Tips for Others

Mental and physical strength

It certainly helps to be reasonably fit before embarking on a thru-hike such as the Te Araroa. Madeleine was walking 20 kms a day in preparation but with hindsight wishes that she had done more hill walking.

You do get walking fit on the trail but I felt that there is an optimum point, which is reached, and then without a rest your body starts to get weaker. It took Madeleine and I five months to complete the trail. By the end we both had terrible pain in our feet when walking on flat, hard surfaces and we were both feeling a bit run down with various minor aches and pains.

The biggest challenge, I believe, is to maintain the drive and ambition to keep going under all circumstances. I would argue that completing the Te Araroa is more of a mental challenge than a physical one. Having the support and motivation of each other I know helped us; it would have been much harder to have walked alone. The sections where we struggled the most is where we were mentally exhausted, admittedly this was sometimes because our bodies were tired, other times it was weather conditions (endless rain, chaffed legs, unexpected snow falls etc). To succeed you have got to have the drive to keep putting one foot in front of the next and keep going regardless.

I think that this You Tube posting by Shalane Hopkins sums up how you can feel at some of the low points on the trail. Shalane Hopkins and her walking partner Alex Ward did complete the trail 2010/11.

Clothing & equipment

We basically had one set of clothes (one shirt & a pair of shorts) that we walked in every day and a set of thermals that we slept in and wore when it was cold. Anything more is just more weight to carry on your back. In towns we borrowed or hired towels and wore those while we washed every item of clothing we had. On a few occasions, I have to admit, we put our clothes on straight out of the washing machine wet clean clothes was better that the usual dirty wet clothes!

The limited number of socks that we used was surprising to me. We basically wore the same pair day after day after day. Your socks can only get so dirty and you just get use to it. Otherwise you just end up carrying lost of dirty socks. Id recommend merino wool liner socks, your feet keep reasonably cool and because they aren’t too thick they dry out quick.

In summary, a change of clothes is over rated!

Trail shoes or boots is a big debate. We both had leather boots and were happy with them. We wanted the ankle support and felt that they held up well in stream and river crossings. I wore out two pairs of Meindl boots and Madeleine went through three pairs of boots. The lighter your pack the more tempting trail shoes become

Your gear is going to get a lot of use. Our recommendation would be to go for the lightest weight tent, sleeping bag, roll mat etc that you are comfortable with. It is worth paying more to save on the weight. Our pack weight doubled on sections where we had to carry a lot of food and it was crippling. Keep it light!!


The weight of the food (when on long sections between supply points), having something that would keep and was easy to prepare were all things we had to consider when filling up our shopping baskets. On the trail breakfast was porridge for me, cereal for Madeline. We snacked on muesli bars, crackers and nuts, lunch was either crackers or flat tortilla breads with something like cheese or peanut butter. Evening meal was instant noodles, pasta with soup or cheese source. Believe us you can have too much beige! ! Fruit and vegetables are relatively heavy so we pretty much only ate fresh food in towns.

In the early days of the tail we couldn’t believe how hungry we got even though we were eating large quantities. I really started to obsess about food and it was clear that our bodies were burning a lot of calories and they need to be replaced. However, by the middle of the South Island we were bored with our limited diet and all trail food was looking very unappealing. I would recommend considering taking some supplements i.e multivitamins and iron if you don’t think that you can get all the nutrients that you need from your diet.

There is no need to send food parcels on the North Island and you can manage on the South Island but you do have to hitch off the trail to re-supply a few times. We did send food parcels from Hanmer Springs to the YHA in Arthur’s Pass and to Lake Coleridge Lodge.

Gadgets / technology

I am useless with technology and gadgets but I have to admit that there were some useful bits of kit that we were very pleased we had.

The GPS was very much a last minute buy but we were so glad that we had it. Year upon year I am sure that the trail and signage will improve but there were sections on 2012/13 when it wasn’t too clear and it was good to use the GPS to know exactly where we were. I loaded the whole route onto my GPS in ‘tracks’ and then brought an SD card with New Zealand Topo maps to put in my GPS and so we could see where the route was and where we were. Battery power was an issue so we didn’t keep the GPS turned all the time, just checked it when we wanted to. I also carried a spare set of batteries.

The Te Araroa Trust recommends that trampers carry a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) to alert mountain rescue if required. We didn’t carry one on the North Island but did decide to buy one in Wellington for the South Island. The trail does pass through some very remote areas and if you were unlucky enough to break your leg or get caught out in a snowstorm you might be pleased you were carrying one.

We had experienced an early snowfall and there was a helicopter out searching for someone who had activated their PBL. A day later we found his abandoned tent in the snow and heard that he had been successfully rescued. From that point forth I was pleased we had a PLB with us. We paid NZ$650 and sold it at the end for NZ$500.

Neither, Madeleine or I had a smart phone. If I were doing a similar trip again I would carry one. It would have been useful for the trip notes, back up maps, maybe the GPS (not sure if a GPS on a phone is as good as a Garmin), the camera and to have been able to update the blog from, getting access to public computers isn’t as easy in NZ as I had expected it to be.

The Te Araroa Facebook page was really good.  It helped with planning the trip and through Facebook we both met people in Auckland who had either done the trail, or were also planning to do it.  Along the trail it enabled the trail community to warn those behind of any difficult sections and make suggestions.  Even if you are not a Facebook fan (which I'm not) I would recommend signing up even if you only use it for the trail. 

Wet feet

I did my research and I knew that wet feet were a feature of the trail but it was a revelation to discover how often our socks would be so wet that we could ring the water out of them. A strange regret of mine is that we didn’t record how many days on the trail our boots were wet enough to keep fish in. On one day we waded through water over 30 times and I gave up counting at lunchtime! Madeleine developed problems with her feet due the constant wetness and the friction. If you are thru-hiking the trail I don’t think that there is anything that you can do to prevent your feet getting wet or to reduce the effects. There was a lot of rainfall in 2011/12 and it is possible that others won’t have the same experience. Check out this You Tube clip from DB Brad that gives a good impression of what conditions can be like.

River Crossings

Before setting out on the trail I was pretty nervous about river crossings. The stream and river crossing on the trail have to be respected. It is one of the main things that Kiwis warn you about, people do die in New Zealand’s rivers. The day we set off Kayaking down the Whanganui river it was the funeral of a man who had died the previous week while swimming.

The water level of streams can vary dramatically in a few hours. So be prepared to wait them out, that may mean camping a night. A blubbering brook can be transformed into a ranging torrent in a few hours.

The Rakaia and Rangitata rivers have huge riverbeds and the TA trust warns against crossing them. In the right conditions they can be crossed on foot and I would recommend asking anyone one you see on the approach if they think it is possible.

Here is a couple of links that give you an impression of what it can be like to attempt a river crossing and what it feels like when you have got to the other side.

Madeleine and I crossed rivers linked together when the water was high and or fast moving. It is a good technique and much much safer - if one foot slips between you there are still three feet on the ground. Madeleine and been on a river crossing course in New Zealand and it would be worth considering if you are not experienced.

I found my walking poles to be very helpful in water crossings. Madeleine walked without poles so in some places I would cross first and then throw the poles back for her to use. When we crossed together, we each used one pole in the outside hand.

Sense of achievement

Having completed the trail and fully recovered we have returned to our respective countries and slotted back into 'normal' life.  But inside us there is still a sense of pride and achievement in knowing that we tramped the Te Araroa!

Our memories have softened and we can't quite remember how horrible it was to put wet clothes on day after day, exactly what wet boots feel like and how low the low points were. 

We both really miss the trail.  Nicke and Cookies' video sums up the trail nicely. 

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