I’ve spent the last week or so obsessing over trail notes, maps, and brochures relevant to Te Araroa. I’ve been doing other things related to being out of the country for 3 months, but primarily I’ve been working on the notes and map for the actual route.
I’m really glad I did this. This is only the third backpacking trip I’ve done. About a year ago I was in New Zealand on vacation and spent 4 days on the Banks Peninsula Track. It was incredibly lovely, I had a really great time, and it made me want to pursue backpacking more. Earlier this year, I spent 9 trail days walking on the Tokai Nature Trail in Japan. But this trip is significantly harder than either of those, and significantly longer.
When I was on the Banks Track, the only thing I really needed to worry about was food. Accommodation (including hot showers and electricity), the trail, transport to the start of the trail, all was taken care of. I just needed to walk between huts. And the days weren’t long.
When I was in Japan, I was much more on my own. There is very little in the way of English language information about the trail, other than the copious amounts of signage along the route (at least on the section I walked). I had a map and some basic information, but I was mostly relying on Google Maps to tell me about resources along the trail like food sources, etc. I learned very quickly that wasn’t much to go by, and I learned very quickly that Google Maps in Japan is not at all reliable. Unless you’re talking about using it for most transit directions, then it’s 100% spot on, but I feel like that says more about Japanese transit systems than Google Maps. However, I still successfully didn’t starve or die of thirst, and I never got lost anywhere. It turned out just fine!
When I started looking into Te Araroa, I was running under the assumption that there would be copious amounts of services along the trail. It’s New Zealand, after all. Tramping is what they do. So I loaded up the trail route in Google Maps and said “this is fine”. Fast forward a few months when I’m actually starting to plan for it, I pull up the trail notes and very quickly notice that this is a very different ball game.
For instance: on Google Maps there are a lot of names along the trail. I was running under the assumption that these were towns. Small towns, sure, but towns. And in those towns I could find food, maybe a restaurant, and a refill of my water.
Most of those are “stations”. As far as I can tell, “station” is the Kiwi word for “big-ass sheep farm”. So, no shops. No restaurants. And probably no water, at least not publicly accessible.
Then I noticed that there were sections of the notes talking about “5-7 days”. I looked more into it and noticed that, yes, they mean 5-7 days from when you leave a school camp in the middle of nowhere until you get to the next town. Oh, and that town is super tiny and the local shop is probably not going to have what you need for the next stretch which is 10 (!!) days! And along the way there are no services. Your water sources are all going to be wild (read: rivers, streams, lakes), or rain tanks at the various huts along the trail. You have to carry in all of your food. All of it. For 7 days. There’s no electricity. There’s zero cell service. No wifi. No vending machines. Nothing. Just you, the trail, and whatever weather conditions your dice roll got you. Sounds amazing. However, that’s not what I was expecting to be dealing with.
So I dove head first into figuring out as much as I could about the route. Where was I going to get water? Where were my overnight stops? Do I really need 10 days worth of food on that one section? Where am I going to get my food?
The end result of this is a map I’ve created using Google’s My Maps feature. On it is nearly every accomodation along the route, huts, “official” campsites, places where I’ll be staying in towns (and therefore a hotel, hostel, B&B, something). I went through and made notes for, at the start, every single day, and near the end, just the long sections, with estimated overnight stops, places I might have trouble finding water, where I was going to get food, etc.
I’m incredibly happy I did this. When it first hit me just how monumental an undertaking this trip is going to be, I was really scared. Now I’m only slightly terrified, but not that I’m going to starve, die of thirst, head down paths I’m literally not equipped to handle, etc. I feel like I already know the trail, just by poring over the topo maps (which are seriously fantastic), the satellite maps on Google Maps, and writing up all of my notes about the various sections. I’m even fairly confident I can handle the really hard sections, or if I can’t, I know when I’ll be deciding if I’m going forward or going back, and not walking blindly into the unknown. The only thing I’m really worried about at this point is “did I forget something?” or getting injured, burning out early on, whatever. Fortunately, those are things I won’t know until I hit the trail, and they’re all things I will deal with if they arise.
And yes, I really do have to carry 10 days worth of food in one section. Fortunately, by the time I get there I’ll probably have lost more weight than the total weight of the food I’ll be carrying, so it’ll be like I’m carrying less than nothing 😉 And I am actually pretty worried about carrying that much food. When I was in Japan I tried to at one point carry 2 days worth of food (and 5L of water, I’ll write up that day one of these days) and it was unbearable. But I was not carrying the right food, because I wasn’t prepared. I feel confident now that I am going to land in New Zealand armed with the information I need to make this a successful trip, and this map and the notes that go along with it are an excellent first step in that direction.
I’ve got some more work to do on the map (I may be done with it by the time I actually publish this post), but once that’s done it’s on to the next challenge: get it onto my phone so I can have it offline on the trail. I am making significant progress on that front, too, and I’ll have some things to share about that when I am happy with the state I’ve gotten it to (which should be in the next couple of days).
I’ll also be publishing the notes at some point, but because I’m using Dropbox Paper to put them together (they have nice WYSIWYG markdown-ish formatting and offline support), I don’t think I can share them publicly without exporting them somehow, so I’ll do that when I’m good and done modifying them, which may be after I get home!
I plan to write a bit about the tools I’m using to help plan this trip and the tools I’ll be using on the trail. Yes, including gear. So stay tuned!
I’m getting really excited about this trip!