Te Araroa (The Long Pathway) passes through all of New Zealand, in one of the world's most famous long distance trails. It takes four to six months to complete an entire thru-hike (called a thru-tramp locally). As with many trails of this length, there is significant diversity in terms of terrain, weather, difficulty, and other factors. Therefore, extra care must be taken to plan accordingly for different sections. Difficulty of the Te Araroa is considered strenuous, due to the combined rugged terrain, varied weather, and long distances. In some more challenging sections of the trail, hikers will need to be familiar with river crossing techniques, as well as more cautious navigation. However, some portions are calmer, with parts of the trail connected along older tracks and roads.
The terrain of the trail varies significantly by section and island. Some of the more difficult terrain includes climbing volcanos (like the iconic landscapes portrayed in Lord of the Rings), rugged mountain rages, diverse rainforests, and large river crossings. The flatter areas along roads are more prevalent in the North Island, while the South Island has the more desirable mountainous regions. The varied terrain is often considered more difficult than other similarly-sized long distance trails, like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail.
There are numerous sources of water along the trail, both natural and man-made. In the North Island, you will often pass through towns were you can easily fill up on drinking water. Hikers pass through more remote sections in the South Island, but there are still plenty of streams, along with backcountry huts that have water available (it is still advisable to filter these sources).
For parts of the trail that go through towns, you will have no problem resupplying at local supermarkets. However, in the remote sections hikers will often arrange for bounce boxes to be sent to various poste restante locations along the trail. Bounce boxes are ideal for equipment that serves no purpose until a time in the future - like food, electronic chargers, cold/warm weather clothing, replacement gear, etc. There are also published trail notes that are very useful for planning these logistical arrangements.
The weather in New Zealand can be very difficult to predict, and this makes it especially important to be prepared for harsh and severe weather scenarios. The best conditions can be attained during the middle of the main hiking season, which is summer time in the southern hemisphere. Hiking during the edges of this season can be met with harsher conditions. It is often necessary to get weather reports a few days in advance to plan out hiking distances properly.
Te Araroa Trust has a downloads page with maps and trail notes for the entire route. These maps can be loaded onto a GPS to aid in navigation. Because of the long distance of the trail, it is not usually recommended to bring paper maps, as they would add considerable weight. Instead, be sure to load your devices up properly before embarking on the hike, and have backup plans in place as a last resort. The trail does have distinct waymarks to guide hikers, but these should only be used as an aid, not as the sole navigation strategy. Additionally, all trails in New Zealand use the same marker, so you may accidentally confuse your route with another trail.
River crossings along the trail can become very dangerous at times, where a shallow stream can quickly become large enough to sweep hikers out to sea. Unfortunately, there are several deaths each year related to crossing rivers on the trail. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that all hikers learn about necessary safety measures in advance. The published safety guide is a great starting point for becoming familiar with this type of information. Other hazards include severe weather (especially at high altitudes), steep cliffs, and insufficient supplies.
While Te Araroa is well-known, it is much less so than other trails of this size. Therefore, you would likely only see several other hikers per day. The exceptions to this are the larger crossings which coincide with tourist destinations - around those areas the trail will get more crowded.
Most hikers will be coming from abroad, with the intent to start from the northern terminus. In that case it is best to fly to Auckland, New Zealand. From there, there are buses to Kaitaia, and then another bus to Cape Regina to get to the trailhead. The southern trailhead can be reached by flying to Invercargill, and then taking a bus to Bluff. Alternatively, hitchhiking is popular in New Zealand, and you may be able to hitchhike to the trailheads (at lower cost, but less reliability).
There are many Department of Conservation huts scattered across the trail, particularly in the South Island section. When passing through towns, there is often opportunity for more developed accommodation. As with most long distance trails of this length, you will still need a tent as a backup shelter for use on much of the route.