Still no plans for summer? Thinking you need a change in your life? Always wanted to go on a big adventure but never got the chance to do it? Well.. let me tell you a few reasons I believe Kiwis should walk Te Araroa this season.
Daniel Nogueira shares his and others experiences of thur-hiking the Te Araroa.
With the first walkers already hitting the trail, it's not too late to start. But wait - you're new to the game? A brief summary: Te Araroa is a Thru-Hike, a name given to long distance journeys. Despite not being super popular here in Aotearoa, thru-hiking is a big thing in America where they have three major trails - the Appalachian Trail (AT, made famous by Bill Bryson in the 1990’s), the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) which got especially famous after the book Wild, by Cheryl Strayed.
New Zealand got its own thru-hike in 2011 when Te Araroa officially opened (people hiked it before). Stretching from Cape Reinga all the way to Bluff, the 3000-kilometer route takes hikers on an incredible journey through the country, from south pacific beaches in Northland to stunning alpine terrain in the South Island.
Cape Reinga, the northern start point of Te Araroa for those walking Southbound.
I finished my Te Araroa trail in June 2020, after spending 2 months in Covid-19 lockdown and being able to come back and finish it in winter conditions. It was an incredible journey with moments I will remember forever. Between wonderful experiences, stunning outdoors scenery, personal learnings and making friends for life, there was one thing I missed while on the trail: meeting more New Zealanders. Not that I didn't like meeting so many amazing people from all over the world - I loved it. But as someone that has been living in New Zealand for 5 years when I started the walk, I was curious to hear from Kiwis their perspective of their own Country.
One of the few occasions I bumped into kiwis walking the trail was quite remarkable. We were still in the Northland sections when I met Nick and Simon, two kiwi brothers in their 60's. They were hiking the trail together. I thought that was fascinating and couldn't help but ask them why they decided to walk the trail. One of the brothers quickly answered: "Because we can." After a few seconds of silence the other brother simply said: "I think every New Zealander should do it". And although a simple answer, my understanding is - walking the trail is not something you can really comprehend with words. You have to live it. It is not one or two things that make the experience - it's the combination of different aspects that creates this rich and unique "trail life" experience.
Going against those odds, I tried to list a few reasons I believe Kiwis should walk Te Araroa special here:
Much more than a scenic tramp
Te Araroa Trail is not simply a scenic hike. In fact, I believe that, as it happens on any thru-hike, the scenery is just one of the many components that makes walking Te Araroa such a unique and life changing experience. It is really hard to put into words. I personally encourage everyone to attempt to walk the entire trail at some point in their lifetime; so get your shoes and pack ready, and embrace the whole journey.
Know your country, people and stories
No matter how well you know New Zealand, walking Te Araroa will give you an opportunity to really know this beautiful country in depth. The trail route takes you to many remote and not so popular places that likely have been off your radar. Right on my first week, I remember walking into Ahipara and a few kids were playing at the beach, we had a brief conversation and they told me how they love living in a small community, near the ocean. In Kaitaia I met a social worker and he told me more about some of the issues faced by local communities in the Far North. Then I crossed 3 northland forests through beautiful Kauri Trees, crystal rivers, and heard the calls of North Island Brown Kiwis.
Northland forests: lush green, crystal rivers and remoteness - Te Araroa is in many occasions a less-travelled path among many popular destinations in New Zealand.
From the Far North to the bottom of South Island, being open to those experiences of meeting locals, observing how people live their lives and getting to know the local environment, understanding the characteristics of each region, its people and stories, was something that really stood out. It was also an extraordinary opportunity to get outside my "big city life box" and understand other realities New Zealanders get to live.
New Zealander Erin Roughton walked the trail last season and gave us his feedback:
"As a 54 year old from Nelson I have travelled to many regions of NZ; from hunting in remote parts of Stewart Island to fishing off Northland. I was surprised when tramping the TA this year the numerous parts of our beautiful country I hadn't seen, and didn't know existed.
For example, I was thrilled to see a kiwi at Mt Manaia near Whangarei Heads. Also, tramping across the Southern Alps through Harper Pass was a gradual climb in a majestic valley of pastureland, bush, and among rare native birds. Much of the lower South Island I found tranquil with mesmerising colours from Lake Coleridge, tramping through golden tussock hills in Canterbury and Otago, to the staggering alpine scenery above Lake Hawea. These are a small sample of my experiences I had when tramping the TA."
I cannot think of any better way to truly know New Zealand than walking Te Araroa. In fact, many of the overseas walkers I met told me that they always wanted to visit New Zealand and they chose to walk the trail so they could not only have the challenge of the trail but also get to know the country.
In this fast-pace society we live in, it's getting more and more common to just cruise through life following the flow of everything that surrounds us. Sometimes I feel like we are losing our individualities in exchange for what we "should do" because someone else is also doing. I often caught myself doing things just because people around me are doing as well.
When you ask yourself in the mirror - 'Do I really know myself? What would I do in these situations if I was completely by myself? What choices would I take if there was nobody around? What do I fear? What do I care about? '
The trail gives you plenty of opportunities to discover more about yourself. As you leave friends and a life that you were so used to behind, most of those things that influence your decisions on a daily basis will be also behind - it's now all up to you. That can sound scary, and for many people it's a real challenge. But it's also a powerful way to help you realise who you really are.
Spending time with yourself in nature on your own terms
One of my hiking friends Robyn Tumbleweed from Wanganui shares her perspective on this:
"I hear a lot of people saying Te Araroa was life changing for them, however I couldn’t say this about myself, although it has certainly been one of my best life experiences. In a world of a million distractions and stresses the TA gives you a moment of time to step away from the clutter of day to day life and take a breath, a big deep breath, and re-evaluate what is and isn’t important in your life.
I definitely got to know myself and my relationship better through this journey.
Mostly it has reinforced for me the fact that I love a simple life. I feel so calm and at peace without all the inane social clutter life seems hell bent on pushing upon us. It is a good reminder to keep myself as free of this clutter as much as possible. Despite its challenges, I always felt calm and centred. Both in my body and within myself I felt strong.
Walking with my partner we became a well oiled machine, our strengths and weaknesses working together to lift and carry each other through. Words became less and less necessary as day by day we slipped into a comfortable symbiotic rhythm. New Zealand has such a diverse landscape. The breathtaking beauty of this country and the feeling of well being when you are in amongst nature makes you truly appreciate how important it is to protect our environment and evaluate our personal impact on it."
Improve your physical and mental health
Needless to say, 2020 has been a tough year for humanity. The Coronavirus pandemic has brought many challenges for people all over the world, including New Zealand. Despite being one of the best places in the world to be right now, a lot of New Zealanders still struggle in some way with the pandemic. If life is not making much of a sense for you right now, and the "back to normal" doesn't feel so normal anymore, why not throw yourself in this challenge? Many of the things that bring anxiety and make us feel depressed on a daily basis will be left behind - instead you will be connecting with nature, meeting new people and living a really simple life. That might sound like you're escaping for your problems… and maybe it is, but sometimes all we need is an escape to see things with different eyes.
As a bonus - you know those fitness goals you always had? Well, I tell you... In a few weeks on the trail you will start getting fitter and fitter and by the end of it you will be amazed to learn what your body is capable of doing. I've never felt so fit and healthy in my life as I felt on the trail - and this is something that is almost unanimous between walkers.
Hiking to the Emerald lakes from the Ketetahi side is a great way to improve your fitness and mental health. Strong legs and big smiles guaranteed!
In terms of fitness, maybe you are an athlete that had plans, races, competitions.. And with Corona still impacting events across the globe, your future plans are uncertain? Struggling to find motivation to train? Well.. if walking the Trail doesn't sound like a challenge to you, what about running? It's getting more and more popular between ultra runners to tackle a long distance trail. Natalie Gallant, ran the whole Te Araroa last season and I was lucky enough to meet her in a few sections on the trail. If you're a runner or athlete, here her message for you:
"As an aspiring adventure-lete (a term I’ve coined for myself who loves adventure and uses the term ‘athlete’ loosely), I understand what it’s like to pull into an aid station or the finishers area of a running event and feel the buzz and comradery of fellow competitors. It’s joyous and inspiring and full of positivity; that’s exactly what it feels like to fall into a DOC hut, camp site or a trail angels backyard, tired and sweaty having spent the day running the Te Araroa.
Just because that event you’ve been training for might have had to be cancelled or postponed this coming season, it doesn’t mean you should feel at a loss. Have you considered building a solid aerobic base (and quad muscles!) through an endurance challenge of a different kind? Running the Te Araroa is the most incredible trail running adventure I’ve ever had. It wasn’t all plain sailing, but what long distance event ever was? It’s the unexpected challenges that arise when you're alone in the bush that force you to troubleshoot independently, all the while nurturing your mental strength as an athlete. It’s transferable skills like these that will prove extremely useful when you’re back competing. And when you really need to dig for that extra little ounce of strength, by reflecting on the experiences you had whilst out on the trail, your heart will swell with gratitude and that will be all you need to see you through to the finish line. Trust me. I achieved my own FKT on the Te Araroa– definitely not the ‘fastest known time’ - but the ‘funniest’ for sure. Now go and embrace this beautiful challenge. You make your own rules, you run your own run. Enjoy!"
If you think walking Te Araroa is not a big enough challenge, do like Natalie Gallant did and ran it! Photo: Natalie Gallant
Restart your life
It's hard to point out what a "normal life" looks like after 2020. The pandemic has caused many people to lose their jobs or at least change the way they work. There are downsides of course, but what about looking at the positive side of 2020 as being a year where you have the opportunity to restart your life? Maybe you are sick of your current job, or maybe you have been thinking about moving cities, coming back to study, ending a relationship? For whatever reason you think it's time to restart your life - walking the trail it's a great transition point.
When sitting in my office job back in 2019, I knew I needed a change. Working in front of a screen for 8 hours wasn't really ticking the box for me. The company was great, co-workers, amazing people and my manager an inspiring and awesome leader to be around. There was nothing wrong with the job - it was just not for me. But how do I get out of it? Quitting a job without a solid plan can be overwhelming and I decided to just throw myself in the trail and make a plan as I go. 3000 kilometers after, I can totally say it was the best decision I ever made. Walking the trail was a great way for me to know myself better, be free to express who I really am and identify the things I like and things I don't like.
It's not like the trail will give you all the answers for your life. But it will make you stronger and more resilient to find them yourself. It will give you the confidence you need to face the challenges in "real life" and make them seem much simpler. When you are on the trail, you have all those logistics problems to solve, walk all the hills, decide where to stay, what to eat - there is a lot of "real problem-solving" involved, which makes you realise how much we worry about so many things in life that will now sound "irrelevant" to you.
The views of Rotomairewhenua / Blue Lake coming down from Moss pass. I little detour I did on my Te Araroa trail.
Embark on a family adventure
This one goes to the adventurous families out there: many people think walking Te Araroa is something for the young singles/couples out there. I was amazed when I first bumped into a family from the UK - husband, wife and their 2 kids walking the trail together. And to my surprise, there were many other families walking the trail together, including this incredible story of a family of 7 that walked the trail last season.
Dave Murray (@walkingtheta) and his son just finished walking the North Island and gave us his perspective:
“When most people talk about Te Araroa, the first thing they think of is the scenery, but there is so much more to New Zealand’s long walk than that. Walking the trail last year with my 14 year old son Baxter was an experience I will never forget. The shared memories are something we will cherish forever, and memories like that can only be created by a challenge such as the TA.
The people that we met also formed a huge part of the experience, and Baxter often rated this as his favourite part of the trail. While last season was mostly walkers from overseas (German seemed to be the language most spoken around the breakfast table), this year the huts may be quieter. It might be the perfect time to get out and see the country, and fill the huts with kiwi voices.
So if you have the opportunity to walk the TA, gear up and hit the trail. You will never regret walking Te Araroa, but you might regret not giving it a go.”