For 3000 long kilometres Te Araroa (“The Long Pathway”) wends its way the length of New Zealand from Cape Reinga, New Zealand’s northernmost accessible point and the entrance to the Māori spirit world, to Bluff, the bleak and chilly full stop at the end of the mainland.
My route to work each day follows part of the trail, so every morning in spring and early summer I see a procession of hikers making their way down Kerikeri’s Inlet Rd to Waitangi Forest and the promise of Paihia, a prettily located tourist town, on the other side.
Since the full trail opened in 2011, 16 years after the first section from Kerikeri to Paihia, I’ve watched the number of hikers grow rapidly.
At first they’d take me by surprise, like spotting some kind of endangered species. Then, until the Covid pandemic slammed New Zealand’s borders shut, I’d pass as many as 10 a day during my short drive into town.
According to the Te Araroa Trust 1100 people walked the full 3000km in 2018. The figure for 2019 was around 1500; Covid has brought numbers crashing down, but it has also prompted more Kiwis than ever before to take on the challenge.
Parts of Te Araroa are unquestionably beautiful. But other parts are tedious with hikers forced to trudge along busy roads or through deep mud on poorly formed tracks. Every year a few have to be winched by helicopter out of the unforgiving Raetea Forest, not far from where I live. Yet they still keep coming.
Every morning on my way to work I’d wave and wonder: Why?
There was of course only one way to find out, so I started asking them. And that’s how the Te Araroa Project was born.
I always ask walkers three simple questions – why they’re doing it, the worst thing so far about Te Araroa, and the best.
I’ve never gone out looking for Te Araroa walkers, I just talk to hikers I meet randomly on the street, during bush walks or in the supermarket. Everyone so far has been amazingly receptive to my project.
Because I live in New Zealand’s Far North the hikers’ best and worst experiences are usually limited to their first few weeks on the trail, but their motivations are extraordinarily varied. For some it’s as simple as a love of walking; for others the physical trail is merely the gateway to a journey of self-discovery.
But I’ll let them tell you about that themselves…
Fiona Naismith, 29, New Zealand/UK
Originally from Watlington in the UK, Fiona quit her job with the Ministry of Social Development in Wellington to get to know her mother’s home country by walking it from end to end. I first met her partner Matt as he was walking to Kerikeri from Bay of Islands Airport; a few days later, on December 13, 2021, they stopped by my house for a cuppa. Matt has been joining Fiona on the trail when he can. Both figure it’s a good test of their relationship — if they can share a tent for weeks on end they should be able to share a 10sq m tiny house in the future.
I moved to New Zealand two years ago. My mum is originally from New Zealand and I knew when I got here I wanted to spend a good amount of time walking and getting to know the country, so I thought Te Araroa was the best way to do that.
I started in the South Island because I needed to get a job and I didn’t have time to take five months off at that point.
I spent 63 days walking from the top of Queen Charlotte Sound to Bluff and it was just the most amazing experience of my life so far. It’s that complete contentment … all you need to focus on is your basic needs for food, water, shelter and not getting lost. It strips everything back and lets you focus on the important things.
Now I’ve been working for the last year and nine months I decided it was time for a change. I live in the North Island, in Wellington, and I wanted to get to know the North Island better. I feel quite connected to the South Island from my experience there and I wanted the same feeling here, so I started at Cape Reinga 11 days ago.
It’s funny, I really don’t think there are any lowlights. Even the hard things, like when your feet ache or you’re hungry or you’re a bit lost, just make getting to the camp or the amazing view or taking your boots off and putting your feet in a stream feel even more amazing.
But one lowlight could be that I got to the first camp at Twilight Bay and realised I’d left all my tent pegs in Wellington. I thought, “This isn’t a good start”, but as is the way with Te Araroa, I met some lovely people and they lent me a couple of pegs each and I used my hiking poles and it was all good. I’ve got some new pegs now.
As for the highlights, there’s so many. In the South Island it was probably the Richmond Ranges and Nelson Lakes areas, they’re just so remote and have such incredible scenery. Some of the more challenging days are the ones you look back on as the most rewarding.
In the North Island, the Omahuta Forest track was amazing. I didn’t have any expectations going in but roaming down the stream and up through the bush was just beautiful.
Montana O’Neill, 27, Australia
For Montana O’Neill walking the 3000km Te Araroa trail is a chance to combine his love of the outdoors with raising money for a charity close to his heart.
Montana grew up in Gunning, a country town in New South Wales, with a mate named Jake Apps. Jake died at the age of 25 of cystic fibrosis, a disease for which there is as yet no cure. Montana’s goal is to raise $1000 for every year of Jake’s too-short life with the money going to Cure4CF, an organisation which funds research into cystic fibrosis.
Walking Te Araroa is never easy but Montana, a car detailer living in Canberra, also had to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic, his grandfather’s illness, and personal challenges at home.
He started at Bluff in 2020, walking the length of the South Island and as far as Levin in the North Island before the country went into lockdown. Stranded in New Zealand and unable to continue walking, he was lucky to land a job as an essential worker on a kiwifruit orchard in the Bay of Plenty for six weeks.
He returned to Australia once travel restrictions eased and restarted Te Araroa on April 22, 2021.
As if walking 3000km wasn’t enough Montana is also doing every side trip he can find. When I met him on Pā Rd in Kerikeri on June 27, 2021, he’d just completed the gruelling Cape Brett Track and just hit his $25,000 fundraising target.
I love the outdoors, I love hiking, I love adventure, I love to explore and see the world, but I like to do it in a very nomadic way, off the beaten track — and the best way to do it is to walk. Back in 2019 I did a really big European trip and did a lot of hiking, that’s where I really fell in love with it.
I was still over there when I heard my mate had passed away from cystic fibrosis and I felt I needed to return. I’d heard about the Te Araroa trail a few years earlier but I thought I’d only want to do it for a good reason or a cause, so when I heard about my mate I thought it was a good opportunity to raise funds and awareness while doing something I love. My aim is to raise $1000 for every year of his life.
For me this journey has also been going back home [due to the Covid pandemic] and restarting. That’s not part of the trail but it’s been part of my journey. In the year and a bit I was in Australia I went through some pretty challenging things so coming back to the trail has been really good. I’m getting back to what I love doing and getting a chance to heal.
There were some pretty tough things then that were quite personal, but as for the toughest thing about the trail itself, there was the time when I heard my grandfather was really sick. That was hard because I was doing the trail for my friend who had passed away, but my granddad was sick so I had to decide: Do I keep going, or do I go back and see him before he passes away?
The trail itself has just been absolutely amazing, incredible. I’ve been so fortunate with the weather, the people I’ve met, the locals, the landscapes. On the trail itself it’s been all highlights.
But if I had to pick one highlight, I’d say Waiau Pass [in Nelson Lakes National Park]. That was amazing, just incredible. That’s my kind of of place. It had everything, mountains, forest, lakes, waterfalls. It was five days of absolutely amazing views, great people along the way, and camaraderie in the huts. That was the highest of the highlights.
Sarah Matthews, 29, New Zealand
Sarah, from Cambridge, was keen for a change after working as an army chef for 12 years at Linton, Waiouru and most recently Papakura. She wanted to travel overseas but with borders closed due to the Covid pandemic she was forced to seek a challenge closer to home.
Googling led her to Te Araroa; the memory of a close friend and fellow army chef, Patrick Newton, prompted her to dedicate the walk to his memory. Along the way she’s also raising money and awareness for Bowel Cancer New Zealand. Patrick probably had the disease for five years before he was diagnosed, and by then he had just two weeks left to live. He died aged 31.
Te Araroa is always a challenge but Sarah has walked much of it in winter and from Bluff to Cape Rēinga, the reverse of the usual direction. That means as well as the usual physical challenges she has to deal with loneliness, isolation and the short days of winter. When I met her, tucking into a scone at a Kerikeri Basin café on June 25, 2021, she had been joined by a couple of friends and had just two weeks to go.
I’m doing the trail to help raise awareness and funds for Bowel Cancer New Zealand. I lost a friend to bowel cancer and he was only 31 years old, so I’m walking the trail in memory of him — and also because I thought it would be a neat thing to do, to be able to explore New Zealand and visit different places you wouldn’t normally see.
The hardest thing has definitely been walking by myself for long periods of time. You do get quite lonely, especially in the South Island. In some really remote areas there’s no cellphone reception and you might not see anyone for a few days. The trail can be quite challenging and you’ve got no one there to support you or encourage you through those hard days.
The highlights are definitely the people you meet, the amazing Trail Angels along the way and realising how kind and generous so many people are. I wasn’t a hiker before I started the trail — this is my first hike — so another highlight has been meeting people who have done lots of hikes and realising there’s a huge hiker community out there that I never knew existed.
Nicole Leger, 34, New Zealand/Canada
Nicole is originally from Prince Edward Island in Canada but these days she lives in Wellington. She works for the Royal New Zealand Air Force but she’s taking time off to study psychology. She joined her friend Sarah Matthews at Mangawhai for the final leg of her Te Araroa adventure to Cape Rēinga. I met her on June 25, 2021.
I’m walking Te Araroa to support my friend Sarah. I never even knew about the trail until Sarah decided she wanted to do it for her mate that passed away. She was on her last few hundred k [kilometres] and I’m like, ‘That’s tough, you’ve been going for six months’, so I’m doing it for her.
The worst thing about Te Araroa so far? I haven’t really had any worst thing to be honest. It’s just been great to be with Sarah and support her. If there is a worst thing it’s probably just trying to keep up with Sarah, because she’s a lot quicker than me … and meeting other walkers and hearing their stories and feeling like I’ve missed out. But other than that it’s been a really neat experience.
The best thing about it is being with Sarah and being outdoors, and seeing part of this country I thought I’d never see. I’ve driven up here a few times but I feel quite privileged to see Northland like this.
Elly Holland, 28, New Zealand
Elly was working in Te Papa’s natural history collection when she decided she needed a break. She walked much of the trail on her own but when I met her, walking along Kerikeri River just upstream of Rainbow Falls on June 25, 2021, she had teamed up with Sarah Matthews and Nicole Leger. Elly has a delightful laugh and is probably the only person who will ever nominate a slug when asked to name the highlight of Te Araroa.
I’m doing this for fun, for a bit of a break. I’ve always wanted to do it. I think there’s something pretty cool about walking from the bottom of New Zealand to the top. I really like walking, I really like trees, I really like seeing the country, I like beaches. It’s just a nice big walk.
The worst thing was just building fitness at the start and climbing some of those hills. And rainy days.
The highlight was probably standing on top of the Rintouls [Big and Little Rintoul are peaks in Mt Richmond Forest Park, Marlborough]. The Richmond Ranges, the Tararuas, Nelson Lakes … all the most beautiful parts are the toughest, and the best. And seeing a really cool leaf-veined slug. I always tell people one of the highlights of Te Araroa was seeing a slug on Mt Rintoul.
Sally Lobb, 50, New Zealand
I bumped into Sally and Kathy at Mangamuka Dairy, a renowned takeaway stop and resupply point after Raetea Forest, one of the toughest sections of the trail in Northland. They were tucking into ice creams and fizzing with love for the trail. In normal life Sally is a horticulture worker in Taranaki while Kathy is a boarding hostel supervisor in Whangārei. They were accompanied by Gnomad, a pocket-sized gnome from one of Sally’s co-workers. I met them on October 19, 2020.
I’ve dreamt about doing Te Araroa for quite a few years and never been able to take enough time off work. Then last year I cycled the length of the country and I loved it so much. I saw the Te Araroa walkers and I got the bug and thought, “It’s something I just have to do”.
So this year I made the sacrifice, took four months off work, and here I am. I love the idea of it, I love walking, I love the challenge. I love the whole experience.
The hardest part was probably the planning, the thinking, the worrying about what to put in my pack. Since I’ve started the walk I haven’t had a bad day. I’ve loved every moment.
The highlight so far … I loved the beach [Ninety Mile Beach], I loved the quietness, the remoteness, and the uniqueness of how long it is. I also loved Raetea Forest — I’m from Taranaki, I’m used to the bush around the mountain [Mt Taranaki], so that was like going home for me. I loved the giant snails — we don’t get those at home — and the birdlife is phenomenal. Best I’ve seen in the country.
Kathy Ramsay, 53, New Zealand
This was born out of Covid-19. I was given a book about Te Araroa for Christmas by my 17-year-old daughter, Angel. During Covid I got made redundant and I had a lot of time to read, which is a favourite pastime, so I read the book and I thought, “I can do this”. I’m up for a challenge and an adventure and just taking time out. Getting back to basics and what you need in life, and appreciating it.
The longest walk I’ve done before this was the Annapurna Circuit. It was 10 days in Nepal but I was in my early 20s and I had a Sherpa to carry my pack.
Walking on the sand, on Ninety Mile Beach, is very hard. If you saw my blisters you’d understand. And I get really cold. My sleeping bag’s not warm enough at night. I have to get another. I’m not sleeping very well. It’s not as enjoyable when you don’t get enough sleep.
The highlight was walking the Raetea Forest yesterday. I love the bush. I love being in nature and that was the ultimate for me. It was just beautiful, being among those huge trees, the rimus and the kauris, and listening to the birds.
You can also read about Kathy in this report in her hometown newspaper, the Northern Advocate.
Rose Jang, 30, Canada
Rose, an arts administrator from Victoria in Canada, had been working at the Fringe Festival in Wellington before embarking on Te Araroa with her partner. I met her in Waitangi Forest on October 17 (election day), 2020.
I like walking. My partner is from England and I’m from Canada, we came to New Zealand on a two-year visa so it made sense to see lots of the country because we won’t have a long stretch back here for who knows how long. This seemed like a great way to see as much of the country as we could. Neither of us drives, we’re walking people.
It’s also a way for my partner and I, and our interests, to connect. He’s a slow, long-distance traveller, I’m more of an artsy/culture/planner sort of person. This really puts it together. We’re getting to learn about the culture of New Zealand and getting to learn about each other.
The worst part was a day on Ninety Mile Beach. I have allergies and there’s a forest directly behind the beach, so first I get allergies, then sand starts blowing across the beach… so all day I was getting sand blown in my face and really suffering this seasonal allergy. That was day three and I thought, “I hope it’s not all going to be like this”. But every day since then has been fine.
The best bit so far for me was the ridge walk in Puketi Forest where you see the kauri trees. And the best part about doing the walk has been running into other TA’ers. There’s been a group of about five of us who’ve walked a few days together and it’s been really lovely, just bonding with people and getting to chat with them.
Mitch Fowler, 24, New Zealand
Mitch and Olaf are old schoolmates from Christchurch who decided to walk Te Araroa together. They were the first hikers I met in the 2020-21 season. Mitch, who was working as a café dishwasher in Auckland, is one of many Kiwis exploring his own country while the Covid pandemic keeps international borders closed. I met them on October 17, 2020, on Inlet Rd, Kerikeri, as they were about to pick up the trail through Waitangi Forest to Paihia.
I’m doing this because I’d like to go overseas but because of Covid it’s probably safer and more sensible to stay here. And then my sister told me, “You know you could walk the whole country if you want”. So I figured, why not? I was just working, doing random jobs, it wasn’t super-satisfying but I had a lot of money saved.
I like being outdoors and I’ve done quiet a bit of hiking before — last year I was in India, I did a bit in Himachal Pradesh and the Spiti Valley, and it was super-beautiful — but a long distance walk, never.
The worst part was probably Ninety Mile Beach. I got so many blisters and it’s three days of the same scenery. I just got a bit bored of it. But once I got through I felt like I can do all of this.
The highlight is just slowing down in general. There’s a pace to every day and you’ve got to keep going, but living in Auckland is so hustle and bustle. This is a lot more relaxing. You have heaps more time to think about all sorts of stuff.
Olaf Flint, 23, New Zealand
Olaf, a website manager for Choice TV, is hoping Te Araroa will give him a fresh start and strengthen his willpower.
I was kind of stuck in my job for so long and I felt like I had nothing really going on. Then Mitch came long with this book about Te Araroa and I thought, “That’s exactly what I want to do”. I was originally planning a road trip because I had so much leave saved up. So I thought I’d do this instead and then hopefully start a new life, wherever.
I’m hoping this trail will make me a lot more determined and a lot more focused, especially in terms of mental willpower to get things done, and experiencing how much work its takes to actually get somewhere. That’s something that’s probably lacking in my life. That’s my journey, to try to get that kind of force of will going, so I can transfer that to other things.
The worst part of Te Araroa is walking at night. That’s the worst for morale. You think you’re never going to get there, you can’t see anything in front of you, you feel like you’ve been walking for hours, you’re exhausted…
The highlight has been meeting new people, which is something else I wanted from the trail. That’s been great.
Haroon Shaikh, 38, New Zealand/India
Some people walk Te Araroa because they love hiking. Others do it because they’ve been through a crisis and need to clear their minds, challenge themselves and make a fresh start. Haroon, who was born in India but has lived for many years in Christchurch, fits into the latter category. I met the carpenter/IT engineer on Inlet Rd, Kerikeri, on December 14, 2019.
I had a divorce, well, we separated 2½ years ago, and because I’m Indian it was a big deal. I struggled quite a bit with the relationship breakup and I had a few other mental issues that needed to be sorted out. I read a book about a guy who was going through similar stuff, he was in Washington State and decided to walk to the other end of the country, which turned out to be Key West, Florida. Something like that entered my mind. I made an absolutely naïve attempt at the start of last year to walk the length of State Highway 1. It didn’t work out very well because of logistic issues and safety. Later in the year I started hiking with a group, day hikes which turned into multi-day hikes. Then I heard about Te Araroa and it just clicked.
It’s a bit of a life reset for me. Nothing’s better than walking a country. I left behind my stuff in Christchurch, I gave away my old marriage clothes, everything that was from the marriage is gone. The house where I was living for 14 years is gone, I left my job. I’ve only got a suitcase and a box of books in Christchurch that I’ll probably pick up at some point. I’m kind of at home where I am for the next four months. It feels good. There’s certain freedom and certain hardship, they go together hand in hand.
Nothing’s really bad about the trail but there are things that are not really enjoyable after a while. One of them was Raetea Forest. The sheer mud, hour after hour after hour. For the first 15 minutes you try to avoid the mud. Than you fall into the mud, and then you realise after three hours it’s actually quite fun to just walk through it. And it’s faster. But after eight, nine hours at my fitness and speed I thought, it just can’t take this long. So I took a short cut after nine hours, if you can call walking two hours a short cut. It was a bit tough, not doing the whole Te Araroa, but at the end of the day I have to think about my knees. I don’t want to break myself. I had already done nine hours of slog, there was nothing more to prove.
The best parts so far were walking Ninety Mile Beach with other people and Omahuta Forest, walking through the stream. That was so much fun.
When I reached Ahipara I was having tea and biscuits at Bidz Dairy and saw someone in a jeep was going towards Kaitaia. I asked him if I could hitchhike, he said jump in, so I grabbed my bag and jumped in. I went to the i-Site [information centre] in Kaitaia and Jo was there. I’d called her a few days earlier to ask where I could get halal food [food prepared according to the rules of Islam] in Kaitaia. She rang around the whole town to find out, so it was really good to put a face to the voice. Then she helped me out by telling me where to find showers, toilets, internet and groceries, and she looked after my backpack so I didn’t have to carry it. I did my resupplies, picked up my pack, walked out onto the road and realised I’d left my walking poles in Ahipara. It was about 4pm and I couldn’t find any way to get to Ahipara and back the same day. Jo said, ‘Stick around until 5pm when I finish and I’ll take you there and back’. It wasn’t part of her job but she did it anyway. I want to find a way to repay her or get her some recognition.
David Grammer, 20, Austria
I met David, a cinema projectionist from Linz, while he was walking down Inlet Rd, Kerikeri, with Haroon Shaikh on December 14, 2019.
I absolutely love hiking and I love the mountains. In Austria we also have great places where you can walk very much. I saw the movie The Lord of the Rings — that’s the first time I started to see how beautiful the country is — and then I read more about it and the culture here. It’s just a wonderful land. When I heard about the trail I thought it was a great idea to do it now that I’ve finished school and I’m not really sure what to do next in my life. I want to use the opportunity to think about what I’m doing next, what I aim to do in life, what I want to do.
The highlight for me was from Cape Reinga to Twilight Beach and then the sunset at Twilight Beach. It was just wonderful. A wonderful sunset with a really red sun, and the waves were pretty big too. And the worst part … it’s not really the worst because you get used to it, but the mud is really challenging. Raetea Forest was really hard.
Ole Schramme, 30, Germany
I met Ole, a geology graduate from the city of Jena, on December 4, 2019, while he was striding down Ti Beach towards Paihia, looking for a place to take a skinny-dip. One of the challenges of walking Te Araroa is that non-essentials like togs (that’s a swimsuit to non-Kiwis) have to be left behind to minimise weight. Although new to long-distance walking, Ole is already hooked and researching other hikes to do in future, such as the 440km Kungsleden (King’s Trail) in Sweden.
I came here for my gap year and I didn’t really know what to do so I worked, and while I was working I was always hiking quite a lot. Then I head about Te Araroa so I thought it would be a good way to combine travelling and being out in the nature. I never did a long distance walk before this but I did some multiple day hiking and I quite enjoyed that. I like not relying on a car and the idea of just starting every day and seeing where I get. I like biking too but that’s not an option around here, the roads are not made for it.
The best thing, surprisingly, is just being outside and sleeping sort of wherever I want to, and seeing the different landscapes, even though I’m just at the beginning. One time, just before Kerikeri, I didn’t find a place to sleep so I asked people if they know a place to tent, and they offered me a bed and even gave me a piece of cake. That was really friendly.
The worst [thinks hard] … the sleeping situation annoys me, you can’t just go how far you want and tent somewhere. In some places there is so much private land and paddocks you are forced to go on a campsite or stop before you want to. And I got some blisters on Ninety Mile Beach, but that’s fine.
Clement Le Blay, 28, France
After days of trudging through the forest in near solitude, Clement Le Blay and Thomas Le Gall, both from Brittany, accidentally arrived in Kerikeri in the middle of the annual Street Party, which is easily the biggest night of the year in an otherwise sleepy town. They had to squeeze through a 5000-strong crowd to get to the supermarket for provisions and even the campground was booked out, but the young Frenchmen took it in their stride. I met Clement, a psychiatric nurse, and Thomas, a communications student, in Kerikeri on November 23, 2019.
I am walking Te Araroa because I want to prove to myself I can make it and because I really enjoy nature. I have been to New Zealand before and I really liked the country and the landscape. I think walking with a group is a really good way to share things with people. It is also a simple way to travel through a country, to use your feet.
The highlight so far was the beginning, the first day from Cape Reinga down to the beach. The worst I would say was the last two days in Raetea Forest because it was really steep and muddy. And it was our tenth day of walking so it was exhausting.
Thomas Le Gall, 23, France
I was in New Zealand last year for my holidays and it was the best time in my life because New Zealand is awesome. When I was here last year I learned that my grandmother, Yvette, had cancer. So when I was back in France I decided to prove to my grandmother that I can do this [Te Araroa]. She died just two weeks before I left to New Zealand so now I would like to do it for her and to prove she can be proud about me. I am doing this for her.
The worst part about Te Araroa is maybe when we have to walk on the road because it’s a bit boring and we meet many cars. I know that Te Araroa could be perfect in a few years, but I think we need to have some bad times so we can later find some good times.
The best thing I think is when you are alone in the landscape, like on Ninety Mile Beach. You feel freedom and you are happy knowing there is good nature in the world, because sometimes you just read in newspapers bad things about the planet. When you are on Te Araroa you see the planet is beautiful and we need to conserve it.
Jia-hui ‘Joyce’ Ling, 27, Taiwan
When I saw Jia-hui she was running down State Highway 1. She had just survived Raetea Forest — arguably the toughest section of Te Araroa in Northland — and was carrying a pack almost as big as herself, yet she was running. She explained she wanted to get to Mangamuka Dairy, an oasis for walkers in an area otherwise devoid of shops, before it closed. Jia-hui is a social worker who helps people recovering from serious burns and loves hiking so much she had a mountain range tattooed on her arm. I met her at Mangamuka on November 13, 2019.
Three years ago the first girl from Taiwan walked Te Araroa. I am the second. I very like hiking. In Taiwan I put mountains on my arm [shows a tattoo]. In my Chinese name hui means sun, so I put a sun and mountains on my arm.
I got a working holiday visa to New Zealand and I saw there is a trail that goes through the whole New Zealand, so I thought: Why not? It’s going to be fun and I will see beautiful scenery and friendly people. But my bigger reason is because I am a social worker. My clients all have really bad burns from explosions, from accidents. They are doing really hard rehabilitation, physically and mentally. I see how strong they are and I get courage from them. I can show them how I am strong too and encourage them.
After I go back to Taiwan I will join a social walking group again. I think this story about Te Araroa can encourage some teenagers to do things they really want to do.
On Ninety Mile Beach I got really bad blisters on my feet. At every step I thought I am going to fail. The distance was long and my hiking boots were too hard. After the fourth day, when I finished Ninety Mile Beach, I needed to take a really long rest. I went back to Auckland for two weeks to recover from my blisters and change my shoes. It was hard for me because I hike a lot, so I did not understand how this could happen to me. I really wanted to quit. But now I am back to the trail.
The best part is the forest. It is so beautiful. It makes me think of similar places in Taiwan. When I was walking on the beach I met a lot of people but in the forest it was just me. I really enjoy that, the quiet and being by myself. Just the forest, the wind and the mud.
Gary Hayes, 44, New Zealand
In normal life Gary is a police constable in Whangarei but he’s taking four months off to walk the length of his adopted country — he’s originally from the UK — while raising awareness of the police-run youth charity Blue Light. He’d planned to walk Te Araroa together with Alistair Todd, a former police detective, and a 16-year-old Tipene Parata, a high school student from the town of Moerewa who aspires to be a policeman, but on the day I met him he was on his own. ‘Toddy’ had an injury and Tipene had end-of-year exams so it was just Gary striding down Inlet Rd, Kerikeri, on November 17, 2019.
I’m doing this to raise awareness of Blue Light, the kids’ charity, because they’re celebrating their 35-year anniversary this year.
Earlier this year I was on holiday with my family and I picked up a second-hand book in a bookstore in Kerikeri. It was about a gentleman called Geoff Chapple who created the Te Araroa trail. Halfway through the book I thought it would be great to put it on my bucket list and possibly do the trail one day … but by the time I put the book down I’d decided I was going to do the trail and I had to think of a reason to do it. Being a policeman the first thing that popped into my head was Blue Light.
I got help and support from the national Blue Light organisation, now I just have to put my money where my mouth is and hit the road. Along the way there’s several events where the kids will come along and join me. They’ll fly the flag themselves for Blue Light. Otherwise I’m just one mid-40s guy deciding to go for a walk.
The highlight so far has been meeting people from around the country and around the world. On average I see around eight people a day doing the trail, for multiple reasons. The thing with Te Araroa is that everyone is so friendly and accommodating and helpful. It’s great to meet different characters and hear their stories.
There’s been plenty of low points. I picked up an injury, my feet are sore, I’m constantly wet … but I just try to focus on the positives. If it’s a really cold, wet day, or my feet are really battered, I just tell myself: ‘I could be working’.
You can follow Gary’s progress on his Facebook page Gaz and Toddy do Te Araroa or read about his mission so far in the news stories Northland cops walk length of NZ for Blue Light and Charity walkers caught up in storm as lightning hammers Northland.
Chris Borke, 30, USA
An electrical engineer from Boulder, Colorado, Chris is walking Te Araroa with his fiancée Meghan Wiebe. They got engaged 18 months ago during a rafting trip; they were planning a wedding until they figured out they could walk the length of New Zealand for the same amount of money, so they’re treating it as a kind of pre-honeymoon. Their care for each other was palpable. They were really rather sweet. I met them on Cobham Rd, Kerikeri, on November 10, 2019.
Trail life brings me a mental clarity and an ability to step back from the grind of normal life. I really like the simplicity and the ability to think on the trail and get away from screens and lights and just find some simplicity while spending time with great people doing similar things. There’s a lot of really intelligent people on this trail. We’ve had some great discussions at camp.
I really liked the beach [Ninety Mile Beach]. I think a lot of people don’t like it but I liked the simplicity. It cleared everything. Then I started yearning for the forest … I’d get sneak peeks of it while hiking into town. I just love that, seeing the landscape around me.
The worst so far … that’s a hard one … Meghan’s been having a bit of trouble with her feet and seeing her go through that is hard. There’s things I can do, like take some of her gear, but I can’t really solve her feet, which is infuriating as an engineer because I can’t solve it.
Meghan Wiebe, 27, USA
Meghan is a recycling consultant from Boulder, Colorado. I know this because when I stopped to talk to her I was on my way to a recycling station so my car was brimming with empty bottles and old newspapers. I think she approved. As well as a personal challenge, Meghan is treating Te Araroa as a kind of road test for her future husband. I hope they are very happy together.
I’m doing this in part to test myself. I’ve never done a long through hike like this, so I want to see the limits of my body. But it’s also a sort of celebration of what the human body can do. I think it’s pretty incredible that all these people start out and see where they can get to.
I think it’s a fun way to explore a country with my partner and try a lot of different experiences together. If we can handle four months together it’s a good start to a lifetime together.
My personal highlight was the upriver section walking from Apple Dam to Puketi Forest. I’ve never walked in a river on a trail. That was really fun. I guess the low would be my feet …
Daniel Nogueira, 29, Brazil/New Zealand
Originally from Minas Gerais in Brazil, these days Daniel is a marketing manager and permanent New Zealand resident based in Auckland. He’s one of many walkers on a bigger mission than his own personal development — in his case it’s raising awareness of how individuals can reduce waste as well as raising money to replant a forest reserve in northern New Zealand. I met Daniel in Waitangi Forest, Kerikeri, on November 9, 2019.
I wanted a bit of adventure. I’ve been on a few cycling trips in New Zealand and Tasmania for three weeks at a time but I wanted something longer that would be a bit of personal journey as well. You go for the scenery — it’s beautiful — but you always look internally as well, at your thoughts, trying to be a better human.
I’m also walking 3000km though New Zealand to plant one tree for every kilometre for the Native Forest Restoration Trust. The trees will be planted in McGregor Reserve. [The Professor WR McGregor Reserve is a block of former farmland, now a regenerating kauri forest, bordering Northland’s Waipoua Forest. Go to Daniel’s Givealittle page to donate.]
I want to raise awareness of individuals having a positive impact on the environment by trying to walk with minimal waste. For example, instead of buying cereal bars in single-use plastic, I make my own. I also buy bulk ingredients to avoid packaging.
The worst thing was the amount of plastic I saw on Ninety Mile Beach. It’s brought by the current, it’s not from New Zealand. That was sad and it’s one of the reasons I want to raise awareness of using less plastic and disposing of it correctly.
Kineret Amit, 22, Israel
Kineret, from Be’er Sheva in the Negev Desert, is one of the youngest walkers I’ve met. She also had a tiny pack so she has clearly mastered the discipline of taking only what is essential. Letting go of physical things is part of the Te Araroa journey, she told me. She finished her mandatory military service in January, then worked in a chicken farm to save money to travel to New Zealand. I met her in Waitangi Forest, Kerikeri, on November 9, 2019.
Before my military service I did the Israeli National Trail — it’s 1000km and takes two months — and I loved it. It’s the freedom, and the only thing I have to think about is the one step in front of me. It makes me really present in the moment, and connected to my body.
The worst about Te Araroa was the aches and pains and blisters at the beginning. The best thing has been the kindness of people. They’ve really helped me along the way. I came here with a friend but she got injured in the middle of Raetea Forest. Two other hikers helped us get a helicopter. Everyone in the rescue was so kind. Then we stayed with a family in Kaitaia for a few days to heal. She’s still there, I continue alone. I hope she will catch up with me.
Beatrice Fierens Gevaert, 31, Belgium
You don’t meet many art gallery curators walking Te Araroa. I met Beatrice, who hails from Brussels, in Waitangi Forest, Kerikeri, on November 9, 2019.
Why am I doing this? The love of walking. A few years ago I did the Camino [Camino De Santiago, a pilgrimage trail ending in northern Spain]. I started walking from home, in Belgium, and it took four months. I loved that experience. I wanted to have that experience again, but more in the wilderness.
I’ve been dreaming of New Zealand since I was a kid. Then I found out there’s a through hike here, so Te Araroa combines the two things I love. Perfect. Walking is a good way of discovering a country. It’s slow travel and you meet a lot of people. I like to take my time.
I loved Raetea and Puketi Forests. We were lucky, it hadn’t rained for a few weeks so there was just the right amount of mud, not enough to drive you crazy. In Puketi the river walk was great. I took lots of breaks to go swimming.
The worst is the road walking. It’s tough on your feet as well. People aren’t expecting hikers, they’re driving very fast so it’s quite dangerous. But the rest of it has been amazing.
Zac Delacy, 32, Australia
Zac is a Kathmandu retail manager and enthusiastic walker from Melbourne. I met him in Waitangi Forest, Kerikeri, on November 9, 2019.
I do a lot of hiking and I lead hikes in a group. It’s always been a passion to do a long distance hike. I haven’t done one in Australia because of the water and food — it’s a lot easier in New Zealand. Plus, I can always go and do Australia later.
The best part so far was Omahuta-Puketi Forest. You get to go through rivers and streams, you walk along narrow paths like goat tracks where you’re sidling around the mountain and it just drops on either side. I love those more exciting technical tracks.
The worst is the main roads, like Ahipara to Kaitaia and Kaitaia to Raetea. It’s a bit dangerous and there’s not always space on the road with the trucks and the traffic. But everything else is awesome.
Nadine Mooren, 25, Netherlands
Nadine is a snowboard instructor and tour guide from the city of Nijmegen. When I met her in Waitangi Forest, Kerikeri, on October 27, 2019, she was walking with Georgia Ellen. They met each other at Twilight Beach on the first night; mostly they go solo during the day and meet up again at night. This was their first day walking together.
I wanted to discover New Zealand. It’s really cool to do that by foot. I wanted to have this challenge and see how far I can push my own boundaries. It’s the physical challenge, but even more it’s the mental challenge. I also want to develop myself as a person, meet people from around the world and experience other cultures.
The best thing so far is the way the nature changes so quickly. Two days ago we did Puketi Forest, we walked through the river and through huge kauri … I’ve never seen a forest like that before. It was so cool.
The worst day was the last day on Ninety Mile Beach, I was limping, but the worst moment was in Raetea Forest. We decided to camp because we couldn’t get through in one day. It was the moment I had to put my boots on again the next morning. They were muddy as hell.
Georgia Ellen, 29, Australia
Georgia is an event manager from Sydney. I met her with Nadine Mooren in Waitangi Forest, Kerikeri, on October 27, 2019.
I wanted to so something that, if I’m lucky enough to grow old, I could look back on as a significant thing I’ve achieved in my life. I wanted to do something out of the ordinary. I’ve grown up in Australia but my dad’s family is from New Zealand, so I also wanted to connect with that.
I’ve never done a big physical challenge, though I’ve been challenged mentally in a few ways. I’m not someone who would choose a physical challenge … but I did.
I reckon the best bit was the first day. It was so exciting, I couldn’t get the smile off my face. It was raining and awful but I was so pumped to be there.
The worst was the second day, on Ninety Mile Beach. I found it really challenging mentally. Raetea Forest was bad but I knew it would be bad … But on the second day I hadn’t slept the night before, I was physically exhausted and it all really kicked in. It was 28km and I felt pressure to get to the campsite because you’re not supposed to camp in the dunes.
Mark Laugesen, Australia
A retired government contractor from Canberra, Mark hopes his knees will hold out for the full 3000km. I met him on Pukeatua Ridge Track, Puketi Forest, on October 24, 2019. His pack was enormous and his walking pole was broken so I gave him my stick, which you can see in the photograph. It was a fine stick.
As a New Zealander living in Australia for many years I’ve pined for New Zealand. I’m doing this walk to better understand how I really feel about New Zealand and New Zealanders. So far I like it. I also want to traverse Stewart Island from north to south.
The best thing so far was Ninety Mile Beach. The beach is wide, the breakers are a long way out and it’s so long. The scale of it is just spectacular.
As for the worst … It’s all good, because it’s all a learning experience. Though I would have to say I never want to see the mud of Raetea Forest again.
Melvyn Lheureux, 26, Belgium
I met Melvyn on Pukeatua Ridge Track, Puketi Forest, on October 24, 2019. His T-shirt says: I don’t know where I’m going.
I love walking. I have done a 10-day walk across Reunion [an island in the Indian Ocean] but this is my first long-distance walk. My sister and my girlfriend went to New Zealand already. I also want to discover this country and its landscapes.
The best part so far? The beach [Ninety Mile Beach] was very long, but it was sunny, so it was great. Raetea Forest was difficult but if you have these [points to his gaiters] and you can go straight through the mud, it’s okay.
My name, Lheureux, means happy. I am happy, definitely. I am a little bit tired and my feet are wet, but I am definitely happy.
Bruce Hopkins, New Zealand
I met Bruce as he was slogging up Pā Rd, Kerikeri, on October 26, 2017. The actor was one of the first people I interviewed about Te Araroa. In this case it was for a news story published in the Northern Advocate.
When Bruce Hopkins says he’s taking the long way home, he really means he’s taking the long way.
The actor, born on Stewart Island but raised in Northland, is taking his father’s and brother’s ashes back to New Zealand’s southernmost inhabited island, and he’s doing it on foot.
Hopkins is walking the 3000km Te Araroa trail from Cape Reinga to Bluff to connect more deeply with New Zealand and its people, while raising money for the charity Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.
He had a rest day in Kerikeri, where his sister Wanda Connon and mum Coe live, then hiked through Waitangi Forest to Paihia before taking a detour though Russell.
Russell is not on the trail but he wanted to take his father and brother through the town where he went to primary school, “as part of my farewell to the north”.
Hopkins worked out of Houhora as a crayfisherman with his father before becoming a professional dancer. Stints with various dance companies followed, including the renowned Limbs, before he switched to acting.
He played the part of Gamling, commander of the armies of Rohan, in The Two Towers and The Return of the King in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
He first heard about Te Araroa three years ago when he was MC’ing a fundraiser and had to introduce Geoff Chapple, founder of the long-distance trail.
“It was the thing I was looking for, to express my gratitude at being born in this land. It’s about connecting me to this land and its people,” he said.
He started following blogs of people walking the trail — “it just fascinated me” — and started training. He hit on the idea of carrying his father Bill’s and brother Doug’s ashes home to Stewart Island, and when someone asked if he was planning to raise money along the way, he recalled being impressed by Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.
The charity supports grandparents who have ended up as their grandchildren’s primary caregivers. The extra burden that placed on grandparents, who were already dealing with the trauma of their children’s problems, was immense, he said.
Hopkins said he had never been a tramper so he was still reeling from the shock of walking up to 10 hours a day with an 18kg pack.
The toughest parts so far had been the Herekino and Raetea forests, with deep mud and endless hills, and his last day on Ninety Mile Beach with a 31km walk into a 30-knot headwind.
Highlights included camping at Twilight Beach near Cape Reinga, where he used to moor with his father in their crayfishing days, and being offered a bed and a meal at Takahue after a gruelling day in the forest by an “incredible woman” raising her grandchildren.
He hopes to reach Bluff in mid-March. He will then carry on to Stewart Island to take his father and brother home.
Hopkins’ journey was nothing if not eventful. He suffered a serious leg injury that laid him up for several weeks and he somehow lost his father’s and brother’s ashes. He carried on regardless and reached Stewart Island in May 2018. You can still follow his journey via a series of RNZ podcasts called The Long Way Home.