Gear. I'll break this down by category.
Shelter. While NZ has an awesome backcountry hut network, there are still parts of the TA that require you to carry shelter. I chose a hammock-friendly tarp, and even if not hammocking I would take one. Coupled with a bug net/bivy, they are super light and versatile! In hindsight I would opt for a rectangular tarp for better ground setup options. I bought mine here, and would recommend any of the Zpack cuben fibre shelters...
Stakes- I found aluminium v-stakes were the most versatile and held well in most soil, unlike my shepherds crook stakes.
Sleeping gear. I personally prefer climashield insulation over down. Mostly because of the number of inadvertant spillages in my pack! I chose a Mountain Laurel Designs Spirit quilt http://www.mountainlaureldesigns.com/shop/product_info.php?products_id=133
and loved it! I chose a higher temp rating and wore my thermals and if it got too cold, my thermawrap jacket too.
I usually found places to hang, and on the few occasions where I couldn't, it doubled as a bug net. Sleep is really important to me in terms of better decision making and frame of mind, and I've found a good asymmetric-lay hammock delivers the best sleep out of any alternatives I have tried, bar none! I'm seriously going to install eyebolts in my bedroom when I finally settle down...
Load bearing. I chose a body pack designed by Aarn Tate, the 65l Featherlight Freedom.
My one weighed around 1.8kg, so is a bit heavy but I didn't notice as it carried weight so comfortably! It is seriously the most comfortable pack I have used over 30 years of tramping. The waterproof liners that come with this pack really work- I had a couple of accidental tests of this. If you are really keen and have cash to spare, I hear Aarn will make you one in Cuben Fibre. My pack is the one in the middle.
I use trekking poles to support my posture and to protect my knees on descents. I would absolutely keep using them, where I needed my hands to scramble up rock faces or steep trails I didn't have any issues with transferring them from hand to hand, or releasing the poles so they dangled from their straps. The flick locks of my Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork poles were miles better than the old twist lock design. http://blackdiamondequipment.com/en/trekking-poles/alpine-carbon-cork-trekking-pole-BD1121410000ALL1.html#cgid=trekking-poles&start=19
They also double as my shelter poles, and an animal deterrent on a few occasions!
Footwear. Well, it took a while, but I think I finally nailed it! The TA has really varied terrain, so it's difficult to find one shoe/boot to suit all of it. It's also a wet trail generally, with plenty of river crossings or walking in rivers for hours. You might have a number of shoes/boots and post them onward, or like me, try to find a good compromise shoe. My preference is for a non-goretex/WPB membrane shoe, lightweight but with a protective shank and upper, at least around the toe box and lower sides of the shoe. Also, minimal excess padding so they dry out faster!
I liked my Salomon XA 3D Pros http://www.salomon.com/nz/product/xa-pro-3d-ultra-2.html but I also like the look of this Salewa product, but have no experience of them yet.
Socks were a real hit-and-miss affair for me, but in the end I settled on a thin and lightweight merino sock made by Smartwool. http://www.smartwool.co.nz/products/struu1320/title/technical-socks-mens-phd-run-ultra-light-mini
They don't stink, dry fairly fast, are cool and breathable. Sweet! I also played around with goretex sock liners, plastic bags, sealskinz etc, but in the end settled on thin woolen socks, with lambs wool booties for hut use and as a treat for my feet...aaaah!
Other clothing. I really, really like merino wool and will stick with a long sleeve zip top in 150gsm weight as soon as I can find a replacement for my old favourite they have discontinued. If anyone knows of a brand comparable to the old Icebreaker long sleeve GT, let me know pretty please! Zipoff pants in fast drying fabric I thought were better than shorts... You have something to put on in towns or when sandflies are driving you mad. My mid layer, a Montbell Thermawrap Pro was great, if a little too warm. I still love my possum merino fingerless gloves, warm when wet and they don't affect dexterity. I wear goretex mittens over the top if it's really cold/wet. I've gone away from a windshirt, preferring to use one jacket for everything- an Arc'teryx paclite shell, with pit zips. I don't care what they say, I still haven't found a fabric that vents well enough to forgo pitzips!
Cooking. I highly rate both my Evernew .75l pasta pot and Trail Designs Ti Tri cooker. Flexibility of fuel types (wood, meths/HEET, or hexemine/solid fuel tablet). I basically just boil water, and this size cup is perfect to rehydrate a dinner with enough hot water left over for a cup of tea. Boiling time is acceptable, it packs down small, is really light and reliable.
The meths burner (a soda can stove design) is the weak link being made of thin aluminium and took a bit of a hammering over time and I think isn't burning optimally anymore.
As a replacement of this one part you could DIY or buy a nifty-looking titanium one
Food. As mentioned earlier, I basically just boil water and add to a ziplock bag of food... For example, couscous/quinoa/instant mashed potatoes. I pre-mix this stuff with dried soup, flavour sachets etc, with dehyd veges from the supermarket. Easy to resupply, cheap and no fuss. I also carried butter, olive oil and pesto for added calories and flavour. I would also add cheese and biltong/salami. Breakfast was muesli or instant oatmeal. Lunch was a wrap or bread stuffed with peanut butter, cheese, salami and Doritos! Snacks ended up being the heaviest component, being dried fruit, nuts and jellybeans. I was in the habit of carrying one extra day of food in each section to deal with weather delays, and soup packets for comfort meals. Oh, and chocolate, lots of it! I probably carried 700gms of food per day. Water was fairly easy to find in most places, and generally was ok to drink untreated. I used chlorine dioxide tablets maybe twice when the water supply was dodgy. 2l was generally enough throughout the TA, but that depends on your water discipline and I always took heed of trail note warnings of limited supply. I just used a couple of 1l plastic water bottles that come with water in a supermarket.
Other stuff. My firestarter kit includes a swissteel striker, a mini-bic butane lighter, and petroleum jelly-infused cotton wool. As I was walking solo, I carried a PLB (Delorme Inreach) which was useful to also send SMS messages to friends and family outside of cellphone coverage areas (yes, there's lots of those!). A whistle and mirror on my compass were my alternate signalling devices. I carried a ridiculously big knife for no real useful purpose for a while. DOC huts have axes for chopping firewood, and you can usually find twigs for kindling. I wouldn't bother with a full tang knife next time- just a wee folder or Swiss Army knife would be sufficient for me I think! My smartphone was brilliant at doing multiple tasks- comms, digital compass and GPS, mapping, music, ereader, trail notes and first aid information, fauna and flora information, campground info, camera and blogging tool. Occasionally I got caught out with low battery issues, but if I was careful my solar charger was sufficient.
Recovery. It's taken me the better part of two weeks for my body to recover, using light exercise, lots of rest, massage, extra magnesium and Epsom salt baths. When I found some non-hiking clothing to wear from storage, shoes were too tight and trousers too loose! So that leads to reintegrating back into 'normal' life. I figure that with a little help, this should go smoothly. So, for the next month:
1. I need five people I've never met to turn up at random at night and sleep, eat and lounge in the same room as me. Preferably two of you will have sleeping disorders/snore like a dying boar. At least two will need to be German or willing to put on an accent. But don't mention ze war.
2. All food will be dehydrated, except chocolate and maybe water. Speaking of which, I will only be allowed water if it has floaty things in it.
3. Except for 1. Above, people will need to be routed around me so I have solitude during the day, for weeks on end. I also need someone with a robin/kea/kaka/fantail sock puppet to follow me around so I have something to interact with or I will go crazy.
4. I will need to be soaked through at least once a day, and made to stand in a paddling pool to simulate river crossings. Maybe the fire service can help out here?
5. I will only be allowed two pairs of underwear and socks, and only one of anything else, which must be hand washed except for once a week, where I can use a washing machine, but only if I donate 6x $2 coins each time to charity. Also, I need a random person to steal one item of clothing if I use a machine.
So, if I'm completely honest, the transition back to normal life was/is harder than I expected. I suppose solitude and very clear, simple goals every day was a complete break from my current existence! Luckily my work has very good psych support which I will use... A longwinded way of saying if you need help, ask for it! :-)
I've had a ball. It's sad to stop walking- I almost did a Forrest Gump and turned around to walk back the way I'd come. Te Araroa was an awesome experience, one I'd gladly do again. So, if you haven't already, get out there!
See you on the trail sometime. Kiwiscout.