Te Araroa, “The Long Pathway”, is a 3000+km long hiking trail spanning New Zealand from Cape Reinga to Bluff. After several decades of struggle for land acces and funding it officially opened in 2011. In October 2014 we set ourselves the challenge to walk it all the way from its northernmost to its southernmost point. The journey took us along beautiful beaches, through dense forests and straight across the southern Alps.
The trail was created by a kiwi called Geoff Chapel, who led the efforts for it establishment and was the first one to actually walk it. Still today, the trail grows and changes thanks to the enormous effort of volunteers spread over the country, coordinated by the Te Araroa Trust and its regional divisions.
It is not your average walking trail. Many coming from Europe or the States have doubted if it can even be called a trail. It is not a preformed, wide-benched and well-maintained track to comfortably take one across the country. Te Araroa will take you straight to the roots of the kiwi tramping tradition, where walking and climbing intertwine with each other, where going out into the back country means getting your hands dirty and your boots wet. Walking in rivers, hauling yourself up on cables and chains, getting yourself across mine fields of fallen trees and boulders or standing calve deep in a muddy pool will give you a good demonstration of how to do it ‘kiwi-style’ and demand you to be somewhat inventive about your walking techniques.
All of these are reasons why Te Araroa is considered to be one of the hardest long distance trails on offer. It was a mental and a physical challenge. We cursed, we shouted and cried a few times, but we were be rewarded beyond our imagination. As we came to embrace the tramping concept, the lack of a well-defined trail enables a sense of true remoteness, of being lost out there. We walked through an amazing variety of landscapes, including subtropical forests, temperate rainforests, active volcanoes, across high mountain passes, over ridgelines and through high-walled valleys. By the time we came to the end of it, it was unbelievable that we started off in the same country, in a straight line merely 1400km from the finishing point.
But it is not only the variety making Te Araroa unique. It is the hut system as well, with everything from new buildings to wooden shags from the 19th century to shelter you in the night. We learned about the history of the New Zealand high country and the huts themselves. And above all, it is the people. Te Araroa is not only a walk through nature, it is an encounter with culture as well. We felt that we got straight under the skin of New Zealand and were heart-warmed with kiwi hospitality. We found a kindness, openess and generosity possibly unique to this far corner of the planet.
But to get that reward, we and everyone else needs to walk the lot. You will suffer, and there will be slow and dragging days on the side of the road. The trail is not finished, it is not perfect, it is a work in progress. Yet the reward of enduring is all the greater the more you endure. And we can only recommend to go the whole way. We enjoyed walking on the south island more, because the trails are better. However, we were far more impressed by the north island, where the trail is slowly growing together, with its trail community and its amazing variety of landscapes. The contrasts are magnificent, and not for anything in this world would we have missed it.