The Te Araroa
So what is it, exactly, that we are doing half way around the world for six months? Well it's called the Te Araroa, Maori for The Long Pathway, and here is a little bit about what it is and where it came from...
Officially opened exactly 5 years ago today, the Te Araroa trail is a continuous (in a sense) track that stretches the length of New Zealand, from Cape Reinga in the North to Bluff in the South, spanning some 3000 km. While possible as a single journey - or "thru-hike" - the trail is in reality a collection of many trails & road links, some of which long predate the Te Araroa itself, and some that were created for the express purpose of connecting the pieces of the country length trail.
Although the Te Araroa is often put in the category of other long trails, such as the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, it has quite a few unique characteristics. Championed into existence by the New Zealander Geoff Chapple, the Te Araroa trail had been an idea floating around in many minds, but not recognized fully, until Chapple walked first the North Island in 1998 and then the South Island in 2002, spreading word and awareness about New Zealand's trail, and gaining support and followers. Still, it took until 2011 for the Te Araroa Trust to announce the trail's official opening, and five years later the trail continues to evolve, as every season new tracks are added to replace road walk links.
The Te Araroa trail is as much a cultural experience as a wilderness one. While the American long distance trails avoid cities in preference for uninterrupted wilderness (when possible), the Te Araroa embraces its late birth into a modern country. The trail not only spans beaches, forests, rivers, mountains, lakes and volcanoes, but also farmland, towns, and even the streets of Auckland and Wellington. Despite the trails excursions into inhabited lands, the trail itself is still growing in popularity and awareness. While similar American trails are now flooded with over 2,000 thru hikers per season, our best guess at the amount of thru hike attempts for this year number in the 300-400 person range - so when we do travel through the more remote sections, there is a good chance we really will be alone out there! The number of hikers on the trail seems to be doubling about every year though, and the towns and people who live along the trail are beginning to feel the affects of its growing popularity - something that both hikers and those affected by the trail will have to work to address to ensure the continued growth and existence of this amazing trail.
A few interesting highlights/details about the trail, to give a sense of its flavor:
- The trail begins at Cape Reinga, where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet, and where according to Maori mythology, the souls of the dead travel to leap off the mainland on their journey to the afterlife.
- The first roughly 90km of the trail are along a beach, the misnamed 90 Mile Beach.
- A 5 day section of the trail is actually a kayak journey down the Whanganui River.
- The longest section of trail without passing through a town (therefore the longest food carry) can take up to 10 days!
- It takes 4-6 months to complete the full trail, and three pairs of shoes. Which cost around $200NZD per pair - BYOS!
More information about the trail can be found on the website of the Te Araroa Trust .