*If you are looking for my overall thoughts on the Te Araroa, skip the first half “wrap up” portion of this post, and scroll down to the “Te Araroa Thoughts.”
New Zealand Wrap Up
It’s been quite nice to take the last couple days to NOT blog. It is a big commitment to do it nightly, and when I do something, I believe in doing it right or not at all, so you all know I put a lot of effort into the thoroughness of documenting the little things that make these trips so special. I hadn’t planned on much happening in the couple days I had in Te Anau to relax before flying to Tasmania, but of course things did happen that are worth sharing, and that I want to remember for myself as well. Given the pace I hiked, I met many hikers that are just now coming through town in their final days. Both in Te Anau and in Invercargill, it was great to see hikers I’d overlapped with as they prepare to finish. It’s a special time for everyone and a sentimental time to see everyone again.
The day Becky and Tom left, their friends (Becky and Flo) that they hiked half the South Island with came into town and zeroed the next day. We all had heard about one another and felt like we knew each other though we’d never met. It was great to spend time with them and a couple other hikers I’d crossed paths with as well. We had dinner (ate at the Olive Tree Cafe for the zillionth time, great!), went to the Te Anau bird sanctuary the next morning, and of course rode the zipline at the park next to the hostel. That zipline really is a must do! Even Jerry, who I mentioned in my last post did it, and it was his 71st birthday. You can’t ride on that thing and not feel utter joy! It really was great to get time with Becky, Flo, Adam, and Max. Yet another thing to bring nice closure to this trail in my final days here.
After my day in Te Anau, Griggs returned from Queenstown the next day and we headed back the 2hrs to Invercargill where we would eventually fly out. Griggs was in Queenstown to take a one day course on paragliding. He got pretty much one-on-one instruction and really took to it as we knew he would. He is really stoked to follow through on getting certified to fly solo and add this to his list of activities along with hiking and skiing. It really is perfect for Griggs and it’s exciting that he found something that blends his love for hiking and also flying. Despite my repeated reminders for him to document this big event, he did not get a single photo of the paragliding! I know, I’m working on him and documentation of such awesome stuff. He did get a chance to hike up Ben Lomond Summit while he was in Queenstown and got a photo of that, so that’s good. Baby steps. I will say that I’ve convinced Griggs of the value of documenting and journaling in some form, so he’s now actively participating in Instagram! He will be hiking the CDT in some pretty epic snow starting May 5th, and will be using our Tassie trip to practice daily journaling through Instagram. Follow his feed at @griggsdomler. Pretty excited that he’s going to give it a try.
When we got to Invercargill, many hikers were there that would be finishing the TA the next day. One of them was Matt/Softwalker who I’ve mentioned a few times before and last overlapped with when he and his sister Laurel (who returned home to the states a few weeks ago) were part of the group I went with on the Whanganui River section. It was so great to see Matt! If you recall, he and I were both on the same shuttle to the start of the PCT in 2011, which was the first thru-hike for both of us. He also was born and raised just a couple hours from me in Illinois. We overlapped one day on the CDT in 2013 and now here. Matt absolutely loves thru-hiking and has a contagious energy for it, so it was a great boost to see him one last time before his big day and have dinner together.
Te Araroa Thoughts
I know many people are interested to hear my overall thoughts on the Te Araroa. Once I’m home in a month or so, I’ll do my regular “Advice to Future TA Walkers” post that has detail, but for now, I can give a few thoughts. None of these thoughts are new to anyone who has followed this blog and knows me. I’m sure I’m bound to get some kind of rebuttal about how jaded and ungrateful I am, but I am being honest. Many follow this blog because they are considering doing the TA themselves. I am not discouraging anyone from doing the Te Araroa, but I do think they need to go into it with a clear understanding of what to expect. It is a disservice to everyone and disingenuous for me to post a few filtered photos of a pretty view, give some inspirational quote from John Muir, and then hashtag it #liveauthentic. I seriously cringe at this every time I see it and know the truth on the ground. What’s wrong with giving the real picture of something? It’s ok to say something is difficult, unenjoyable, or boring. That’s what’s real. Not everything in life has to be this wanderlust filled grandeur of dreams and comfort. I know the reason why this blog is so well followed is that you all know I’ll keep it real…both the good and the bad. So, lets be real here…
Do I recommend thru-hiking the Te Araroa? The simple answer is yes, I do recommend thru-hiking the Te Araroa. I would not put it possibly in the top 10 of thru-hikes people could choose from, but given the short list of thru-hikes that span a complete country, and give a 4-5 month experience, it is on the list. Not high on the list, but it’s on there. I won’t go into too much detail now, but the TA is comprised of two completely different halves. The North Island is not a wilderness experience overall for people who crave that. It wore on me after awhile to sleep almost every night in a holiday park next to a camper van or in someone’s yard. Yes, some find ways to camp each night on the North Island, but I challenge them to do that legally. I crave the wilderness aspect of thru-hiking and seek to get away from the traffic, people, and stimuli of society when I thru-hike. The North Island did not provide this solace overall, but was still a very unique experience when I look back on it. It did feel like I was basically day hiking many days from one concrete location to another, but where else would I walk along New Zealand farmland, ocean coasts, through small towns, in big cities, experience the Maori culture, ride ferries, spend a week canoeing a river, and also fit in some actual wilderness hiking as well? It’s definitely one that requires a good perspective that can be lost in the moment. I felt like all of this could be experienced more enjoyably by renting a camper van, but what can’t be experienced in that way is the thru-hiking community. No matter what the hike is like, there is nothing like the bond that’s created when people walk together and overlap on the same arduous journey over multiple months. If it wasn’t for the communal experience I had on the North Island, I do not think I would have valued it as much.
Now, as for the South Island, it is much more of a wilderness experience. I have to say it is frustrating in many ways with how often it goes along areas that can flood (and often do), but that’s New Zealand for you. The South Island for sure felt like much more of an actual thru-hike, and I definitely recommend it. Many have messaged me privately to ask if I recommend solely doing the South Island. For most, I say yes. Not everyone has the time and money to spend on both islands, and I think your money can be much better spent somewhere else (like Tasmania or Australia) than the North Island if you are limited on funding. It’s a matter of prioritizing what you consider valuable. For me, I am apparently rich (haha) and have accepted this as something that I think is worthy of time and money at this point in my life. Now, know I’ve hiked well over 10,000mi of long trails, so I’ve already checked many other things off the list that I’d prioritize over the North Island. For those strapped for money and time, I totally recommend the South Island, but know that it’s not easy, cheap, or comfortable. I’ve talked with many who only hiked the South Island, and they blended right into the thru-hiking community pretty immediately. Really, there are so many skippers, hitchers, and those making their own routes, that it all gets jumbled and everyone is just out here overlapping. Still, if you’re not one in need of that communal feel, I would recommend just coming to the South Island and doing sections of the TA maybe and then all the major hikes down here that I did as side trips. I’d say that is more worth your time and money if a thru-hike community is not high on your priority list.
I hope all this is making sense. Just my opinion and I’m sure there are people who completely disagree. I tend to gauge a hiking experience on a scale of effort vs reward. Effort isn’t just physical, but also emotional, logistic, financial, etc. Overall, there was often an imbalance in the scale in that there was more effort than reward. However, I do feel like a thru-hike community experience made this whole thing worth it because that’s what makes thru-hiking so special. That combination of a trail family and being on a long journey together. It’s rare to find thru-hikes, and this is one of the few you can do in the months of November-March. The pickings are slim if that’s your window, and that’s how many ended up out here. Also, I’d say that the majority of hikers out here are on a first time thru-hike. This hike has its challenges, but it’s an easy one for people who want to get a thru-hike experience without actually hiking the whole thing. It’s easy to hitch at least 1/3 of this track, and I’d say about half the people out here do that in some form. For me, that did take away from the bond you’d have with someone who has also hiked each step and gone through the same things, but there are enough out here doing both, and keeping the same pace somehow, that you do stick around the same crowd much of the way regardless of if you skip sections or not in many cases. Many who strongly disagree with me, are first time thru-hikers who have nothing to compare this to, so they don’t know better is out there. Here is a great post from Michelle who also hiked the TA this year, and came away with many of the same feelings that myself and others did. She is a New Zealander, and was well informed going in. Her thoughts are on point and very well written, so I say “DITTO!”
I also want to point out that everyone has their own enjoyment level of wilderness vs non-wilderness on a thru-hike. I have no interest in hiking the Camino, but that’s a major favorite for many who like a more social kind of experience where you land in town every night. With all of these, what makes them great is that everyone is on a journey in some way and we all are overlapping, so there’s a community there and that’s special. Knowing what I know now, if I could go back in time and decide to do this thru-hike or not, would I? Yes, I 100% would do it! I hope I’ve answered some of your questions on this, and I’m sure for some of you, I’ve just caused more confusion, but that’s all I got for ya. Hey, it’s honest. In just over a month, I’ll do one more specifically geared to advice for future TA walkers, but for now, time to move on to Tasmania!