If you’ve read this far then you have read my blurb on the North Island already. I’ll expand in another way where the differences between the North and South Islands are clearly different.
The Te Araroa does not feel like a ‘long trail’ or a ‘route’ as I am accustomed to as a long-distance hiker. It just isn’t. The TA is a way across the North and South Islands, a thoroughfare. Easy as that. For most of the North Island, the TA follows a nonsensical way through an area. Frustration seemed to be a common theme among all the hikers I met. I mean it, almost all of them. The peachy outlook and perspective the TA Trust gives is a very skewed view into what the actual route provides to the thru hiking experience. I definitely found myself being a tourist like all the other people visiting the island, being herded around like frontcountry tourists visiting Yellowstone. This did not provide a prospective hiker and/or an experienced one with a fulfilling and transformative experience. One can almost travel through an area non-thematically, so much so going from point to point was all that mattered. The journey felt lost.
Yes, absolutely it’s a privilege to thru hike. But, the community of long-distance hikers are a breed of their own sort, like rock climber or bikepackers. We just don’t do things the touristy way. We seek adventure on the fringe of what most of the world see as an adventure. We seek a journey and not a trip. The TA can dupe first time hikers into thinking the North Island is a genuinely incredible, yet in reality they just don’t know any better.
If you are reading this, you know and I know that we can spot or smell a thru hiker miles away. If you are reading this far now, you know and I know that we can spot a tourist anywhere. As long-distance hikers, we have a look, the gear; we embody the scene of what’s fringe, our own scene, the eschewing of total comfort: the dirtbag adventurer. I kept a constant mindset of ‘why make sense out of something I cannot control’ while on the North Island. Sometimes cursed, sometimes I wondered ‘why the fuck,’ however, I truly, truly was content just walking along. Then, the South Island changes everything.
The TA tries very hard to be what ‘thru-hikers’ would drool over on the South Island. The South Island simply has more open spaces, more incredibly beautiful scenery, longer days between towns and resupply, freedom camping, less tourists where the hiker walks save for a few places—these qualities favor the journey of a dirtbag adventurer where a long-distance hiking community is cultivated and nurtured. The South Island is world class. While the TA doesn’t touch the scale of beauty and wildness on the South Island, the pathway provides a challenging way through that fulfills thru hikers’ needs and wants. There’s just so much wild open spaces in the Southern Alps and Fiordlands the pathway must be selective in providing a way all the way through. Some of the landscape down there is very treacherous and would have small windows to go ‘all the way through,’ yet the line provided gives that glimpse into the relentless urge to move forward mindset. You morph and grow getting stronger and more confident as you leave Ship Cove. You are tested constantly, brutally so like in the Richmonds. I couldn’t wait to get off the North Island. On the South Island, the whole island became one with my whole being. I craved the accomplishment of getting through the South Island. Here, my New Zealand adventure truly began. Before the South Island my time here was just a vacation that I needed. I could’ve spent my entire time of 3 months here in New Zealand on the South Island. There’s just that much stellar stuff to see on the South Island.
So, let’s get a proper thankful synopsis. Thank you for…the condensation every morning, the non-right-of-way flow for a pedestrian (I guess people have a just-as-quick response time as a vehicle), the judgmental leers at my small backpack (yea I have a bonafide tent in there and no I am not carrying an extra set of boots), the long black or the Americano or whatever I am having (I dunno you tell me please), the confusion with my accent thinking I’m Canadian (I don’t talk that funny), the ‘please wait to be seated’ and/or order at the bar clarity (I’m either sitting there looking like a dork or appear too pushy at the bar), the fascination with my smart water bottles (yes, I smuggled them over), the strange definitions and descriptions of ‘bounce box,’ ‘trail angels,’ ‘thru-hike,’ hiking times and ‘camping’ (absolutely no need to make sense of it all), the incredibly boring road walking (even though I thoroughly needed to be bored and relished in being bored after hiking across the length of the Grand Canyon—really, I was just ecstatic to be out of the US for a bit—gimme all the easy road walking you can—just kidding—).
All kidding and jokes aside…I am so grateful for this TA hike and the experience out here. All of it, both the North and South Islands truly enriched my life. New Zealand has been absolutely wonderful. Special thanks to my dirtbag family out here I met down south. I really had a fun time sharing miles, river crossings, hitches, huts, and motel rooms with Yak, NoPoles, Sprocket, Chipotle, and Sprocket.
Overall, I needed a vacation. I chose a vacation-hike rather than an adventurous one. After hiking the length of the Grand Canyon, the TA was a fairly easy hike for me. I had tons of time to be nice to myself. In the beginning of the trek, it felt so good to be bored and away from everything stateside. Whatever hole inside me that was left from last year I refused to fill it up with my own indulgent ego. I needed to be away from myself for a bit and have that hole filled with the world around me. I needed to quit my self-loathing. For 82 days ~1902 miles I focused on not focusing on anything. I tried to keep myself open for absorption. What a great trip. Now, on to the next!
South Island: Ship Cove to Bluff
Rating of my enjoyment of the South Island: 10/10
I found it difficult to write when I am having too much fun…so here's a summary with pictures.
Ship Cove to Arthur’s Pass:
Arthur’s Pass to Queenstown:
Queenstown to Bluff:
With the time I had left on my visa I included some alternate routes such as the Five Passes Route, the Routeburn Track, and the Kepler Track, while still utilizing the TA the rest of the way to Bluff. The Five Passes Route was such a cool and fun challenge in a very remote area, seldomly tramped with stunning scenery to backdrop a 3-day adventure. To boot, I experienced the route with Yak, NoPoles, and Chipotle. Sharing the laughs and high mountain passes with a good group of mates most certainly was the highlight of my time here in New Zealand.