In the movies, the protagonist must always face a “call to action,” and invariably, turn it down at least once. When Gandalf came knocking on Bilbo’s front door, the poor hobbit was downright disturbed by the thought of an adventure, the “nasty disturbing uncomfortable things” that they are. My call to action came nearly four years ago, when I stumbled across a little trail named Te Araroa on the Internet.

Te Araroa
Photo by Rory Chapman

Beginning at the northernmost tip of New Zealand, Te Araroa connects the length of the country– both islands– and finishes at the southern tip, 3,000 km later. That’s over 1,800 miles! The terrain is spectacular in its diversity: mountains, beaches, rain forests and even volcanoes. At the time, the trail wasn’t yet open– or finished– but that didn’t matter. For me, hiking across New Zealand wasn’t a matter of “if,” it was a matter of “when.”

Every year since then, I turned down the call of Te Araroa for one good reason or another. By April, I’d run out of excuses, and by May, preparations for my thru-hike were underway. I even picked up an unusual hiking buddy– my sixty-six year old father! This will be his first true backpacking trip and by far the biggest adventure we’ve ever attempted together.

Te Araroa
Photo by Flying Kiwi Tours Flickr.com

Though I’ve never planned a thru-hike before, I immediately realized Te Araroa must be more challenging than most.

First, there’s the simple fact that it’s so new. Te Araroa officially opened to the world in December 2011. While the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails have been documented for decades, Te Araroa only has a couple of seasons under its belt. Each year, the trail is improved and the trail notes and maps updated, but there is still an overwhelming sense of “don’t worry, you’ll figure it out.”

In what most thru-hikers would probably consider an agonizingly meticulous approach, I’m developing a day-by-day, play-by-play spreadsheet to plan food, daily mileage, Wifi stops (yes, you’ll see why in a moment,) rest days and camping when special circumstances dictate. The Te Araroa Trust provides A3 PDF maps of the trail, about 150, which I intend to print out and disperse through a bounce box and food drops along the way.

Te Araroa
Photo by Rory Chapman

I’ve done enough traveling to know that the best laid plans often go awry; food is not something I intend to leave to chance.  Many Te Araroa thru-hikers plan limited food drops, relying on the frequent towns the trail connects for re-supply. I’ll fall somewhere in between with a mix of food drops at hostels or post offices for my AlpineAire meals and local supermarkets for all else.

No matter if you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail or a 3-mile tramp in the local woods, you’re always asked, “How much does your pack weigh?” There are certain aspects of my trip that make true ultra-lighting impossible. With a new MSR Hubba NX tent, Mountain Equipment Helium 600 sleeping bag and an Osprey Aura pack, I’m hoping to keep my base weight down. Of course, the iPad Mini, camera equipment and solar panels strapped to the top of my bag really throws a wrench in any ultra-light ambitions.

Te Araroa
Photo by Sami Keinänen Flickr.com

You see, in addition to hiking Te Araroa, I’m producing a real-time travel literature project with weekly articles and regular videos about the trail, as well as New Zealand travel, culture, history and environment. Between my social media channels, weekly articles and videos, I’ve had to plan stops around Internet access. The project, New Zealand On Foot, is sponsored by the Te Araroa Trust to help promote the trail internationally.

New Zealand On Foot officially launched on September 1st, with a new story every Monday. You can follow along at NewZealandOnFoot.com for all 3,000km.

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