3 Weeks in the New Zealand Backcountry
Highlights from hiking a section of the legendary Te Araroa trail
Some time last year, my good friend McKenzie came to me with an invitation to join her and whoever else was crazy enough to spend six months hiking the length of New Zealand on the Te Araroa trail. While this sounded like an amazing trip, I respectfully declined, knowing that I was going to be neck deep in work for the unforeseeable future.
Fast forward to late March. Fresh off a solid Seattle winter, with deep powder turns still in mind, my girlfriend quit her design job with intent to join McKenzie and crew on the trail for six weeks. Though work was still hectic for me, with no real end in sight, it turns out I’m pretty easy to convince. So, that night I booked the cheapest flight I could find, talked to my team at work, and packed two pairs of underwear for three weeks in the backcountry. From designer to dirtbag in less than five minutes flat—standard procedure.
This sounds irresponsible, for sure. But I’d argue that forcing ourselves out of our comfort zones is one of the best things we can do to think differently and drive creativity. Upon arrival in New Zealand I turned off slack, email, social, whatever, and worked out of a sketchbook. Pen and paper, new ideas, off the grid, fresh perspectives.
It’s very apparent that New Zealand has become a popular tourist destination—selfie sticks and tour busses can be seen causing mayhem at every viewpoint turnout—yet it's all for good reason. The entire country is stunning. By linking up with our friends on the Te Araroa, we got to see some of the less explored trails, places with no trails at all, and get a glimpse into the thru hiker culture found in the backcountry huts of the South Island. Side trips were taken, mountains were climbed, awesome people were met in the middle of nowhere. The locals of New Zealand are a special breed, with deep appreciation of the natural world, and welcoming accommodation to the magical place they call home.
Between torrential rainstorms, river crossings, monster trout, heavy bushwhacking, grueling climbs, fiery sunrises, and high alpine cirques all to ourselves, this trip was truly one for the books. Three weeks was just enough time to make us want to go back again and stay for much longer. Similar to the Cascades and the other great mountain ranges of our world, New Zealand is an endless outdoor playground for big kids like ourselves to appreciate and explore.
Pro Tip: When someone tells you, “Oh yeah just walk out through the river valley,” take caution. River valley fauna is often double overhead with sharp limbs, and though you’ll surely find huge holes in the ground laying in wait, you may never find an actual trail. The river is raging, and it doesn’t care that you need to cross it. But hey, it’ll build character, right?
(PS- Our friends succeeded in completing the entire Te Araroa Trail, and they documented the entire journey with fancy cameras. You can learn more about their experience here.)