Te Araroa Trail Experiences: 4 Interviews with ex-TA-Hikers

We’re in the middle of our preparations for our long-distance hike on the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand. Being busy with reading trail notes, sewing gear and calculating nutrition, we wondered how previous hikers prepared themselves for the Te Araroa Trail and how they experienced their long-distance hike. So we reached out to four hikers/hiker-couples and asked them eight questions about their experiences. Their answers gave us a great insight into their Te Araroa Trail experiences.

Interviews about Te Araroa Trail experiences:

Anthony „Whin“ and Fiona „Whiona“ Burleigh

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Anthony and Fiona at Martin’s Hut in the Longwood Forest, Southland

Blog: whiowhio.weebly.com/blog

Info: Anthony and Fiona (NZ) walked the Te Araroa Trail on the South Island in the 14/15 season and tramped northbound (NOBO), in order to be able to take pictures of all the hikers that were walking on the South Island. Have a look at their fantastic gallery of all the people they met.

Whin has not shaved the beard yet and can’t see it happening.

  1. Why did you choose to hike the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand?

We started tramping when our children left home. As we got fitter we realised we wanted to walk more. We did some large walks on a tour of Europe about 4 years ago and were inspired to walk the Camino de Santiago. But while we were on a tramp around Mount Ruapehu in the central North Island we met three Te Araroa walkers, Franzi, Jonah and Melanie.

Our house is on the Te Araroa and we invited them to stay when they walked through Palmerston. They did and we realised the New Zealand had its own pilgrims’ trail… Te Araroa. We are New Zealanders…this is our PCT [Pacific Crest Trail in the USA], Camino [Europe], Kungsleden [Sweden]. We have section hiked the North Island but chose to through hike the South… and will complete the North as a through hike.

  1. How long did you prepare yourself for the hike on the Te Araroa Trail?

It took us about 15 months to plan and prepare for the trip once we made up our minds. We are planning a North Island route at the moment and will have at least the same amount of time to prepare. This time will be harder though as we plan to walk offtrail, through some of the country’s toughest walking mountains, the Ruahines.

We gradually increased our fitness, but did not go “hard out”. We started pilates classes 6 months out. They really helped with core strength and gave us a good stretching routine to use during the Te Araroa.

Because we were going NOBO Whiona spent a lot of time rewriting the tail notes backwards.

  1. In what aspect did you realize you did not prepare yourself sufficiently and where did you over prepare yourself?

Whiona’s logistics almost organised the fun out of the trail (she wrote this answer… not Whin). But once we started we were happy to just follow and take it as it came without having to meet any preconceptions about how far or how fast we would travel each day.

  1. What turned out to be not at all like you expected once you were on the trail?

The variety of landscapes. The big smiles on all the other hikers faces. How we never doubted ourselves.

  1. Did you have one specific event or place that stuck in your memory most clearly?

Whin: The landscape and the weather in the “dry lands” from Queenstown to lake Coleridge. Heat, blue skies and golden hills… amazing.
Whiona: The two hour days. Giving ourselves some down time by just walking to the next hut. Time to blog, wash clothes and chillax.
1.Comyns to A frame
2.Royal Hut to Stone Hut
3.Ahuriri river to the “derelict” hut across the east ahuriri river. Trail notes say it is derelict but DoC have cleaned it up. Only 2 mattresses and one mouse.

  1. What are 3 tips you would like to give us for our upcoming hike on the Te Araroa Trail this season?

Water: in the southern mountains there is always water. At least every 5km. We ended up carrying at most 750ml each. Only the Tararua tops and Richmond from Slaty hut to Rintoul hut (SOBO) were dry. We only used a few iodine tablets for water off farms. Generally from Palmerston North south the only truly polluted water was the Pelorus River through farmland. Didymo is an environmental threat but the water is safe to drink.

Food boxes: put in party food and drink for when you open it. Ours were a bit spartan. St. Arnaud and Arthur’s Pass shops are very very limited and ++ expensive… send a box to these places.

Take your time and enjoy it. It’s not a race!

  1. What was the strongest feeling/emotion that came up when you reached the end of the trail or your planned sections?

Whin: Tiredness, but a massive sense of achievement.
Whiona: grief
Both: hunger (is that an emotion?)

  1. Did you experience a “Post Trail Depression”?

Heck yeah. Whiona spent the next 5 months trying to find a way to escape “normal life”. Whin went straight into a 7 weeks contract job in front of a computer… the work was good, but the lack of activity was extremely challenging. He has not shaved the beard yet and can’t see it happening.

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Jörg Flügge

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Jörg, hiking on the Te Araroa Trail

Blog: www.joerghikesnz.net

Info: Jörg (DE) trough-hiked the Te Araroa Trail in the 14/15-season southbound (SOBO).

I thought it would be a very lonely eremite experience walking somewhere in nowhere.

  1. Why did you choose to hike the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand?

My decision to hike Te Araroa came by lucky coincidence. I wanted to take some time off, from work and life and in general needed a reboot. It was a sort of mid-life crises. Due to my travelling on the job I had enough miles for a ticket around the world. While having a more thorough look at where I could go and what to do I got stuck in NZ. I knew that hiking and the great walk were an option and then stumbled upon some article about Te Araroa. Pretty much right away I decided to take the complete time off to the trail and check out NZ in detail instead of hopping around the world. The three big US trails as such never came to mind as an alternative.

  1. How long did you prepare yourself for the hike on the Te Araroa Trail?

I took myself nearly a year from the idea of doing it and actually quitting work. The actual preparation, like reading about the trail and hiking in general (never done anything like that before), buying equipment and getting the visa took me 2-3 months. I was working till about a week before I left for NZ.

  1. In what aspect did you realize you did not prepare yourself sufficiently and where did you over prepare yourself?

I think I had too much small stuff that I never really needed. Like fire steel, two pocket knives and way too much food in the beginning. Most of what I had bought without real experience turned out to be ok. I did change my backpack to an Aarn Featherlite which was an expensive but very awesome decision early on. I also should have had better shoes. While thin soles are a hype for runners, they are not a good idea if you have 15-20kg of extra weight on your feet.

  1. What turned out to be not at all like you expected once you were on the trail?

I thought it would be a very lonely eremite experience walking somewhere in nowhere. I never made as many good friends or met interesting people as in the 4,5 months on the trail.

  1. Did you have one specific event or place that stuck in your memory most clearly?

So many that still keep popping into my mind. The most impressive was probably standing on the peak of Mt Crawford in the Tararuas. I was all my own, could see the west and the east coast and some peaks of the South Island break through the cloud cover. After several hard days it was a very intense moment when I yelled out of sheer joy.

  1. What are 3 tips you would like to give us for our upcoming hike on the Te Araroa Trail this season?

I’ll make that three practical and one philosophical tip:

Take care of your feet. Keep them dry, massage them and flex your legs. Make sure you wear comfortable footwear, be it boots or sneakers, whatever you feel good in.

Take good care of your nutrition. At the start you will not be very hungry but it will come after 10 days or so. Make sure you have enough and diverse food with you.

Take care of your sleeping ability. Good mattress, ear plugs, warm enough sleeping bag.

Last but not least enjoy the trail and take your time. Don’t fall into the race trap. You are not competing with others for how fast you are doing it or if your gear is lighter or better than theirs. You are doing it for your own experience, on your own cost and health. Treat it as such.

  1. What was the strongest feeling/emotion that came up when you reached the end of the trail?

None. It was a sort of emptiness. Not even a relief that I was done, not big retrospective. I guess the last week had been so tough with really long days. I also was on my own, maybe a mistake. But when I think back to the days and my experiences on the trail now I sometime get tears my eyes. The emotions are still strong.

  1. Did you experience a “Post Trail Depression” when you were finished with the trail?

No, not really. At least not for a while. My biggest focus really was to do something with my live again, get productive, find an interesting job, build up friendships again. All things I had missed while walking. Only now, about 6 months later with a full work week and hardly any spare time I wish I had a few days on the trail for myself.

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Patrice and Justin La Vigne

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Justin and Patrice at the signpost that marks the end of the trail in Bluff

Blog: Life Less Ordinary

Info: Patrice and Justin (USA) trough-hiked the Te Araroa Trail in the 14/15-season southbound (SOBO).

Be flexible and understand that the trail is in control, not you.

  1. Why did you choose to hike the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand?

We’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand and once we heard about Te Araroa, we knew that was the way we would explore the country. We always opt for the human-powered adventures. We have many U.S. trails on our list, but the timing was right to go to New Zealand. For example, it’s too crowded on the PCT [Pacific Crest Trail in the USA] now!

  1. How long did you prepare yourself for the hike on the Te Araroa Trail?

While we were thru hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2011, we heard about Te Araroa from a Kiwi. It stayed on our radar since then and we spent time reading books and blogs to get acquainted with the trail. The real prep came in the 4 months leading up to our departure in November 2014.

  1. In what aspect did you realize you did not prepare yourself sufficiently and where did you over prepare yourself?

I don’t think we were prepared sufficiently for the tidal areas and understanding high/low tide. We had never hiked on a trail that was affected by tides and really, there’s not much you can prep in advance for. You just have to understand how it will affect your “plans”.

  1. What turned out to be not at all like you expected once you were on the trail?

I think the trail itself surprised us the most. We really thought we prepared ourselves with all the reading beforehand, but the stories of challenges just don’t do it justice until you experience it for yourself. The Te Araroa is so unique from other trails. There is no guidebook, the trail is rugged, you have tide-dependent areas and sometimes have other logistical challenges.

  1. Did you have one specific event or place that stuck in your memory most clearly?

Kiwi hospitality is amazing. And we experienced plenty of it, but this one story just goes to show how unique Kiwis are. We were walking the trail into Hamilton, which happens to be a popular urban pathway. Lots of people were looking at us with our big backpacks and poles. A young family of 3 stopped us and asked what we were doing. We told them, which led to the next question of where we were sleeping that evening. We said we planned to get a hostel in Hamilton. The wife said, “nonsense. You are staying with us. By the way, I am Paula, this is Michael and our son Nathan.”

  1. What are 3 tips you would like to give us for our upcoming hike on the Te Araroa Trail this season?

Be flexible and understand that the trail is in control, not you.

Take time to meet the people. Kiwis are amazing. Be sure to be appreciative of their hospitality.

Leave No Trace. Remember that New Zealand is a pristine environment and it would be great to keep it that way for others in the future. Simple practices like packing in, packing out, burying your poop, respecting wildlife by not feeding them, etc. can go a long way.

  1. What was the strongest feeling/emotion that came up when you reached the end of the trail?

We always have mixed emotions at the terminus of our long-distance hikes. Our bodies are tired and we are ready for a break, yet we don’t want it to be over.

  1. Did you experience a “Post Trail Depression” when you were finished with the trail?

Oh yes!! The more long-distance hikes we do, the harder it is to return to “real life”. We try to make our life about the experiences and adventures even when working, but we miss trail life everyday. We feel most at “home” in the backcountry.

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Debby and Rob McColl

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Debby and Rob on Raumati Beach on the Kapiti Coast in the Wellington Section

Blog: robanddebsbigadventure.blogspot.com.au

Info: Debby and Rob (NZ) through-hiked the South Island of the Te Araroa Trail southbound (SOBO) and did the North Island in three sections, starting in October 2010. We met the two of them by lucky coincidence hiking the Lara Pinta Trail in the West MacDonnell Ranges in Australia.

Although we enjoyed the sense of isolation, we loved meeting other walkers.

  1. Why did you choose to hike the Te Araroa Trail (or sections of it) in New Zealand?

We had both read Geoff Chapple’s book about walking the length of New Zealand, and then we met a young couple, Jonno and Corrine who were close to completing the trail, and they persuaded us that we could do it – so we did! It was our first long-distance trail, and as we live in New Zealand, it seemed like the logical choice. When we set out we didn’t even know if we would enjoy long-distance hiking – but we found we loved it.

  1. How long did you prepare yourself for the hike on the Te Araroa Trail?

We spent many months reading other blogs and planning how far we might walk each day and where we could leave food drops. We had to contact friends and family who we were asking to help us along the way, and sort out and buy gear. We developed spreadsheets to help us with planning – and we made dozens of dehydrated meals. Packing and posting food drops also took many hours. We tramped about 6 hours at least once a week and did several 20+ km walks in preparation.

  1. In what aspect did you realize you did not prepare yourself sufficiently and where did you over prepare yourself?

Our feet suffered a bit on the first few days, and we wore even lighter shoes later on which helped. Hot tarmac roads were the worst! I don’t think you can over-prepare – we changed our itinerary only slightly, we pretty much were able to keep to our schedule.

  1. What turned out to be not at all like you expected once you were on the trail?

We did the North Island in 3 sections – and started in October 2010. We were surprised that we only met one other Te Araroa Trail walker in the North Island, and very few in the South Island. It was kind of lonely out there – and although we enjoyed the sense of isolation, we loved meeting other walkers. The other wonderful thing was the kindness of strangers – a total surprise.

  1. Did you have one specific event or place that stuck in your memory most clearly?

The difficult sections stick in the mind as they provided the most enormous sense of achievement – Ninety Mile Beach, the Tararuas, the Waiau Pass, the Richmond Ranges and the Mototapu come to mind. But there are so many memories it is difficult to isolate them. Funnily enough, seeing the Sky Tower as we approached Auckland almost gave us more of a sense of satisfaction than the signpost in Bluff – when we saw the Sky Tower we knew we were capable of doing the whole trail.

  1. What are 3 tips you would like to give us for our upcoming hike on the Te Araroa Trail this season?

Prepare your feet by taking 20+km walks, wearing packs.

Keep your load as light as possible without compromising your safety.

Wake up every morning with a sense of excitement about the day ahead.

  1. What was the strongest feeling/emotion that came up when you reached the end of the trail or your sections?

A huge sense of satisfaction at the end of each of our 3 North Island sections, especially the first one. Then we could hardly wait to get back on the trail again! We were so proud of ourselves when we reached the end of the whole trail – when we had started out we were anxious as to whether our aging bodies would hold up – but they did!

  1. Did you experience a “Post Trail Depression” when you were finished with the trail or the sections?

At the end in Bluff, we actually felt a little sad, and took our time getting back home to real life again. We missed the simplicity of life on the trail, and have since done a few other long-distance trails in Spain, Scotland and Australia. Now we are thinking maybe we will do Te Araroa again… but we are getting a little old!

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5 Comments

  • Patrice says:

    I loved reading everyone’s interviews. Good luck Nadine & Philippe!! I look forward to living vicariously through you on Te Araroa.

  • Louise Gilfedder says:

    Loved reading the responses of all those walkers, it was so inspiring. I’m very excited for you and really look forward to hearing your adventures. What a great undertaking! Best of luck and hope all goes well for you and your feet!

    • Nadine says:

      Hey Louise, thank you. It’s lovely to hear from you and we’re really excited, just two more weeks:D
      Cheers & take care,
      Nadine

  • Rosanna says:

    Really helpful! Thanks

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