Walking Northbound & Our Trip Breakdown
We walked the entire length of the Te Araroa trail (both South and North Islands) Northbound in 2019, and did not meet many other people doing the same. In fact, we only actually met about 5 people on that same Northbound journey. We did, however, meet a ton of people who were walking our direction, and just doing the South Island. It seems like many folks were deterred by the amount of roadwalking the TA has on the North Island. Below you will find a little bit about our journey walking Northbound.
Northbound or Southbound?
The Te Araroa can be walked in either direction. The majority of people tend to walk it Southbound, starting at Cape Reinga in October or November. This gives folks the opportunity to travel through the South Island in prime Summer conditions. Also, most all of the Te Araroa resources are written for Southbounders. As for walking Northbound, most people start in late December/early January. This gives these walkers prime conditions for the South Island, and the experience of walking towards the warmer northern climate while Winter is on its way.
There is also a section of the Te Araroa Trail that can be paddled down the Whanganui River. See what we did in our Side Trips & Other Options Section.
Why We Walked Northbound
The main reason we decided to walk Northbound on the Te Araroa Trail was that it worked with our schedules. We had work planned through November and wanted to spend some quality time with family and friends in December. We did not realize before we went walking that going the “wrong direction” was going to be such a big deal on the trail to those we passed.
As a Northbounder one of the biggest advantages is that you mostly have the Te Araroa Trail when it is empty. For us, this was beneficial, as we felt like we did not have to be part of the bigger social world of the trail. This may or may not be an advantage for other people. We did hit one big Southbounder crowd at the end of the South Island in the Richmond Ranges and it was great to chat about the trail with other walkers. One of the coolest things was to walk the majority of the North Island and not see another walker for about the last 50 days. I think we may have run into two other Southbounders while we were on the North Island.
Another advantage is that we were walking towards the warmer climate in the Northland province of the North Island. This made a difference because we were not worried that Winter would come bringing cold or inclement weather with it. Also, we couldn’t believe this was true, but the notoriously muddy Northland Forests were not as muddy because they had enough time over summer to dry up and be slightly less muddy than normal. Many kiwis on the North Island told us that we were in fact walking the “right way” because we were walking towards warmer weather.
Some of the disadvantages of walking Northbound are the lack of trail resources, poorer trail signage for Northbounders, and hitting the Southbounders all at onces, with some challenging interactions. There are fewer resources out there for Northbound walkers. The official trail notes going Northbound only exist for the South Island. There are a few other resources for notes other than the Northbound Guide that was mentioned in the Planning Section. We often had to adopt the “think like a Southbounder” mentality when walking and looking for orange triangles, signs, and other trail markers. We looked over our shoulder at least a few times each day to make sure that we were headed the right way.
Another interesting disadvantage that we found walking Northbound was getting a lot of unsolicited advice from Southbounders. It seemed like many of the people we passed wanted to make it known that we should hitchhike the roads on the North Island, climb this one peak, or stay at a particular place. We can imagine that other long trails also have this phenomenon if you are walking in the non-traditional direction - but with this being our first long thru-hike, we were caught off-guard experiencing this sort of conversation over and over. We eventually tried to practice finding creative ways to steer conversations in new directions.
Our Day to Day Breakdown
Here is a day to day breakdown of the trip. It starts with a percentage breakdown of the type of accommodation we stayed at, followed by a list of where we stayed each night with the kilometers we walked that day. We have kept it fairly vague in some spots because we do not want to give too much information depending on the situation - it seems important that much of the trail will be up to individual walkers to make the right choices in the moment!