Ask most Kiwis their thoughts of hiking Te Araroa (the 3000km trail from Cape Reinga to Bluff, or vice versa) and the usual impression is an enormous challenge reserved for fit foreigners taking months off work. Some locals consider walking the length of Aotearoa too hard, due to huge distances on foot with heavy packs, fitness requirements, logistics (food drops), cost and of course, time away from work. Hiking Te Araroa is simply not on every Kiwis’ radar.
But it’s my mission to change perceptions and help make the trail appear more accessible. Together with the amazing team from the social enterprise I founded, Got to Get Out, we’re encouraging local residents to get outdoors and try walking Te Araroa in shorter sections, to fit around busy work and family commitments. We want to see more Kiwis get outdoors to have a tourist experience in their own backyard.
To prove a point that hiking Te Araroa is not just for fit foreigners, we’re filming a group of ‘novice’ locals as they hike progressively long sections of the trail.
For several months, the project has seen me select and train a group of novice hikers, each volunteering to change their health and wellness by getting outdoors, with a camera documenting every step. My aim is to show that anyone can hike Te Araroa, not just the ultra fit.
The 12 were found from a social media outreach where I specifically sought everyday Kiwis who had fallen out of hiking, or never begun. Some participants are new-New Zealanders, who did not grow up with hiking readily available, and hence have a fear of “where to begin”. Some don’t have a friend group to join. Others loved hiking when younger, but dropped out in later years; some have injuries.
We wanted to show that with the right training, mindset, food and route planning, even the most difficult sections of Te Araroa could be achieved by normal people, without taking months off work.
There are plenty of amazing experiences to be had by walking short sections of the trail, if doing the whole thing isn’t an option.
I’m no stranger to hiking long distances, having arranged more than 600 outdoor excursions around the country since founding Got To Get Out in 2015. I’ve also hiked abroad, taking locals to Mt Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. Participants normally learn about my trips via social media, which I think is an innovative way of using computers to get people off computers.
The Get Out and Hike Te Araroa by Sections project is something I’ve been planning a long time. I was thrilled when New Zealand-made freeze-dried food company Back Country Cuisine offered to fund the filming and costs of the project, so I could afford a great videographer in Ned Brannigan to document the group progressing from hike to hike.
Ned’s brief was to shoot stunning videos of each walk to hopefully encourage viewers to get out and explore Te Araroa themselves, and know what to expect.
The 12 hikers chosen for this mini-series of videos (and a longer documentary-length video released next year) come from all walks of life, genders, ethnicities and most are carrying some form of mental or physical challenge. Together we wanted to show real people overcoming their challenges and fears to walk long distances with a backpack, to change perceptions about who the trail was designed for.
The first two videos showing the North Shore Coastal walk (Devonport to Orewa in Auckland) and Pirongia Traverse (Waikato) are online at NZ Herald Travel now.
The release of the first videos corresponds to “Get Outdoors Week”, an initiative from Recreation Aotearoa that highlights the benefits of getting outdoors to improve people’s physical and mental health. Free outdoor events are offered around the country - you can join me for a free group hike on Saturday November 19 to Whatipu, Auckland.
Four more videos will follow on the NZ Herald Travel website in the coming weeks, including one video showing the hardest North Island section of Te Araroa: the Tararua Ranges.
My hope is that all 12 inexperienced hikers can complete the Tararua section of Te Araroa later this month, but equally, there is no pressure to do so. Getting outdoors should be fun, and it’s okay to turn back when the going is too tough.
My main advice to anyone thinking of hiking sections of Te Araroa is to get the right gear, advice, nutrition, and do lots of research in order to stay within your capability and stay safe.
Got to Get Out video series: part one
The first video in this series, shown at the top of this story, actually shows three sections of Te Araroa combined, if walking northbound (NOBO) from Auckland city.
The ‘novice’ hikers shown in this video begin their adventure on the North Shore Coastal Walk sections of the trail, starting in Devonport Auckland and ending Long Bay. The second leg (also covered on day one) is called the Long Bay to Okura section. The group stayed overnight in Stillwater, and ended in Orewa on day two, which combined was a solid 46km. Walkers wanting to complete the third section of Te Araroa on Auckland’s north shore would continue from Okura to Wenderholm.
People thinking about hiking sections of Te Araroa, should download the trail notes (see teararoa.org.nz) and prepare by sourcing the right clothing for the conditions, equipment such as walking poles and footwear, and lightweight nutrition to keep energy up during long days on foot with backpack.
Some advice for hikers wishing to walk the North Shore sections of Te Araroa:
- Time your walk for the tides for an easier wade through the ocean near Okura. Otherwise take the East Coast Bays road bypass to keep your feet dry or at high tide
- Wear lightweight, quick-dry, sun protective clothing because the walk is very exposed to elements, and you will get wet if you choose to wade through the ocean
- Harden your feet ahead of this (or any) long walk, by walking barefoot in the weeks prior, doing lots of walking, taping your toes or using hikers wool, and wear-in new footwear long ahead of time. Beach and road sections of the trail can cause painful blisters, especially for new hikers
- Some hikers prefer trail sneakers / runners to boots that can feel heavy over long distances. This is a matter of personal preference
- Pack light. Source lightweight equipment, cooker, sleeping bag and backpack, and avoid unnecessary kit
- Trekking poles can be useful on long sections of Te Araroa to take strain off back and provide balance
- The Stillwater Motor Camp is well equipped and accustomed to Te Araroa hikers. Accommodation on the trail often needs to be booked ahead of arrival, so do your research before embarking on multi day treks
To see part two of the series, click here
This video series has been supported by Backcountry Cuisine