New Zealand’s landscape is one of the most varied in the world, offering a huge range of multi-day hikes throughout the country.
The only way to see it all is to take on Te Araroa Trail!
Opened in 2011 and stretching 3,000 kilometres from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island, hikers circumnavigate active volcanoes, traverse rugged pinnacles and wind through pristine rainforests.
As they go south they’re then treated to stunning coastal scenery, diverse landscapes and challenging alpine climbs.
The name Te Araroa means “the long pathway” in Maori – fitting given its length – and if you average 25 kilometres a day, the trail will take 120 days to complete.
The North Island route is just over 1,600 kilometres long and the South Island just under 1,400 kilometres.
Along with wilderness, the trail takes walkers through New Zealand towns and settlements, past Maori marae and into some of its biggest and best cities. Long-walkers are often met with invitations into homes en route to share a meal and a story.
Many of the subsections of Te Araroa are well-known, designated trails in their own right – so you don’t need to commit to the full route.
- The trail is a natural showcase of New Zealand’s diversity with its volcanic landscapes, coastal views and native forest and birdlife
- One of the best long-distance trails in the world but with a fraction of the crowds of the USA
- Other-worldly scenery as you cross beautiful national parks, high country stations and mountain passes
There are a number of options to get to the northernmost point of Te Araroa – Cape Reinga. Auckland is the nearest international airport and from here you can either take a domestic flight from Auckland to Kerikeri or Kaitaia, then tourist bus to Cape Reinga.
To save money, take the bus from Auckland to Kaitaia or Paihia, then tourist bus (or transport service) to Cape Reinga.
If you’re on a strict budget then there’s an easy solution. When starting the trail, most hikers hitch-hike from Keri Keri, the closest town to Cape Reinga. This can be a five or six-hour ride, so be prepared to find multiple hitches.
If you choose to hike South to North then options to get to the southernmost point of Te Araroa – Bluff – would be to fly from Auckland to Invercargill, then bus (or hitch-hike) the final stretch.
For those that choose to take on the full trail, it is an eye-watering 3,000 kilometres. Depending on how fast you want to hike, it can be completed in as short as four months or as long as six months.
If you want to veer off track to other towns or sights then plan for six months at least.
If you’re short on time, sub-sections of the trail are anywhere from a day to a week and you will often be less dictated by the seasons.
Grade and difficulty of the walk
This is no walk in the park and there are plenty of near-vertical climbs and loose scree descents to keep your lungs pumping and brain switched on. The environment changes from forests and ridgelines to urban walkways, beaches and rivers, with so much diversity it feels as though you are on several different trails.
Kiwi tramping tracks come in all forms, grades and qualities so come prepared.
Although it’s a work in progress, about 40% of the Te Araroa is on roads – sometimes pavement, sometimes gravel with narrow shoulders. At the other end of the spectrum, there are swing and wire bridges and plenty of tree roots to trip you up.
A moderate to high level of fitness is required to make a realistic attempt at a successful through-tramp. The fitter you are, the more likely you are to finish and the more you’ll enjoy it.
As well as long-distance trekking experience, some of Te Araroa’s tracks require back country tramping experience. Skills such as trip planning, navigation and river crossing will go a very long way.
The steepness of the valley walls in sections of the South Island means that these rivers flow with amazing speed and intensity after heavy rain. You will need some experience in crossing rivers to do this trail, and some expertise at judging when a river is unsafe to cross.
Drowning while attempting to cross a swollen river in New Zealand is so common that it’s nicknamed ‘the New Zealand death’.
There is no permit needed, nor fees incurred, to walk Te Araroa. They do however ask you to register online so they can keep track of who and how many are walking the route.
Guided or Self-Guided
Like many multi-day and long-distance hikes, Te Araroa is a self-guided trip.
Because it is still so new and the Te Araroa Trust (who manages the trail) continues to be in negotiations with private landowners for reroutes, they have recommended that there is no value investing in a guidebook until the route is set in stone.
There are plenty of trail notes and maps online and the route is loosely marked by orange triangles and poles. However, many of the trail notes leave it up to you, especially dependent on high or low tide, which is where your back country trekking skills will come into their own.
If you are doing a smaller section of the trail, it is possible to go with a guide or join a guided group – organised ahead of time.
New Zealand has opposite seasons from Europe and the States, which is why this is a good ‘winter’ hike.
Although the option exists to go in either direction, Te Araroa is best tackled north to south, beginning from the top of the North Island at Cape Reinga in late spring.
This allows you to traverse the South Island in mid- to late summer, when the mountain passes are clear of snow and river levels are low.
Starting in the beginning of November and arriving down in Bluff around the end of April is your best bet for good walking.
January would be possible if you’re a swift traveller and have packed light.
Every itinerary looks different and because the route is still in its infancy, it is better to be flexible and plan as you go.
As long as you have identified how long you plan to walk for and the distance you can realistically cover – then you can use Te Araroa Trust’s detailed maps and notes.
Their website offers a breakdown of stops with different options depending on how far you will walk. Many people choose to hitch hike sections that are largely road based or if the weather is bad.
Below is a rough (relatively quick) guide as to how your itinerary might look:
Kerikeri / Cape Reinga / Moturua Island / Russell Forest
Poor Knights Islands / Mangawhai Heads / Matakana Wine Country
Auckland / Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Whanganui River / Wellington
Rest days. Depart on Day 73 from Wellington to Picton, South Island
Blenheim / Marlborough Wine Country / Queen Charlotte Track
Nelson Lakes National Park
Queenstown / Southern Alps
Fiordland National Park
You may also choose to take additional rest days in larger cities to recover and restock on supplies.
Additionally, in some places you may want to base yourself somewhere and hire a car or hitch to nearby trails, such as Wellington before catching the ferry down to South Island or Nelson to access Abel Tasman National Park.
Given that the average person can’t take four months out to go walking, there are plenty of Te Araroa tracks that you can walk as standalone sections.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing and Queen Charlotte Track are the well-known, popular routes and the Trust has recently added the three-day Motatapu Alpine Track, which even regular hikers are unlikely to have yet tackled.
New Zealand is not a cheap country and even combining B&Bs or hostels with camping you can expect your outgoings to be high.
Making reservations in advance can be difficult whilst constantly moving and planning on the fly but will ensure you have a bed and shower. Hostels in the South Island in particular will book up ahead of time.
Sometimes there will be just a day or two between towns, and other times you’ll spend a week in wilderness. In the more populous north there’s usually a campground not far away whereas the south offers renowned backcountry huts.
The Te Araroa trail notes do not always offer good suggestions for camping but you can pretty much freedom camp anywhere in New Zealand. On the North Island, the roads and private land can make camping difficult and you may need to walk longer or shorter days as a result.
In the South Island, Department of Conservation huts are widely available, paid for in the form of hut tickets or a hut pass. For anyone completing the full trail, a six-month hut pass is well worth it as they can be anything from a shack to a palace but all offer toilets and a water source.
The increasing popularity of this trail does mean that it’s becoming more common for huts to fill up. Some are as small as one bunk with very little floorspace, so a decent tent and sleeping gear will serve you well if you have to sleep outside in the cold!
New Zealand is famed for its natural beauty. Whether you walk Te Araroa from start to finish or break it up, you’ll be blown away by what you see. If you have time and funds to take a detour from the trail, or tag on a few extra days at the end of your trip, there is something for everyone.
In the North Island you can go wine-tasting on Waiheke, say ‘kia ora’ to culture in Rotorua’s Maori village and nearby geysers, or visit the Hobbiton movie set.
In the South Island you can get your adrenaline rush by jumping aboard the shotover jet or doing a bungee jump in Queenstown, bask in Milford Sound’s scale as you kayak or fly acrosss the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’, or even heli-hike Franz Josef or Fox Glacier.
|Skills Required||Hiking, Walking|
|Difficulty||4/5 - 5/5|
|Starts at||Cape Reinga 0484, New Zealand|
|Finishes at||Bluff 9814, New Zealand|
|Length of route||3000 Km|
|Average time to complete||115 - 150 Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||Yes|
|Highest point||1886 metres|
|Equipment needed||Camping equipment, food supplies, Poles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots, Water Supplies|
|Countries visited||New Zealand|