This is the second in a five-part post that follows the Mountain Safety Council’s Outdoor Code.
1. Plan your trip
2. Tell someone your plans
3. Be aware of the weather
4. Know your limits
5. Take sufficient supplies
In this post I will be explaining things I have done in preparation for the trail, and how I went around planning for such a big adventure.
Everyone plans, or doesn’t plan, a little differently. My planning started long before I had set a time aside in my life to do the trail. Several years ago, I decided I wanted to do a long distance hike, and then decided my first one should be the one in my own beautiful country – and the idea to do the Te Araroa was born.
For the last several hiking seasons, I have been following along several great blogs who have helped me learn and experience the trail as it happens and the before and after.
My partner and I decided to go to Canada and do a working holiday in 2016, and I knew I wanted to plan to do the TA on my return.
About 5 months ago I got a bit more serious about actually planning.
My biggest resources for trail planning have been
The Te Araroa Trust’s website teararoa.org.nz which has everything you need, trail notes, maps, status of trail, know before you go and many handy downloads. There are resources for budgeting, guidelines for packing and an insight to things to expect in New Zealand.
The Te Araroa Trust does an incredible job providing all of this so if you are walking the trail, or even just wish to support an incredible group of passionate individuals who make the TA possible, please donate to the trust [on the website].
Another great resource has been personal blogs of walkers hiking the trail in previous seasons. Not just hiking the TA but I have followed many hikers across the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, Great Divide Trail and more. Getting a feel for the personal insight of others experiencing trails has allowed some emotional and mental preparation for the trials of the trail to come.
Actually being on trail has been key in preparation for me as I already have been hiking extensively over the last several years in varied terrain. Many kilometers in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada have given me some training to prep me for the trail.
I have had an incredible two summers in Canada working and living in an outdoor mecca in the Canadian Rockies, where every week I would venture into the backcountry for two or three days at a time. I have also tried my hand at some longer treks, notably in April I did the Sunshine Coast Trail in British Columbia over 10 days and the West Coast trail over 7.
Youtube videos have been instrumental in getting an idea of landscape, weather conditions and gear that people use on the trail. And also the reality of trail life as well as super inspiring scenery!
Although useful in describing the interesting history and giving track by track analysis, the Te Araroa, a walking guide to NZ’s long trail book by Geoff Chapple is best used as stay at home book for those following your adventure or to help preplan certain sections. It shouldn’t be used as a day to day bible for detailed on track planning. It’s a tad heavy for the backpack too! But it’s a wonderful overview both in the written detail and photos and maps included.
So where to start? I think breaking things down is the way to go. Things I looked at were :
– Skills required
– Logistics and timings
Let’s start with gear.
I accumulated the majority of my hiking stuff in Canada, and already had some pieces from years ago that I’ve kept. Research, trial and error and use in the field has helped me narrow down a gear list that I am happy and comfortable with, with flexibility for improvement on trail. For more info on gear I’m taking , check out my previous post Take Sufficient Supplies – Gear for the Te Araroa.
Using a lot of my gear was good planning too. Food is an important part of planning in terms of thinking about different meals , and by actually doing many multiday hikes I know things I like to eat,how to cook them, how much gas I usually use.
Being a person who lives fairly frugally, I knew that I could easily save enough to cover a hike especially with all my gear already sorted, as gear is a major factor. I will be doing a break down of my budget at the end of the TA to see how it went. It has been useful that I know how much food etc costs in NZ, and having travelled around a lot living in our converted van, am used to the on the road costs of travelling in NZ, hostels etc.
Handy tip – you will spend more than you think!
I am lucky that I don’t have any debts to pay and no payments to upkeep while on this hike like mortgages/rent etc. A priority was getting ahead with my student loan so that there is no stress on trail.
I will be keeping tally of my spending on trail. I already know that the amount of food will increase spectacularly, and that I will look to treat myself in towns.
But I also know that I like my tent, and I am comfortable not sleeping in a bed for a while and ‘roughing it’ a bit to save some $$ for more food.
Although it is possible to learn stuff as you go on a trail like this, for me personally, going solo means that you rely on your own skills, judgement and equipment when you are out there. Big ones for me and in NZ is river safety, navigation and weather.
River safety is so important in NZ and can be the reason things go terribly wrong in the backcountry. Learning how to cross rivers safely and when to make the judgment call to turn back /stay out is crucial.
Navigation- refresh yourself on compass and map reading skills.
Weather – being prepared for all conditions, being able to check the weather and knowing a few contingency plans for common weather scenarios are all important parts of planning for weather on trail.
I will go more deeply into skills training in my upcoming post Know your limits.
Logistics and Timings
This stuff is more what you think of when the word planning comes to mind . Maps, geographic knowledge of the trail, boat crossings, booking stuff in advance.
Here’s a breakdown of key parts of my planning
1.Register as a TA walker and donate to the Te Araroa Trust.
2. Download trail notes to your phone, print off topographical maps in sections.
3.Split your notes/maps into North Island/ South Island and then further into regional areas.
4. Start reading the notes in sections and corresponding to the maps to get a feel for place names, forests, major roads.
5. Make a list of all the water crossings/possible kayaks.
6. Get hold of a NZ map and physically draw the route, mark big water sections and closures to get a bigger picture visual understanding.
7. Write a budget corresponding to must buy things eg TA trust donation, cost to print maps, ferry/transport costs, DOC hut pass. Buy them.
8. Plan enough but not too hardcore!
I’ve decided not to plan night by night itinerary because this seems unrealistic and reality will get in the way. I want flexibility towards being able to curl up in my tent and read for half a day when feeling tired, or be able to jump off trail for a day to catch up with friends and family. Or to exceed my expectations and hike twice what I thought i might on a good day! However it is still important to have goals and a general idea of timings.
It is really important to know and understand where you can and cannot camp. NZ is different from other long distance trails in that many parts of the trail cross private land which is as a result of hard work and negotiations between the TA trust and these fantastic land owners who are willing to have walkers tramp through their farms and stations. There are areas where camping is prohibited or restricted to certain areas and it’s important that if you don’t know, ask. Relationships and trail access are not guaranteed for future walkers unless everyone does their part in maintaining respect for regulations in place. Cheers!
For those of you who do not usually hike, your first week will be a lot of getting used to new stuff like blister and carrying a pack. You may not know how fast you usually hike. I have a general idea of my pace and things that are likely to challenge me [like wind] and so after my first week or two will get a feel for how many rest days I’ll need.
I plan to look at sections and only plan a couple of days out, usually centered around when I’m getting my next resupply of food.
When I look ahead at the section I will be looking at weather, possible turn back points , alternate routes and obstacles/safety risks like rivers, tidal zones, slip areas etc.
In the North Island it will be anywhere between 1-7 days of food at a time.
The closer I get to the South Island the more I will think about it.
What about booking stuff?
Long weekends and xmas/new years will be important to book accommodation.
The Whanganui Canoe Journey in the North Island requires preplanning and booking which I will organize a few days out in Taumarunui, when I have a better idea of timings.
Other accommodation and kayak and boat rides to be booked in advance can be sorted out a few days ahead.
All in all, I think it is important to have plans as long as they are realistic and include the ability to be flexible and roll with the punches.
Hopefully that gives an insight on some of the important planning steps in a big adventure like this. Everyone plans things differently and I am lucky that I am used to being in the backcountry, so already have some base knowledge of general hiking topics.
I’m getting excited!
Stay tuned for the next post – Tell someone your plans – Keeping in touch on the Te Araroa where I will be discussing safety and communication as well as being away from loved ones over an extended period of time.