This is a guide for people wanting to through-hike the South Island leg of the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand going north: from Bluff to the Queen Charlotte Sounds.
Why This Guide?
I have written it because the official guides are not so well suited for through-walkers going north. The southbound guides have a good amount of information but because they are oriented towards the greatest number of users, section hikers, a lot is repeated and bits between sections are left out. Using the guides in reverse, as I did, is quite tricky. The new northbound guides are better, but their layout is still not space efficient, meaning there is more paper to carry than you need. They also exclude details of accommodation, transport and options for going off-trail, requiring you to go to the southbound guides for that anyway. So the pages here offer the best planning and take-with-you guide.
Why Northbound (NoBo) and When to Go?
Most people walking the Te Araroa (TA) go from north-to-south. So why go the other way? And why is it mainly Kiwis who are doing it? Well, its because they know the weather is warmer the further north you go, and generally dryer as well. Most TA hikers going SoBo (southbound) will end up in Southland in March or April, walking into autumn in the coldest part of the country. Better to walk away from the increasingly cooler, wetter weather. Doing this also gives you a larger window of start dates if you are walking the entire country, because you end up in the so-called ‘winterless north’.
If you are just going to do the South Island, I would suggest beginning in late January/early February, so NZers have mostly finished their summer holidays but you have the two months of the driest, most settled weather ahead of you.
Are there any good reasons for going north to south, besides the fact that the main guides are written that way? Well, maybe they have been written in that direction because the Whanganui River section in the North Island consists of canoeing downstream. (If you want to do the North Island NoBo, then working round that is tricky but not impossible.)
Something else to consider is people. Since the default direction is south-bound (SoBo) then if you are doing the same you will find yourself with a cohort of others also going south. The composition of the group of people going at your speed and on your route will change over time, but the end result is that doing the TA SoBo can be quite a social experience and making friends on the trail is what some people like about it. When you go NoBo there will be a much smaller group of you, which might create a closer sort of connection. But the majority of people you encounter will be hikers coming towards you. You will meet most of them around the middle of the day, or in the evening in huts. These are good opportunities to swap info about what is coming up on the trail but you won’t see these people again. And over the course of your hike they will bunch, so at the beginning you will only meet the few who started early, and towards the end, those who started late. So the huts can be empty at the beginning and end but fill up around the middle.
Why Only the South Island?
Why is this guide focused on the South Island? Because if you have only limited time, that’s the more spectacular, more back country part of the total Te Araroa Trail. Plus, I have walked the full South Island trail, but I have only done a few sections of the North Island. I do plan to do more North Islands hikes though, so will gradually expand those pages.
Well, it’s a matter of personal choice, but it seems to me that if you want to say you have walked the South Island half of the Te Araroa Trail, you need to have walked all of it. Many people pick and choose sections, and no doubt by leaving out the boring bits that gives them a more enjoyable experience. Some, particularly Kiwis who can’t get enough days off work, do a section at a time, and by adding them all together eventually get to say they’ve done the TA. Others doing them in sequence regularly go off-trail for supplies and rest. Or simply stay another day or two at a nice spot. And others again, particularly the majority who are visiting from overseas, might want to see a bit more of New Zealand than simply the TA, and head off on diversions here and there. This guide will be entirely useful to all these people, but it is written from the point of view of a person who wanted a challenge: who could say they walked every metre of the length of the South Island on the TA and did it without pause. So it covers the whole she-bang, including the sometimes tedious bits of road between back country trails.
How is the Guide Written?
It is divided up into sections of approximately eight hours walking a day (making up 63 days from Bluff to Queen Charlotte Sound), but because towns and huts are not evenly spaced eight hours apart there are parts where some days are longer and a few are very short, effectively turning these into rest days (‘zero days’ in trail jargon).
The guide assumes you are using the official TA maps, so for the sake of brevity, not every twist and turn of the trail is covered. In many places you can manage with the maps only. Also, to keep the text short, comment on the landscape and its history has unfortunately had to be kept to a bare minimum. There is a little more in the TA guide notes and in the Department of Conservation (DoC) website as well as the DoC brochures that cover some sections. See the Links page for these and other sources of information.
The guide is written following a South Island hike I did in early 2016. Times of each section are the actual times it took me. They include short rest stops every hour or hour and a half, but exclude lunch breaks. I would say I was walking at a fairly average speed. The schedule of days is based upon a strategy of sending food parcels ahead at nearly every opportunity, which meant there were no off-trail trips that added extra time. But it did mean a lot of work organising before departure.
I have been reluctant to add in accommodation prices and transport timetables because these will always change, but some are included as indicative. Please check them if you are going to rely on them. And feel free to send through updated information.
How to Use the Guides
Copy and paste them into your usual wordprocessor and print out the pages. They run to 29 pages double-sided but you can get that down to 20 (weighing about 100g) by reducing the line spacing to single, narrowing the margins and using a smaller font. And you can send them as installments to yourself on the trail with food parcels to further cut weight. As with the maps, once you’ve finished with them they are good for starting fires, or you can leave them in huts for other people. Alternatively, or as a backup, save them to your cellphone. And if you have an e-book reader there is software online to convert pages to the file format required.
The core component of this site are the day-by-day walking guides. But there is lots more here. And there is of course the official website, which you should visit if you are going to take up the Te Araroa challenge.
Athol McCredie, April 2017