Long Distance Trails

Exploring the Beauty of New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail

POSTED ON November 8, 2022 BY Ralph S.


Introduction

Embark on an unforgettable adventure through the heart of New Zealand, where the rugged landscapes of the North Island seamlessly blend into the breathtaking vistas of the South Island.

Welcome to the Te Araroa Trail, a long-distance hiking marvel that promises an incredible journey for the intrepid explorer. As you lace up your hiking boots and set out from the iconic Cape Reinga, the trail notes become your trusted companions, guiding you through diverse terrains and offering glimpses into the cultural tapestry of Aotearoa.

This isn’t just a hike; it’s a thru-hike across New Zealand, a soul-stirring expedition from the northernmost point to the southern tip, from Cape Reinga to Bluff. Along the way, you’ll forge lifelong memories in the company of friends – both old and newfound – while backpacking through some of the most incredible places this Kiwi wonderland has to offer. Picture yourself traversing the renowned Routeburn Track, where each step unfolds a new chapter in your journey.

Join us as we dive into the essence of this unparalleled hike, sharing stories of resilience, camaraderie, and the sheer joy of exploring the Te Araroa Trail.

History

TA Trail Route

The Te Araroa Trail, a testament to the indomitable spirit of exploration and a celebration of New Zealand’s diverse beauty, was conceived with the vision to connect the entire country through a single, unbroken pathway.

The brainchild of Geoff Chapple, a passionate Kiwi journalist and adventurer, the idea took root in 1994. Chapple envisioned a trail that would wind its way from the tip of the North Island at Cape Reinga to the southernmost point at Bluff, creating an uninterrupted ribbon of adventure that traverses both islands.

In 1995, Chapple founded the Te Araroa Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to the development and maintenance of the trail. With the collective dream of providing walkers with a unique experience of the country, the trust began the intricate process of negotiating access rights with landowners, navigating the diverse landscapes, and establishing a route that would encapsulate the essence of New Zealand.

The Te Araroa Trail officially opened in 2011, marking the realization of a dream that required years of collaborative effort, meticulous planning, and a bit more time than initially anticipated. The trail, spanning approximately 3,000 kilometers, invites through-walkers to embark on a transformative journey across the entire country, from vast beaches to dense forests and alpine terrains.

As the trail gained popularity, various communities and organizations joined hands with the TA Trust to ensure its ongoing development.

Notable events and changes have shaped its existence, making it not just a walk but a trip through the evolving tapestry of the country. The trek offers some time for reflection, introspection, and connecting with the essence of New Zealand in a way that’s both fun and profound.

From the moment you begin at the sun-soaked beaches of Cape Reinga, the TA Trail promises an odyssey that encapsulates the heart and soul of this remarkable country.

Key Facts

TA Trail Key Facts

Location: New Zealand

Total Length: Approximately 1,864 miles (3,000 kilometers)

Time it Takes to Hike: On average, a thru-tramp takes between 50 and 80 days per island (about 4 to 6 months to complete the entire trail).

Trailhead(s): Northern Terminus: Cape Reinga (North Island), Southern Terminus: Bluff (South Island)

Difficulty Level: The trail varies in difficulty, ranging from easy coastal walks to challenging alpine sections.

Number of Visitors: The TA Trust counted about 1200 through-walkers between 2018 and 2019

Establishment Year: Officially opened in 2011.

Total Elevation Gain: approximately 273,285 feet (83,297 meters).

Best Time or Season to Hike: New Zealand summer, from late October to early April.

Lowest Point: Sea level at the trailhead in Cape Reinga.

Highest Point: Stag Saddle in the Southern Alps, at about 6316 feet (1925 meters) above sea level.

Cost: On average, it costs about NZD$13,500 for a 5-month through-walk, which covers all accommodation, food, and transfers. But check out our guide to thru-hiking costs to learn more about budgeting.

Trail Overview: Difficulty Levels and Route Options

Te Araroa Trail

Embarking on the TA Trail promises a journey of unparalleled magnitude, a tapestry woven with the threads of New Zealand’s diverse landscapes and cultural richness.

Spanning the entire length of the country, from the northernmost point at Cape Reinga to the southern terminus in Bluff, this trail is a playground for long-distance hiking enthusiasts seeking an extraordinary adventure.

Difficulty Levels

The difficulty of the trail varies across its entirety. The North Island offers diverse terrain, including river crossings and the renowned Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a challenging yet spectacular section amidst volcanic landscapes. In the South Island, the trail weaves through alpine regions, with the climb to Stag Saddle (location) presenting a formidable challenge. Mt. Sunday, made famous by its feature in “The Lord of the Rings” films, offers a thrilling climb and a chance to explore the expansive vistas.

Route Options

  • Cape Reinga to Wellington (direction): This route encompasses the North Island, featuring lush forests, captivating shores, and the cultural richness of New Zealand towns. This section is about 667 miles (1,074 km) long.
  • Wellington to St. Arnaud (direction): Transitioning to the South Island, walkers can explore the capital city before tackling the iconic Queen Charlotte Track and reaching the mountainous landscapes around St. Arnaud. This section is about 141 miles (227 km) long.
  • St. Arnaud to Bluff (direction): The final leg is about 511 miles (823 km), taking hikers through the majestic Southern Alps, showcasing the splendor of Lake Tekapo (location), the grandeur of Milford Sound, and the captivating shores of Lake Wakatipu (location).

Highlights Along the Way

  • Cape Reinga: The spiritual and geographical beginning of the trail, where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean converge.
  • Tongariro Alpine Crossing: A section treasured by hikers for its challenging yet awe-inspiring volcanic landscapes
  • Mt. Sunday: A treat for “The Lord of the Rings” fans, offering panoramic views of the Southern Alps.
  • Milford Sound: a spectacular fjord carved by glaciers, providing a breathtaking reward for those who conquer the challenging terrain.
  • Lake Tekapo and Lake Wakatipu: Serene lakes nestled amidst mountainous landscapes, offering moments of tranquility.
  • Bluff: The triumphant end point, marking the completion of the entire trail.

Note that navigating the Te Araroa Trail requires careful attention to trail notes, especially during creek crossings and highland sections.

Seasonal Considerations: Best Times to Hike the TA Trail and Weather Conditions

Te Araroa Trail Creek

Embarking on the epic journey of traversing the whole length of New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail offers not only a breathtaking exploration of incredible sections but also an encounter with the diverse and sometimes unpredictable weather of the long white-cloud country.

Here’s what to expect in each season.

Spring (September to November)

As the trail awakens from winter slumber, spring on the TA Trail presents a mix of temperatures. Expect daytime highs ranging from 10°C to 20°C (50°F to 68°F) with chilly nights.

Spring heralds blooming landscapes, making it a picturesque time to walk. However, be prepared for variable weather, occasional rain, and lingering snow in the mountain regions.

Summer (December to February)

The quintessential season for embarking on a thru-hike or section hiking adventure, summer unveils New Zealand’s Te Araroa at its finest.

Daytime temperatures soar between 20°C and 30°C (68°F to 86°F), providing ideal conditions for road walking, exploring incredible places like Lake Tekapo and Lake Wakatipu, and tackling iconic tracks such as the Routeburn Track. However, summer nights can still bring a touch of coolness, especially at higher altitudes.

Fall (March to May)

As autumn hues paint the landscapes, Te Araroa in the fall offers a mix of weather conditions. Daytime temperatures range from 10°C to 20°C (50°F to 68°F), and the nights start to cool down.

Fall is an excellent time to explore the forested sections of the trail, witness the changing colors of the land, and walk through towns with a backdrop of picturesque mountains.

Winter (June to August)

Winter on the trail brings cooler temperatures, ranging from 0°C to 10°C (32°F to 50°F), especially in mountain regions. While some sections may be challenging during this season, experienced trampers might find the allure of a winter thru-hike irresistible. However, caution is paramount due to snow-covered terrain, potential river hazards, and limited daylight hours.

Whether you’re walking the length of the trail or opting for shorter sections, understanding the seasonal variations is crucial for a safe and enjoyable trip.

Always check route information and long-term weather forecasts, especially in challenging areas like Tongariro Alpine Crossing, and be prepared for the ever-changing weather on this beautiful land.

Best Time to Visit New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail

TA Trail Landscape

The best time to visit New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail ultimately depends on personal preference and the desired experience.

Summer provides ideal conditions for outdoor activities, but it can also be crowded and more challenging to secure accommodations. During this time, the weather is generally mild and pleasant, making it perfect for hiking and exploring the diverse landscapes along the trail. The days are longer, providing ample daylight hours for completing longer sections of the trail or tackling more challenging terrain. Also, many huts and campsites along the trail are open during this time, providing convenient accommodation options for hikers.

Spring and fall offer milder temperatures and vibrant landscapes, making them popular among hikers.

Winter offers a unique perspective of the trail, with its snow-covered mountains and fewer crowds, but it requires advanced skills and caution and is not suited for a full thru-hike.

Essential Gear and Equipment for a Successful TA Hike

Te Araroa Trail essential gear

Gear selection plays a pivotal role in ensuring a successful and enjoyable exploration of the long pathway that is the Te Araroa hike. Whether you’re walking the whole trail or joining as section hikers, being adequately equipped is vital for tackling the diverse terrain, rivers, and majestic mountains that define this incredible journey.

Here’s what to include:

  • Footwear: Sturdy hiking boots with excellent ankle support are essential for navigating uneven terrain, riverbeds, and steep ascents. Ensure they are well-worn and comfortable to prevent blisters during the long walk. We have a guide that can help you choose the ideal hiking boots.
  • Backpack: Opt for a durable and well-fitted backpack to carry essentials. Consider its capacity, ensuring it’s spacious enough for longer stretches between towns and creeks.
  • Clothing: Pack versatile, moisture-wicking clothing suitable for variable weather conditions. Layers are key – be prepared for both chilly mountain ascents and warmer coastal walks. A waterproof jacket is essential, especially when walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. You can get more information in our guide to choosing the best hiking clothes for your next adventure.
  • Sleep System: A lightweight yet insulated sleeping bag suitable for colder nights in the mountains is crucial. Additionally, a reliable sleeping pad offers insulation from the ground.
  • Navigation Tools: Carry detailed trail maps (available here), a compass, and a reliable GPS device to navigate through various landscapes, especially in areas like Tongariro Alpine Crossing. You should also check out our guide to finding your way in the wilderness to know what to expect while hiking in remote areas.
  • TA mobile app: Download the Te Araroa Trail App for route information, hut locations, an emergency locator, and other useful features.
  • Water and Filtration: A durable water bottle or hydration system is essential. Given the diverse environments, a water filtration system ensures a safe and reliable water source along the trail.
  • Cooking Gear: For those venturing into more remote areas, a compact stove and lightweight cookware are invaluable. Ensure you have enough fuel for the entire trek.
  • Emergency Supplies: A comprehensive first aid kit, an emergency shelter, and a multi-tool should be part of your gear. Safety is paramount, especially when walking in more isolated sections. You can check out our guide to basic wilderness first aid and blister prevention and treatment when hiking.
  • Technology: While the trail invites you to disconnect, a reliable communication device, such as a mobile phone or satellite messenger, is crucial for emergencies.
  • Trekking Poles: Particularly helpful during river crossings and steep descents, trekking poles provide stability and reduce strain on joints.
  • Personal Items: Don’t forget personal items such as sunscreen, insect repellent, and a hat. Sunglasses with UV protection are essential, especially in the sun-soaked North Island.

Navigating the TA Trail: Maps, Permits, and Regulations

Navigating the TA Trail

Embarking on the TA Trail, New Zealand’s long pathway, requires meticulous planning to ensure a seamless and enjoyable journey through diverse landscapes and picturesque New Zealand towns.

Permits

Luckily, the trail is open to all, and while no permits or fees are required, registering your walk is highly encouraged for safety reasons and to help record the community of thru-hikers and section hikers.

Registration

While not mandatory, registering for your TA journey is a responsible step. This registration serves not only as a safety measure but also contributes to the collective understanding of trail usage.

Note that by registering, you become part of the community of walkers who have embarked on this incredible journey, both for a thru-hike and as section hikers.

Click here to register. But remember that registrations cost NZD$60 and include a New Zealand native tree planted by Trees that Count in your name.

Maps and Trail Notes

Navigating the trail is made easier with comprehensive trail notes and maps. These resources are available for both southbound and northbound walkers. Trail notes provide essential information about the route, points of interest, water sources, and potential challenges. Additionally, detailed trail maps segmented by region are accessible for digital or print use, offering walkers a visual guide to the upcoming terrain.

  • Trail Notes: Southbound: Guidance for those starting their journey from Cape Reinga and heading south.
  • Trail Notes: Northbound: Guidance for those commencing from Bluff and heading north

Te Araroa Trail provides free trail maps that can be utilized digitally or in print. These maps offer a detailed overview of the entire route, making it easier for walkers to plan their daily journeys, anticipate towns and water sources, and navigate the trail’s twists and turns.

Trail Markings

There are a variety of markings along the trail. These include orange triangles in the remote bush areas and Te Araroa logos and signs in more built-up areas. Click here to learn more about the markers and markings along the way.

As you plan your Te Araroa adventure, take advantage of the wealth of resources provided, from trail notes to detailed maps.

Whether you’re walking through forests, kayaking in serene lakes, or tackling road walking towards Milford Sound, thorough preparation ensures a safer and more fulfilling experience on this extraordinary trail.

Accommodation, Camping, and Overnight Stays near New Zealand’s TA Trail

Te Araroa Trail Camping

Exploring New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail involves not just a journey through stunning landscapes but also careful consideration of accommodation options, camping spots, and places for overnight stays.

The trail offers a variety of choices to suit different preferences and needs for thru-hikers, section hikers, and those looking to immerse themselves in the trail experience.

  • Huts and Campsites: Throughout the trail, walkers will find a network of huts managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC). These huts provide basic amenities and are strategically located along the trail. Some require reservations, especially during peak seasons, while others operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Campsites are also available for those who prefer pitching their tents, and many offer stunning views of the surrounding scenery. Check out backcountry hut passes and hut tickets
  • Holiday Parks and Campgrounds: New Zealand boasts numerous holiday parks and campgrounds, particularly in towns and popular stopover points along the trail. These facilities cater to most trampers, campers, and those seeking cabin or lodge accommodations. They often provide essential amenities such as showers, kitchens, and laundry services. You can find more information here about the particular place to book.
  • Backpacker Hostels: Many towns along the Te Araroa Trail feature backpacker hostels, providing budget-friendly accommodation options. These hostels offer dormitory-style or private rooms, communal kitchens, and social spaces, making them ideal for meeting fellow walkers and sharing experiences. Always check the hostel’s accommodations before starting your journey.
  • Motels and Lodges: In larger towns or trailheads, walkers can find motels and lodges offering more private and comfortable accommodations. These options may be preferable for those seeking a bit more luxury or a break from shared facilities.
  • Wild Camping: While wild camping is generally discouraged, there are specific sections along the trail where walkers can camp in designated spots. It’s essential to follow Leave No Trace principles, obtain any necessary permissions, and be mindful of the environment. Check with the official trail’s accommodation page to know where to set up wilderness camps.
  • Homestays and Local Accommodations: In some smaller towns or communities along the trail, walkers may have the opportunity to stay with local hosts. These homestays provide a unique cultural experience and a chance to connect with the communities surrounding the trail.
  • Te Araroa Trail Angels: Volunteers and Support: The Te Araroa Trail is a community effort that relies on the generosity and support of volunteers, known as “Trail Angels.” These individuals provide assistance in various ways, from offering rides to walkers to hosting them for a night at their homes. This volunteer network serves as an invaluable resource for those embarking on this long journey.

To connect with Trail Angels, check out the Trail Angels page, where walkers can post requests for assistance and connect with individuals along the trail.

Planning Ahead

Given the popularity of the Te Araroa Trail, especially during peak seasons, it’s advisable to plan and book accommodations in advance, particularly for huts and holiday parks. Check trail notes, maps, and online resources for information on available options at each stage of the journey.

Resupplying and Refueling: Surviving on the TA Trail

Navigating the TA Trail

As you embark on the incredible journey of traversing the whole trail of Te Araroa in NZ, resupplying becomes a strategic art, weaving through the fabric of towns, friends, and the spectacular landscapes that define this epic adventure.

Here’s a detailed guide to help thru-hikers navigate the popular sections and make the most of the resupply opportunities along the way.

Northland Region: Cape Reinga to Auckland (region)

  • Kaitaia: Your first major resupply opportunity awaits in Kaitaia, offering grocery stores and essential services.
  • Paihia: This charming town along the trail provides a chance to replenish supplies and explore the stunning Bay of Islands.

Auckland to Tongariro National Park (region)

  • Auckland: The vibrant city of Auckland is a resupply hub, offering a wide range of amenities and gear shops for thru-hikers to stock up on.
  • Hamilton and Taupo: These towns along the trail provide additional resupply points, allowing hikers to refuel before venturing into Tongariro National Park, New Zealand’s oldest national park.
  1. Tongariro National Park to Wellington (region)
  • National Park Village: Resupply opportunities can be found in this village nestled at the foot of the mountains. It’s also a gateway to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
  • Wellington: The capital city offers a diverse array of resupply options, and its vibrant atmosphere provides a refreshing break for thru-hikers.
  1. Across the Cook Strait to South Island (region)
  • Bluff or Invercargill: As you reach the southern terminus, Bluff or Invercargill provides the last resupply point before crossing to the South Island.
  1. South Island: From Queen Charlotte Track to Fiordland (region)
  • Queen Charlotte Track: As you traverse the stunning Queen Charlotte Track, resupply in Picton (location) or Havelock (location).
  • Nelson (location): a hub for resupply options and a chance to experience the vibrant arts scene of the region.
  • St. Arnaud (location): Nestled by Lake Rotoiti (location), St. Arnaud offers essential services before heading into Nelson Lakes National Park.
  • Hanmer Springs (location): Known for its hot springs, this town provides a unique resupply opportunity.
  • Arthur’s Pass (location): a small town with resupply options, surrounded by the majestic Southern Alps.
  • Lake Tekapo (location): Stock up on supplies with the breathtaking backdrop of the turquoise lake.
  • Wanaka (location) and Queenstown (location): These adventure hubs offer resupply opportunities amid the spectacular scenery of the Southern Alps.
  • Te Anau (location): Before venturing into Fiordland, resupply in Te Anau, the gateway to Milford Sound.

Tips for Thru-Hikers:

  • Trail Angels and Community Support: Embrace the generosity of trail angels and local communities along the way, providing unexpected resupply opportunities.
  • Trail Magic: Keep an eye out for trail magic – surprises left by fellow hikers or supporters, providing much-needed supplies and a touch of fun.
  • Diversify Your Diet: While resupplying, consider diversifying your food choices to keep your energy levels high and add a bit of excitement to your trail diet.
  • Celebrate Milestones: Use resupply points as opportunities to celebrate your journey, reflect on the miles walked, and share stories with fellow hikers.

See these trail notes for detailed locations where you can resupply or receive food parcels, which are also known as bounce boxes.

Getting There: Directions and Transportation Options

Getting to the TA Trail

Embarking on the TA Trail from the north island to the south island is not only an adventure on foot but also requires thoughtful planning on how to reach these iconic trailheads.

Here’s a guide to help you navigate your way to the starting point at Cape Reinga and the triumphant finish at Bluff.

Getting to Cape Reinga (Northern Terminus)

Nearest Airports: Auckland (location), Kerikeri (location), Kaitaia (location)

  1. Auckland to Kerikeri or Kaitaia:
    • Book a flight from Auckland to either Kerikeri or Kaitaia, the two nearest airports to the northern trailhead.
    • From Kerikeri or Kaitaia, several tourist bus and transport services operate, offering a convenient transfer to Cape Reinga.
  2. Bus options from Auckland:
    • Alternatively, take a bus directly from Auckland to Kaitaia. From Kaitaia, avail yourself of tourist buses or transport services to reach Cape Reinga.
    • Another option is taking a bus from Auckland to Paihia. From Paihia, connect with tourist buses or transport services to continue your journey to Cape Reinga.

Click here to see all the available transport providers.

Getting to Bluff (Southern Terminus)

Nearest Airports: Auckland (location), Christchurch (location), Invercargill (location)

  1. Auckland or Christchurch to Invercargill:
    • For those starting their journey from the southern terminus, catch a flight from Auckland or Christchurch to Invercargill, the nearest airport to Bluff.
    • Once in Invercargill, options include taking a bus or hitchhiking to reach Bluff.
  2. Christchurch to Invercargill:
    • Alternatively, take a bus directly from Christchurch to Invercargill. From Invercargill, continue your journey to Bluff by bus or hitchhiking.

Click here to check out all the available transport providers.

Tips for travelers:

  • Trail Notes and Planning: Refer to the trail notes for both the Northland and Southland regions for additional transportation options and specific details.
  • Booking in Advance: It’s advisable to book flights and transport services in advance, especially during peak hiking seasons.
  • Flexibility: Be prepared for some flexibility in your travel plans, especially if relying on local transport services or hitchhiking.

Conclusion

To undertake and complete the Te Araroa Trail is an extraordinary feat that will test your physical and mental limits and provide you with a unique and unforgettable experience. New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail offers a range of landscapes, challenges, and rewards that will challenge and motivate you, from beaches and forests to mountains and volcanoes.

It’s guaranteed that your journey through this trail will challenge you in ways you never thought possible. Remember to plan, pack carefully, and enjoy the journey.

Don’t stop here; check out more fun locations on our long-distance trails page.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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