There is a new tramp in New Zealand and it’s slightly longer than the Milford Track! Te Araroa, or the long pathway, or New Zealand’s trail, is a spectacular walk from the very top to the very bottom of New Zealand. The official website says it will take about 50 to 80 days to complete. The straight-line distance from Cape Reinga to Bluff is 1475 km, but Te Araroa covers a longer nominal distance of 3000 km.
Brief History of the Trail
The idea of a national walkway goes back to the 1970s, and in 1975 the New Zealand Walkways Commission was established, but in 15 years made little progress. In 1994, journalist Geoff Chapple, wrote in favour of putting in place a New Zealand-long walking track, and founded Te Araroa Trust. Advocacy and negotiations for access continued, and by 2006 plans for the trail began being part of local government plans. The 3000 km (1864 miles) route officially opened on December 3, 2011 after 10 years of work by hundreds of volunteers. Construction coordinated by the trust is ongoing.
The trail has approximately 300 sections ranging from walks of 1–2 hours through to a 9-day route in the South Island where full equipment must be carried. 40% of the trail crosses conservation land and the Government allocated $NZ3.8 million for development of new sections of the trail on conservation land in 2007.
Latest News from the Trail
If you’re a regular driver down Invercargill’s Stead St, chances are you’ve seen a backpacker or two trudging along the estuary walkway.
The stretch of road is part of the increasingly popular Te Araroa Trail, a 3000 kilometre trail opened in 2011, which runs from Cape Reinga to Bluff in New Zealand.
Popular among tourists and Kiwis alike, the trail can be traversed as a whole or in smaller sections and appears to be increasing in traffic all the time.
Michigan-born Elinor Israel finished the entire trail in Bluff on Monday, spending 107 days on the go.
She had experience doing other long trails in the United States, but tramping in New Zealand was a completely different experience.
“Here it’s just an entire new culture [of tramping],” she said.
“There’s just so many different ways of hiking.”
Israel said the majority of people she met on the trail were from overseas.
Christchurch community health worker Rachel Kirkbride finished the entire trail in Bluff last week after a four-and-a-half month trek, raising awareness for Multiple Sclerosis.
Throughout her travels, Kirkbride said she encountered quite a few tourists who had the wrong perception regarding the terrain of the the trail, and tramping in New Zealand conditions in general.
A young French man and an American woman enlisted her help when they were unsure about how to approach a river crossing after it had been raining the day before.
“They had no idea how to cross New Zealand rivers and that flash floods happen and you have to wait a day [before crossing the river],” she said.
“I think [the wrong perception about the terrain] might become an increasing issue, to be honest.”
Federated Mountain Clubs president Robin McNeill thought having the trail come through part of Invercargill was beneficial for the economy but noted there could be potential in the future for trail demand to climb higher.
“You can always be a victim of your own success,” he said.
McNeill said the part of the trail which comes through Southland was generally one which could be much more easily handled because of the easy terrain.
For some overseas travellers, their expectations of what facilities would be along the trail tended to be different from their other experiences, such as having a cafe pop up every few kilometres, he said.
“There’s not too many of those along the [trail] in Southland.”
Towns on the trail seeing a lot of economic benefits
Taumarunui on the Te Araroa Trail
No local could have failed to notice that tourist numbers in Ruapehu are booming with many of these visitors finding their way to Taumarunui.
While many come for fantastic new tourism products such as the Forgotten World Adventures self-driven rail carts on the old Ohura-Stratford rail line, or to canoe the Whanganui River, some are here as part of walking the world renowned 3,000km Te Araroa Trail which runs the length of NZ from Cape Reinga to Bluff.
Formally opened in 2011 the Te Araroa Trail has been described by National Geographic as “one of the best long walks on the planet”, and just last year CNN listed Te Araroa as one of the world’s top 10 long trails, along with the 3500km Appalachian Trail and the 6200km Sentiero in Italy.
Ruapehu councillor and chairperson of the Taumarunui-Ohura Ward Committee Graeme Cosford who is also a life-long tramper himself said that he cannot recall such an influx of visitors coming through Taumarunui.
“As a keen tramper and outdoor enthusiast myself I make a point of having a chat with as many of these walkers as I can when I see them in town.”
“You can’t miss them with their backpacks laden down with food, camping and other and outdoor gear,” he said.
“Many of them are spending time in Taumarunui resting after about 40 to 50 days on the trail before tackling the 42 Traverse and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, with some then returning this way to canoe the Whanganui River which all form part of the Trail.”
“The range of nationalities is huge with people coming from all around the world to walk the trail or sections of it.”
Councillor Cosford said that small towns like Taumarunui stand to benefit from the growing number of Te Araroa walkers and the economic benefits they bring.
“While we have large numbers of walkers doing popular sections of the trail such as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing we need to capitalise on the opportunity to encourage more of these people to expand their horizons a bit and spend more time in Ruapehu and see what Taumarunui and our other townships have to offer.”
“Anyone who has travelled overseas can attest that meeting with the locals is often the most rewarding and memorable part of the trip.”
“I would encourage everyone to say hi to these visitors if the get a chance and even offer them some hospitality if at all possible and help to build Taumarunui’s reputation as a friendly, welcoming town.”
“Recognition by international media such as National Geographic and CNN highlights that we have a world class asset running through our district that will only continue to grow in popularity.”
“We can all help to champion Taumarunui and our place on the Te Araroa Trail.”
Travel to New Zealand should always be accompanied with travel insurance from providers such as holiday insurance for seniors – always have cover, particularly if you are hiking!
Don’t forget that France is also considering a long distance footpath too.