-417-2440 or 021-112-5814; Peter Cross: 027-417-2440). More details can be found in the TA Trust’s trail notes; make sure to call in advance.
- KM 529-536 | Puhoi to Wenderholm – On an outgoing tide you can rent a kayak and paddle the trail through this 7km stretch. The TA Trust lists Puhoi River Canoe & Kayak Hire and Auckland Sea Kayaks as two options. There is no land trail alternate, but you can walk along the margin of Highway 1 which follows the river fairly close.
- KM 565-566 | Okura Estuary – Another estuary route that can only be forded at low tide. It can be quite tricky to find the right place to cross—you have to look for white poles on the southern shore for reference. While the main channel is always changing, the TA Trust recommends crossing at the fourth pole from the ocean. The only alternate is an 8-10km road walk around.
- KM 592-593 | Devonport to Auckland Ferry – A regular ferry crosses the Waitemata Harbour from Devonport to downtown Auckland. Reservations are not necessary—you can simply walk in to the ferry terminal and buy a ticket for the next available ferry when you get there.
- KM 1210-1374 | Whanganui River – The trail is the river for this section. There are a lot of options and issues that I won’t go into here. Blazing Paddles—which seems like the most popular canoe hire—has written about the logistical problems TA hikers face. Regardless of where you choose to put in and take out, you will need to make reservations in advance. Taumaranui (KM 1051) is a good town to plan for the Whanganui River.
- KM 1702 | Cook Strait (Wellington to Ship Cove) – Getting from the southern terminus of the North Island to the northern terminus of the South Island takes multiple boats. First, you have to take a large ferry from Wellington to Picton (Interislander and Bluebridge are the two ferry operators; they do sell out in advance). Once in Picton, you need to hire a ferry to get to Ship Cove. There are many private charters, but the mail boat runs regularly and seems to be the most affordable. Stop in at Picton’s i-SITE for information and be wary of private charters trying to sell mail boat tickets at a markup; it cost a little over $50 NZD in 2017.
- KM 2245 | Rakaia River – This river has been deemed a hazard zone by the TA Trust and is considered a natural break in the trail just like the Cook Strait. Unless you’re carrying a packraft, do not try to cross. According to the TA Trust, it’s 61.5km to circumnavigate by road, which most people hitchhike. If you detour into Methven, you can take the school bus to the southern trailhead for a small fee in the morning—stop in at the Methven i-SITE to buy your ticket.
- KM 2315 | Rangitata River – A large, braided river bed similar to the Rakaia. Often impassable but it can be safely crossed in low flow. The TA Trust says that it’s 143.3km to circumnavigate by road. Monitoring water flow may be helpful.
Note: I did not include the beach walks, where tides also play an important role. Many of the beach portions involve river mouth crossings that may only be possible at low tide. There are also many sections of beach with low and high tide alternates. In general, it is best to try and walk beach portions at low tide or when water level is dropping (i.e., going from high tide to low tide).
The sun in NZ is no joke. There is gap in the ozone layer. The sun shines strong. Bring sunscreen and adequate clothing to cover yourself.
There are no large predators in New Zealand. No bears, mountain lions, or alligators to worry about. That said, you still need to practice good food storage, as rodents and possums are prevalent. You will wake up in the morning to the loudest bird calls you’ve ever heard—natural selection has never told NZ birds to shut up!
The biggest nuisance in NZ are the sand flies, or midges. They can’t bite you so long as you’re moving, but as soon as you stop they’ll descend on your ankles and legs. If you plan to spend time in camp, make sure you bring clothing to cover yourself.
The TA Trust maintains a page with up-to-date information about trail conditions and closures. I recommend you bookmark this page and check it periodically throughout your hike.
You should bring some sort of shelter. On the North Island, towns (and thus accommodations) are plentiful, but you will still find yourself needing to freedom camp. Some hikers go hut-to-hut on the South Island, but you will still have situations where there are no huts or the hut is full.
Also, there are large swaths of land, particularly on the South Island where there are no trees. Hammocking would be a challenge.
New Zealand has a network of over 950 backcountry huts maintained by DOC. They range from small bivvies with a couple bunks to large 30+ person lodges. A hut pass can be purchased to give thru-hikers access to many of the huts they will pass along Te Araroa. A 6-month pass costs $92 and can be purchased by mail.
Freedom camping, wild camping, dispersed camping, or backcountry camping, it’s all the same. Basically, setting your shelter up on a non-established spot of public land. Freedom camping is permitted on DOC land, which comprises a majority of the trail. In 2011, New Zealand has passed laws restricting freedom camping; these changes are directed towards car campers and vandwellers on holiday, not thru-hikers, but you should still read up on what’s allowed beforehand. In general, Kiwis are very welcoming and will let you camp on their land if you ask.
One important note: In some places the Te Araroa Trust has negotiated easements over private property with the condition that camping is not permitted. Respect the signs, as these are essential connector stretches of trail; it would be a shame to lose access due to the selfish decisions of a few bad apples. Be a good steward so the trail continues to exist for years to come.
These are a type of accommodations unique to New Zealand. Imagine the cross between a trailer park and a campground. Many are located right along the trail and can be stayed at for $20 NZD or less. Here is a map.
- The trail is new, and relies largely upon the generosity of good kiwi families to work. You are a representative of the broader community; make sure to be kind and respectful so that others can have the same opportunity. Remember that thru-hiking is a privilege, not a right.
- Note that New Zealand has a large tourist economy and most locals are very friendly, but bad behavior gives hikers a bad name. Often, you will see signs asking you to:
- Take off muddy boots before entering a place of business or a hut.
- Not to wash your clothes or dishes in a sink.
- Leave large backpacks outside.
- Again, make sure to respect no-camping rules, particularly on easements where farmers have graciously allowed access.
- Read up on Leave No Trace (LNT) principles and practice them.
How Does Te Araroa Differ from US Trails?
- Parts of Te Araroa get muddy. Many forest sections are rugged and you may find yourself trudging through knee deep mud.
- Pace varies on the TA. Unlike curated US trails where you can hike a steady ~3 mph all day everyday, Te Araroa is more variable. At times you will certainly hike 3 mph, but some of those muddy forest sections can be as slow as <1 mph.
- You will have wet feet almost every day. If you don’t already, get used to walking through creeks and rivers with your shoes on. It’s safer.
- Waiting out storms is common. It’s an island country far down in the Pacific. Often you won’t know the weather until you wake up in the morning.
- Trail culture is less established. Remember that the trail has only formally existed since 2011. Many locals do not know about the TA, and don’t expect those that do to treat you as a celebrity. There is very little town culture or special deals for thru-hikers.
What About When I Finish?
The Invercargill City Council offers a medallion to all thru-hikers at the completion of their hike. You can contact Lloyd Esler ([email protected] or 03-213-0404/021-176-6580) to get your medal.
Te Araroa Trust is the first place to look. Beside maps and trail notices, they also have a lengthy Q&A, testimonials, and other information.
TA Wiki has resupply plans and other useful documents, but it isn’t necessary up-to-date. It also has a good list of blogs from years past.
The Te Araroa Facebook Group is probably to most active forum for TA hikers. There are also year-specific groups for thru-hikers.
A Te Araroa subreddit exists yet is relatively quiet.
Trail Journals has dozens of accounts of thru-hikes. In particular Buck-30 wrote a good planning guide, which is perhaps slightly outdated as the TA has boomed in traffic since his 2012 hike.
Wired has a great write up of the trail.
And here is a thorough South Island resupply/town guide.
A Walking Guide to New Zealand’s Long Trail: Te Araroa by Geoff Chapple
Te Araroa: One Man Walks His Dream by Geoff Chapple. Chapple is the reason Te Araroa exists, and this story of his pioneering efforts should be mandatory reading. The link is to a free, Trust-provided PDF of Chapple’s story. It is also available for Kindle.
A Wee Walk in the Wilderness by Rex Hendry. If you like Chapple and history, here’s the story of an even earlier hike. Henry’s journey in 1983/84 to cross New Zealand predates the TA but is an interesting read nonetheless. (Scroll down and click on the book cover for a PDF.)
End to End New Zealand by Paul Garland
100 Days Walking Te Araroa by GJ Coop
One Step at a Time: From Cape Reinga to Bluff by Shalane Hopkins
Te Araroa: Walking New Zealand’s 3,000-kilometre trail by Mark Watson
See something missing?
Let me know and I’ll add it.