The number of Kiwis walking the national Te Araroa trail is on the rise, with approximately one in five walkers hailing from cities, towns and rural communities across New Zealand.
Te Araroa Trust chair David McGregor said one in five of the 550 people who walked the full length of the 3,000 km trail from Cape Reinga to Bluff over the past 12 months were New Zealanders.
Hundreds more Kiwis were in the process of walking the trail in sections over a number of years, and hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders were enjoying individual sections of the trail as day walks, he said.
“Awareness of the Te Araroa experience is growing and people at many different stages of their lives are now walking it, from students and young people taking a gap year to retirees and workers taking an extended holiday. It’s a great way to connect with New Zealand and to really get to know the landscapes, people and climate that have shaped us as a nation.”
Among the many New Zealanders who have walked Te Araroa are Michelle Campbell and partner Jack Faulkner. The pair walked the trail between November 2016 and mid-March 2017 after they made the decision to pursue a long held dream of walking one of the world’s great long walks.
“I had been thinking about long distance walking for years and had been considering the Appalachian Trail in the United States until I heard about Te Araroa,” Ms Campbell said.
“I was still a student at the time so I left it alone until the stars aligned in 2016. I quit my job, Jack finished a contract and we threw our worldly possessions in a storage unit and hit the trail.”
Te Araroa was challenging at times, but it was a great way to see Aotearoa and completing it provided immense satisfaction, she said. Her advice to any other New Zealanders considering walking the trail is to go for it.
“I’d love to see more Kiwis on the trail, especially more Māori. The trail needs kaitiaki and a visible Kiwi culture to thrive.”
Another New Zealander who has completed the trail is Jory Akuhata, from Wellington. The 31 year old used traditional Māori techniques to make his own clothing, footwear and backpack. He sustained himself as much as possible by foraging edible native plants, hunting with a bow and arrows, and fishing using handcrafted hooks.
“Two years earlier I had been introduced to people who did Māori traditional stone tooling. I found it interesting and there was a little thing in the back of my head that made me think it would be fun to do this kind of thing,” Mr Akuhata said.
“I enjoy learning by doing, and through making mistakes. The early version of my pack wasn’t so good and the clothes I made initially were very bad, but I quickly learned.”
His advice to anyone considering walking the trail is to be flexible. “Only if you have flexibility can you stumble upon the unexpected, and that’s the most interesting part of walking the trail,” he said.
While competing the full trail in one sitting is considered a badge of honour by some, other Kiwis are making it their mission to walk the trail in sections, over a number of years. Palmerston North tramper Anthony Behrens and his partner Fiona Burleigh walked the 1,400 km South Island section of the trail in the summer of 2015, followed by a modified version of the normal 1,600 km North Island Te Araroa route last summer.
Their inspiration for long-trail walking came from Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. While considering walking the Appalachian Trail in North America or Spain’s El Camino de Santiago trail, they met a group of German and French Te Araroa walkers who spoke fondly of New Zealand’s own long trail.
“Their stories stayed with us and we were hooked. I liked the environmental aspect. Te Araroa is in our own country, which means there is no air travel and less of a carbon footprint. Our house is on the trail alongside the Manawatu River, so we just walked out the door and caught the train to Wellington when we did the North Island. It was a different kind of holiday and an amazing sensation.”
Since completing the trail Mr Behrens and Ms Burleigh have maintained their connection with the trail and those who walk it by offering free accommodation to some of the many walkers who pass by their home.
Te Araroa Trust is the group responsible for developing, promoting and managing Te Araroa trail for the good of New Zealand.
Mr McGregor said the Trust’s focus over the coming year was ensuring the long term sustainability of the trail and embedding the trail experience into the hearts and minds of New Zealanders.