Food. You want it. You want it now! You want lots of it. You want it greasy. You want it in unlimited supplies to fuel that hiker hunger. Food will dominate your thoughts and your conversations from beginning to end, increasingly more as you progress on the trail. So let’s talk about food. What to eat, where to eat.
The Hiker Menu
It is important to try and meet the dietary needs of your body to give you the endurance to complete the trail. At peak point you can burn up to 4000 or 5000 calories per day and even though you probably can’t have an intake that high it is good to try and get as many as possible. There is no fun in being more hungry than you have to be.
What works and what doesn’t is different for everyone and if we would have experimented more we probably would have found other recipes that were good for us as well. At a certain point you just get your food system down, you know it works and you know exactly what to get which gets you in and out of the supermarket fast. In all honesty you won’t care that much after a while, food is fuel and as long as you have it and it tastes like something it will be the best thing you ever had. So here is our exquisite menu:
For breakfast we started off with muesli, milk powder and honey. Muesli contains lots of nuts and oats which are good sources of protein. There’s lots of fibre in there as well. The milk powder is a good source of protein too and we added the honey for good sugars to burn.
While it worked good, muesli is heavy. Especially as our food intake grew and resupply points got further apart, it became a heavy bulk in our packs. PJ carried muesli longer than I did and would have up to 1,5kg of it to get him through a 10 day stretch (and that is without milk powder or honey).
After seeing some fellow hikers with instant oats sachets I switched over and PJ followed suit. Neither of us is a huge fan of oats, but the Uncle Toby’s ones are quite tasty and they have the undisputable advantage that they are very light. Oats have a high energy intake per serve and contains lots of carbohydrates, good to eat before a big physical effort.
I would have 2-3 sachets of them while PJ got 3-4. I always had them warm and added some cacao powder to turn them into chocolate oats and PJ ate them cold while still using milk power. Sometimes we’d add some nuts and seeds.
Lunch and Snacks
Rather than having three set meals a day you’ll want a system that enables you to have snacks the whole day. It is good to eat regularly to give your body enough fuel to burn. So even though we did have something like a ‘lunch break’ it was more of a snack in between other snacks.
At first we carried chocolate bars, One Square Meals and lots of trailmix to get through the day. The One Square Meals are not the lightest oat bar out there but they contain lots of things that are good for you and with one of them we could keep trucking for a while. The trailmix was great, lots of nuts and seeds, but after about 1000km we both got so sick and tired of nuts that we changed the system around.
We had some experiments with different types of crackers but what worked best in the end were tortilla breads and wraps for that ‘lunch break’. We’d switch between Nutella or cheese and salami to put on them (or sometimes when we didn’t care we took all of them for some switching around). For snacks we stuck with the One Square Meals all the way through, together with chocolate bars (I’m a huge fan of Twix, there’s two snacks inside your snack!) and more chocolate bars. We usually had two chocolate/oat bars a day, one wrap, and then one or two blocks of chocolate to munch on in between. And sometimes some nuts.
When we started out we said we would try to avoid pasta and noodles and choose healthier alternatives. That vow didn’t last very long as the amount of food we would have to carry was quickly to become greater than our carrying capacity. Pasta and increasingly noodles became staples in our packs.
We did not use the freeze-dried meals such as back country cuisine for two main reasons: they did not fill us up at all and they are expensive. They are tasty, but to get enough out of them we would need two two-serves each which would have cost us about 24$ a meal a person. Some people had them and added potato flakes to make it more filling, we just didn’t bother paying for them.
For pasta we bought the premade pasta and sauce bags. We’d either have a value pack or two packs per person for dinner. Sometimes we bought some freeze-dried mince to go with, but it works without as well.
Noodles were our favourite because they are light, fast to make and very high on energy. Soon after we discovered this one of our fellow hikers pointed out that lots of noodles contain palm oil and are contributing to the destruction of the Southeast-Asian rainforests, so we had a little quest to single out those who didn’t. Trident, Mie Sadap and Nestlé are the only ones to buy if you want to be conscious about this (though Nestlé obviously has its own issues and we avoided those too, but if the choice was between the two evils we’d keep saving the rainforest and take Nestlé). The Trident noodles are the most filling and have the highest protein and energy with up to 2000kJ per single package. We always ate 2 packs per dinner per person.
To keep our flavour buds happy we would add an instant soup mix to make some gravy/sauce and add some flavour. It also made the meal feel more filling. In addition we would add garlic salt and lemon pepper. As an attempt to some vegetables we always carried dried peas and dried onions with us to add to every meal.
Towards the end we discovered Crispy Noodles, that are very boilable as well and high in energy per package.
As for fats, we used to have some oil with us but after several leaks stopped using it. It wasn’t until after the hike that we discovered coconut oil, which is solid and good for you for countless reasons (cholesterol, skin, hair, etc. etc.). It is also one of the most calory-dense products on the market so we will be taking this with us in Australia.
Other people carried instant mashed potato (again, watch out for the palm oil), gravies, tomato paste and canned chicken or tuna which surely works fine if you’re keen on finding your own success recipe.
Town Munching Time
Whenever we got into a town we wanted to treat ourselves to something nice, and it’s good to do this to keep your motivation up and running. These are our favourite (and least favourite) cafés and restaurants along the trail for all your back-into-society-extravaganza:
- Ahipara: Gumdiggers Café: amazing breakfast, the best thing that could happen after that murderous beach. Bidzz: good burger and fish ‘n chips. Don’t ask the lady at the counter too many questions.
- Mangamuka Bridge: have a burger at the dairy, it’s amazing! PJ voted it ‘best burger in New Zealand’.
- Kerikeri: Black Olive: now that you’ve made it through the trail’s most brutal part, you can celebrate with a pizza that you’ll make it all the way.
- Paihia: Green: some of the best Indian/Thai on the trail, really friendly staff. The fish ‘n’ chips place near the i-site has amazing fresh battered snapper!
- Mangawhai Heads: takeaway place on the corner: excellent spot for a lunch break, really good kumara fries.
- Waipu: Pizza Barn: really nice pizza and burgers, lots of different craft beers.
- Top of the Dome cafe: great spot to power up before continuing into Auckland.
- Puhoi Pub: one of the oldest in New Zealand, very entertaining place. Amazing fish and vegetarian burgers.
- Mercer: Pokeno Bacon: do not eat anywhere else but here. We made that mistake. It was a grave one.
- Waitomo: Morepork Pizza: excellent pizza, very friendly staff.
- Taumarunui: Anna’s: relaxed café, really good food (their eggs benedict is amazing!). Free wi-fi too.
- Whakapapa: Tussock Café: glorious pizza. Some of the best quality/value on the trail.
- National Park: avoid eating out, really expensive and not very good anywhere.
- Whanganui: Little India: very tasty Indian dishes.
- Waikanae: Long Beach: our favourite restaurant on the entire north island. Really nice garden terrace, excellent fish, really good Italian-style pizza. They brew their own beer too! Olde’ Beach Bakery: best bakery on the entire island. Went back four times to stuff my bag full with goodies. Yum!
- Saddleback Café: super cosy place, amazing food (the Trekkers Plate is a real treat!) and very friendly people. Only open on Saturday and Sunday.
- Johnsonville: Nada Bakery: awarded best bakery of the country. Not on the trail but if you spend the night here, get a danish or two. Yes, we ate a lot around Wellington.
- Wellington: Flying Burrito Brothers: Amazing Mexican food for a finished-one-island-party. Lots of nice cafés and bakeries all around.
- Havelock: avoid the Mussel Pot.
- St. Arnaud: Alpine Lodge Sunday BBQ: do not miss out on this amazing all-you-can-eat buffet with freshly baked bread, lots of salads, grilled vegetables and freshly grilled meat. Every Sunday. We timed our arrival and it was more than worth it.
- Twizel: Poppies Café: European-style dishes, the best food we had in all of New Zealand.
- Wanaka: Red Star Burger: competing with Ferg Burger in Queenstown to be the best burger in New Zealand. Advantages: no queue, and by several Americans voted the best one.
- Te Anau: Red Hill Café: very cosy place right by the YHA. Get a pancake shot!
- Invercargill: Little India: same name as the one in Whanganui, different dishes. Very nice food.