Our Trail Highlights

Everyone asks what was our favourite part of the walk and it is an impossible question to answer.  We couldn't even decide which Island we preferred - we loved the trail! The list we provide here gives some of our favourite sections.  This is not to say that they are the best or most scenic parts of the trail but on the weather conditions we had, with our personal experiences on those particular days, they are some of the sections that we enjoyed the most.

1)     Kiwi hospitality – The single most impressive aspect of the trail!!

We were overwhelmed by the hospitality we were offered along the trail, people giving us cups of tea, meals and putting us up for the night.  At some of the most desperate and miserable points along the trail we would be invited in out of the pouring rain and given a hot meal and a bed for the night and suddenly things didn't seem so bad after all.  It was great that so many people kept in touch with us along the trail sending texts messages to check on our progress and we received so many messages when we reached the end, it was wonderful.

 North Island

1)     Native Forests of Northland 

We found the native forests across NZ stunningly beautiful.  Our first experience of the NZ bust was Herekino. Off track (in other words lost) in the disorientating Raetea forest is where we first learned that having a GPS on the Te Araroa was useful!   

Walking through the streams of the Puketi forest was gorgeous and it was our first experience of wading through water with our boots on, strangely it felt rather liberating. Being European we tried to keep our feet dry but when it became impossible we learned how much easier it was just submerge your boots into water and keep plodding onwards.  Little did we know then how frequently our boots would be filled with water over the next few months….

2)     Ocean Beach and Bream Head

We had lovely weather and walked the length of the beach without seeing a soul until we got to the very end where Oyster catchers attacked us defending their newly hatched chicks and we met Paul, a NZ Department of Conservation  (DoC) officer, who put us up for the night.  We sat on his balcony with stunning views along the beach and out to sea.  The following morning we walked up Bream Head where we climbed up a rock and had 360 degree views.

3)     Tongariro Crossing

On our approach towards the Tongariro Crossing it had been raining for the preceding days but on the day of our crossing we were blessed with good weather and views. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of New Zealand’s so called Great Walks and it attracts large numbers of tourists for good reason.  It is very different from everything else on the Te Araroa, the lunarscape at first seemed bare but on closer inspection it was so colourful. Turquoise emerald lakes, the red crater, black lava flows and Mount Ngauruhoe the perfect shaped volcano the background. 

4)     Whanganaui River

We arranged to hire a canoe from Mangapurua Landing to Whanganui taking two and a half days to complete the trip.  It was great to take the weight off our feet and sit in a boat for a bit.  With our very limited experience, the river’s dozens of small rapids proved fun and a bit of a challenge.  For others, we heard, the rapids were the cause of a nice bath in its cold waters. Luckily we managed to keep dry, but it was a close call when twice we ran aground.  On the lower stretches the river was completely calm and almost like a mirror, it reflects sheer rock walls and is just beautiful. 

5)     Tararuas

The route through the Tararuas provided the steepest climbing on the North Island that we encountered.  We felt as if we were on top of the world when walking on narrow ridges surrounded by mist and fog with just the tops of hills visible through the clouds below us.  The hill tops looked like islands in the mist.  As we looked down we could only imagine how deep the valleys were...

A night in Nichols Hut with 8 people (it's designed for only 6) was very cosy but entertaining.

With a bit of preparation and going off the TA trail the route through the Tararuas could be extended which, in good weather would make an interesting option.

6)     The approach to Wellington

Are we there yet? - That's the slogan for the long but beautiful way into Wellington. We met people who commuted daily to Wellington but lived days away (by foot, that is!) from the greater Wellington area.  We really felt as if we would be there any minute, but the route goes on and on.  The climb up Colonial Knob gave us great views of the city and it looks as if you are almost there but after descending it’s a climb up again to Mount Kau Kau. It was a beautiful way and we could see the stadium, we were thinking it can't be far now... In the suburbs you have to climb another hill into Te Ahumairangi Park but no problems because from there it's all the way down to the Botanical Gardens.

There was a section on the North Island when I felt as if we weren’t making any progress and that New Zealand was growing in length.  Arriving in Wellington on a sunny day really did provide us with a huge sense of achievement – one island done only one to go!

 South Island

1)     Queen Charlotte Track

Again, it is one of the most famous walks in New Zealand but we had two days of glorious sunshine and we found it to be worthy of its fame.   If you want to impress people just show them our pictures from that track. Turqoise water, white beach and lush native bush. All combined in an easy track (who could possibly twist her ankle there?!) with great camping and water facilities.

2)     Richmond Alpine Track

For me one of the most beautiful views on the whole trail is looking back from Purple Top to Mt Rintoul with Rintoul Hut nestled in trees below – breathtaking! If you wanna go wild and dirty go into the Richmond Ranges. A mixture of scree slopes, climbs, stunning scenery, the best huts ever and not a soul around.  It was really a beautiful track and the way into it on the Pelorous River Track wasn't that bad either.  In fact the colour of the upper stretches of the river and endless little waterfalls gives it high marks on our score card!

3)      Waiau Pass

This is one we will never forget; it was a day of tension, fear and relief.  Heavy snow the previous day meant we had some challenging conditions under foot.  We had a big blue sky, perfect visibility but deep snow to wade through as we headed up the steep pass. In the valley on the approach to the pass were deep blue lakes, mirroring the rough mountain scenery.  Our decent began with a scramble down ice covered rocks but on the valley floor it was like an African savannah with wild horses and weathered dead trees.  We totally loved the combination of scenery we encountered within a single day. 

4)     Descending from Stag Saddle

Definitely somethings words can't describe.  Following a tip from a TA hiker, who was a week or two in front of us, when we reached the top of Stag Saddle we left the official TA route and climbed the ridge on our right.   The view was stunning and I think all of us were just speechless by the beauty of the mountains, the valley and the ridge stretching out in front of us.  This was the best tip ever – thanks Annie and Brian.

5)     Breast Hill Track

We arrived at Stodys hut to find a hunter, Anthony, already there.  He was a nice bloke and warned us that the hut had rats that came out to play in the night.  After a recent mouse experience I decided to take no chances and camped outside.  Madeleine risked the rats.  The following morning (after a mice free night) we continued ascending and were rewarded with beautiful views.  Then there is a point where you cross a stile and there is this massive view of Lake Hawea with the mountains towering up.  It was somehow unexpected and one of the best lunch spots of the trail.  The route then follows a steep ridgeline with wicked views all the way down to the lake shore.

6)     The autumn colours of central Otago

Its not so much one view that we remember, as the overall impression of the autumn colours throughout the central Otago region.  I don't think that I have seen such vibrant natural colours, yellow and orange leaves, red berries and glacial lakes.  Phew it is a sight to be seen. 
Arrowtown might be touristy but oh those colours.... and it is only a day away from Queenstown and then it really must be all down hill to the coast!! 

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