Hiking Heaven: Exploring New Zealand’s Epic Te Araroa Trail
Hiking Heaven: Exploring New Zealand's Epic Te Araroa Trail - Breathtaking Views Along the Route
The views along the 3,000 km Te Araroa Trail are nothing short of breathtaking, showcasing New Zealand's incredibly diverse landscapes. From thick native bush and soaring mountain peaks to rugged coastlines and sweeping glaciers, hikers are treated to a visual feast at every turn.
One of the highlights is making your way along the wild west coast of the South Island. This remote stretch follows steep cliffs above the Tasman Sea, with waves crashing below and views extending all the way to the snow-capped Southern Alps in the distance. Hikers rave about catching sunsets here, with the sun sinking into the sea in a splash of orange and pink hues.
The volcanoes of the North Island also present stunning vistas. Walking in the shadows of Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings!) is an incredible experience. Their jagged volcanic peaks loom high above verdant valleys, while steam from volcanic vents creates an otherworldly atmosphere.
Hikers also love the panoramic views from atop mountain passes like Mackinnon Pass in Fiordland National Park. From here the trail descends into lush rainforest before opening up to reveal Milford Sound, one of New Zealand's most famous and breathtaking fiords.
Crossing the Southern Alps via Arthur's Pass is another highlight, with its craggy alpine scenery. And views of Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier glistening under the Southern Alps are truly special. Even just hiking through dense native bush can be magical, with massive tree ferns and nikau palms straight out of Jurassic Park.
What else is in this post?
- Hiking Heaven: Exploring New Zealand's Epic Te Araroa Trail - Breathtaking Views Along the Route
- Hiking Heaven: Exploring New Zealand's Epic Te Araroa Trail - Packing Essentials for the Multi-Day Trek
- Hiking Heaven: Exploring New Zealand's Epic Te Araroa Trail - Experience the Diverse Landscapes of New Zealand
- Hiking Heaven: Exploring New Zealand's Epic Te Araroa Trail - Crossing Rivers and Scaling Mountains
- Hiking Heaven: Exploring New Zealand's Epic Te Araroa Trail - Best Times of Year for Optimal Weather
- Hiking Heaven: Exploring New Zealand's Epic Te Araroa Trail - Sample Itineraries for Planning Your Hike
- Hiking Heaven: Exploring New Zealand's Epic Te Araroa Trail - Staying in Huts vs Camping Along the Trail
- Hiking Heaven: Exploring New Zealand's Epic Te Araroa Trail - The Rich History Behind the Te Araroa Trail
Hiking Heaven: Exploring New Zealand's Epic Te Araroa Trail - Packing Essentials for the Multi-Day Trek
When embarking on a months-long thru hike like the Te Araroa Trail, packing light is absolutely essential. You'll be carrying everything on your back for 1500 miles, so you need to be selective about what makes the cut. Through trial and error, most Te Araroa hikers have honed their packing lists down to these essentials.
A quality backpack in the 50-60 liter range is a must, as this multiday trek requires carrying sufficient gear and food. Yet going too big can tempt you to overpack. Look for a pack with good waist and chest straps to evenly distribute the load. Waterproofness is also key in a country as wet as New Zealand.
Hiking boots are critical, as you'll encounter every type of terrain on the Te Araroa from sand to scree to mud. Break them in well ahead of time to avoid painful blisters on the trail. Trail runners are a lighter option but provide less ankle support and durability. Trekking poles help with balance, joint impact, and stream crossings.
Pack coverings for all weather extremes. New Zealand's climate varies hugely across two islands. You'll want lightweight, breathable layers for steamy North Island as well as insulation like fleece and down for the cold and wind of the South Island. A waterproof jacket and pants are essential too.
A sleeping bag rated to at least 30 degrees Fahrenheit provides versatility, while a sleeping pad insulates you from the cold ground. Unless you plan to stay exclusively in huts, a tent is also critical equipment. Seek durable, lightweight options that can withstand high winds.
For cooking, a backpacking stove, fuel canister, pot, spork, and insulated mug help prepare quick trail meals. Prepackaged dehydrated meals keep things simple. Resupplying is possible in small towns along the route.
Staying hydrated is crucial when hiking long distances. Camelbacks or water bottles allow you to sip frequently. Water filters like the Sawyer Squeeze purify water from lakes, streams and taps.
First aid supplies, headlamp, camping knife, sunglasses, sunscreen, hat, bug spray, toilet paper, trowel, backpack repair kit, compass, maps, chargers, and power bank round out the necessities.
Hiking Heaven: Exploring New Zealand's Epic Te Araroa Trail - Experience the Diverse Landscapes of New Zealand
One of the things that makes the Te Araroa Trail so special is the sheer diversity of landscapes hikers get to experience along the way. As you make your way from one end of New Zealand to the other, the changing scenery never fails to impress. From subtropical rainforests to volcanic deserts, braided river valleys to snow-capped mountains, the contrasting environments seem almost otherworldly in their beauty.
In the North Island, hikers are immersed in native bush and forests overflowing with nikau palms, puriri trees draped in hanging vines, and massive kauri trees that have stood for over 1000 years. Walking among these primordial giants feels like stepping back in time. The trail then leads into the volcanic heart of the North Island, with volcanoes like Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe towering above. Steam vents hiss menacingly from their flanks, hinting at the geothermal forces churning below the surface. Hikers get a small taste of Mordor traversing this rugged volcanic plateau.
Crossing over to the South Island via ferry, the landscape morphs again into rolling farmland and golden hillsides dotted with sheep. But soon the trail ascends into the heart of the Southern Alps, with its rugged mountain peaks and U-shaped glacial valleys. Trekking below Aoraki/Mt. Cook and traversing passes like Mackinnon Pass make hikers feel truly small against the might of the mountains. Glaciers like Fox and Franz Josef stun with their icy blueness.
Descending to the west coast, the landscape changes yet again, revealing wild stretches of windswept beaches, towering sea cliffs, and moody coastal rainforest. Sunsets over the Tasman Sea are spectacular here. Heading south, hikers enter the mystical Fiordland National Park, where steep waterfalls cascade down forested cliffs to fill mirror-still fiords. This remote and magical corner feels like the edge of the world.
Hiking Heaven: Exploring New Zealand's Epic Te Araroa Trail - Crossing Rivers and Scaling Mountains
One of the biggest challenges of the Te Araroa Trail is navigating New Zealand's rugged terrain. Hikers must be prepared to safely cross swollen rivers and scale steep mountain passes along the route. Proper preparation and caution are key, as several hikers have lost their lives over the years in river crossings gone wrong or falls on difficult sections.
River crossings come frequently on the trail, especially after heavy rainfall. Many crossings have wire cables strung across to hold onto or swing bridges constructed, but some require wading through fast-moving, knee- to waist-deep water. Trekking poles should be used for balance and items secured in dry bags. Unclip your pack waist belt and sternum strap in case you fall - you don’t want to be anchored to a heavy pack in swift current. Only cross when rivers are calm and visibility is good. Turn back in heavy rain or if water seems too high, as river levels can rise rapidly.
Scaling mountain passes is also challenging, but rewarding. Hauling a heavy pack up steep inclines pushes limits. Key passes like the 1,700m Clearwater Saddle and 1,800m Richmond Range require grit and stamina. Start early when tackling big climbs, taking rests and fueling frequently. Time each day based on your fitness level. Stop if you feel unwell or the weather deteriorates. Follow cairns carefully if low visibility.
The sense of accomplishment reaching a high pass is huge, with views expanding all around. Descending is tough on knees, so use trekking poles and take care with footing. Scree slopes require slow, steady progress. Having proper gear for alpine environments is also essential. Research each upcoming section thoroughly so you know what to expect.
Hiking Heaven: Exploring New Zealand's Epic Te Araroa Trail - Best Times of Year for Optimal Weather
Picking the optimal time of year for tackling the 3000 km Te Araroa Trail is crucial, as New Zealand's weather varies greatly across seasons and regions. Considering average temperatures, rainfall, snowpack and daylight hours will ensure the highest chance of favorable conditions. Most thru-hikers aim for New Zealand's summer months between November and April when weather is most stable. However, even summertime brings risks from heat, storms and swollen rivers. Smart planning and flexibility help avoid the worst.
Starting in November allows hikers to avoid the heaviest winter rains and snows, which obstruct many mountain passes until late spring. November highs average a comfortable 20°C in the North Island and 15°C in the cooler South. By January, temperatures reach 25°C in the north and 20°C in the south – quite hot for intense hiking. Late February through April sees slightly cooler temperatures that many hikers find ideal. Days are also long, with sunrise around 7am and sunset around 8pm in summer.
However, peak summer also brings prime rainy season. The west coast of the South Island sees up to 6 meters of annual rainfall, much of that concentrated in fall and winter. But heavy storms can drench the trail any time, causing rivers to swell. Building flexibility for temporary closures into your schedule is key.
The North Island has a more subtropical climate, with potential for thunderstorms in summer. But extensive forest provides shade and cooler temperatures for hikers. The volcanic center can get quite hot and dry midsummer. Winter days are shorter, with up to 10 hours less daylight in June and July. But the cooler, drier winter weather allows mountain passes to be safely crossed. Snow remains a hazard above 1500m even in summer, and ice axes may be required. Surging rivers subside by winter as well.
By starting in November, hikers can make optimal progress before peaks heat up and storms pick up in January. Hitting the North Island first also allows adjusting to lighter pack weights. Finishing the trickier South Island sections before deepest winter makes sense too.
Hiking Heaven: Exploring New Zealand's Epic Te Araroa Trail - Sample Itineraries for Planning Your Hike
With its incredible length and challenging terrain, tackling the entire Te Araroa Trail is an enormous feat that requires extensive planning and preparation. While some hikers do complete the journey in one epic go, many choose to break it into sections over several trips. Following sample itineraries from those who have gone before you can help immensely in mapping out your own adventure on Te Araroa.
One popular approach is to begin with a taster, by hiking one of the Great Walks that overlap with the trail. These well-maintained tracks like the Tongariro Northern Circuit or Lake Waikaremoana Track give you a good introduction to New Zealand hiking. Many hikers then return to complete the North Island end-to-end, which takes about 1-2 months. Highlights include the diverse forests, volcanoes, and beaches of this island.
Others choose to sample the more challenging but wildly scenic South Island first. Hiking from Queenstown to Te Anau via the Kepler Track makes a great week-long introduction. Or you can embark on the entire South Island portion over 2-3 months, finishing on the wild west coast. Just be ready for changeable mountain weather.
Of course, the most epic way is an end-to-end thru hike of the entire length. This takes about 4-6 months for most hikers. Be sure to start in October or November to have optimal timing for crossing mountain passes before winter snows. It’s smart to build in some rest days in case weather causes delays.
Many hikers break this up into a North Island traverse one year, followed by the South Island later on. That allows you to focus on each island’s unique highlights separately. It also lets you train up for the much tougher terrain of the South.
Others prefer to tackle sections going north to south, to align with optimal seasonal timing. For example, starting in Auckland in November, flying to Queenstown to hike southward over summer, then returning north to finish the central portion in good weather.
No matter how you split it, be sure to thoroughly research each section. The trail’s remoteness means you must be self-reliant for long stretches. Understanding road access, supply stops, potential hazards and bailout points is critical, especially on the South Island.
Hiking Heaven: Exploring New Zealand's Epic Te Araroa Trail - Staying in Huts vs Camping Along the Trail
One of the biggest decisions Te Araroa hikers face is whether to spend nights in the network of backcountry huts spaced along the trail, or instead opt to camp. Both options have their pros and cons, and most thru-hikers end up doing a mix of both. Evaluating your budget, preferences for comfort, independence vs community, and pace can help determine the best lodging strategy.
Backcountry huts provide welcome shelter from the elements and company from other hikers. Around 150 huts are located directly on the trail, most operated by the Department of Conservation (DOC). While basic, they contain bunk beds, heating, kitchen facilities, and flush toilets – luxuries after a long day's walk. Huts cost only $15-25 NZD per night, making them an affordable lodging option. They also allow connecting with fellow adventurers and pooling food and gear.
However, huts’ main downside is lack of guaranteed space. Most operate on a first come, first served basis. Risk arriving late and you may end up squeezed in a corner, sleeping on a picnic table, or forced to put up your tent. Hut wardens can ask you to prove you attempted the day’s full distance too. And some hikers report a party atmosphere at times, making for noisy nights.
Camping provides more flexibility and solitude. You can stop when you please rather than being bound to specific hut locations and 8pm curfews. Choosing your ideal campsite lets you wake up to stunning alpine vistas or enjoy sunset coastal views. You’ll sleep better in a tent without noisy hutmates. Backcountry camping is even free on public land in New Zealand.
Yet the camping lifestyle does require more gear to carry. Tents, sleeping pads, stoves and enough food to be self-sufficient all add weight and need carrying up mountain passes. You also lose the safety net of having others around in an emergency. Some find camping can get lonely after weeks alone. And pitching tents is banned in some areas, forcing stays in huts regardless.
Hiking Heaven: Exploring New Zealand's Epic Te Araroa Trail - The Rich History Behind the Te Araroa Trail
The Te Araroa Trail has a fascinating history that sheds light on its immense popularity today as one of the world’s greatest thru-hikes. This trail didn’t simply appear out of nowhere – it was decades in the making and required tireless effort from outdoor advocates. Understanding this rich backstory gives hikers a deeper appreciation for the natural and cultural heritage encountered along the way.
The Te Araroa concept originated in the 1970s with a handful of devoted Kiwis who envisioned linking up existing tracks to create one continuous walking route spanning New Zealand’s length. Prominent figures like Geoff Chapple, Rob Wakelin and the Federated Mountain Clubs championed the idea. Enthusiasm grew through the ‘80s and ‘90s via public presentations and a book detailing the proposed route.
After years of persistent lobbying, the government finally funded construction of the trail in the early 2000s, designating it a National Millennium Project. DoC oversees the majority of trail infrastructure today. But hundreds of volunteers keep it maintained, coordinated by the nonprofit Te Araroa Trust. Their passion has made the trail a globally renowned success.
Hikers get glimpses into this pioneering history while walking the trail. Certain sections follow original Maori trade routes or colonial bridle paths from the 1800s. Remnants of old logging tramways and gold mining sites also dot the route, especially on the South Island. Interpretive signs detail local legends, battles, and tribal boundaries.
You’ll also discover living stories of Te Araroa builders along the way. Kiwis love recounting tales of early trailblazers who stubbornly hacked tracks into dense bush singlehandedly. Locals proudly share maintenance duties – a sense of ownership pervades. Long hours of sweat and toil have made the route achievable for hikers today.
Talking with fellow adventurers links you into this unfolding legacy as well. Thru-hikers remember the names of those who inspired them and built their confidence that this audacious goal was possible. Veterans eagerly return again and again to relive their fondest memories on Te Araroa and mentor newcomers.