New walking season marks start of Te Araroa odyssey for many
As hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders head into the outdoors this Spring and Summer, they will be joined by a growing number of people taking time off work and study to walk the length of the country on the 3,000 km Te Araroa trail.
Today marks the official start of the 2019-2020 walking season, which runs from 1 October through to the end of April 2020.
Among those walking Te Araroa this year are harpist Michelle Doyle and jazz fiddler and singer Mickey O'Donnell. The Australian duo are known for their contemporary folk music and plan to stop in at pubs, halls and other venues to play gigs throughout their journey.
Ms Doyle has osteoporosis - a chronic bone disease that increases the risk of fractures - and their walk will also raise money for research into the disease.
Other walkers include Brook van Reenen from Wanaka, who is running the trail to raise money for the Mental Health Foundation, and Greytown man David Murray, who is fulfilling a lifelong dream by walking the trail with his 14-year-old son Baxter.
Te Araroa Trust Chief Executive Mark Weatherall said he was pleased to see the trail providing inspiration for fantastic adventures and worthy causes.
"When Te Araroa was being created the goal was simply to create a continuous trail traversing the length of New Zealand that would allow people to connect with and enjoy our stunning outdoors. Few could have imagined the amazing stories Te Araroa is now giving rise to, and the life-changing experiences it is providing for walkers."
Last year a record 1,100 people walked the length of Te Araroa, and tens of thousands more walked individual sections during their weekends and holidays.
Mr Weatherall said awareness of the trail was continuing to rise - highlighted by its selection for a New Zealand Post stamp series in September - and walker numbers were likely to grow again this year.
"We want the trail to be popular and enjoyed by many, but we know it needs to be managed carefully to ensure the experience remains a high quality one."
To help manage the growing numbers Te Araroa Trust has spent the winter developing improved guidance and support for walkers.
This includes enhancements to The Trail App - a smartphone app many walkers use to access trail notes and other helpful information. The app has been upgraded this year to enable the Trust to more effectively push out safety alerts to walkers.
The Trust has also worked with other outdoor organisations to produce a code of conduct, dubbed The Trail Pledge, to help raise awareness of responsible behaviour among Te Araroa trail walkers.
The pledge provides advice on how to respect New Zealand's environment, Māori culture, private property and other trail walkers. It will be shared on Te Araroa's website, as well as on posters at campsites and other accommodation providers along the trail's length.
"The pledge is part of our ongoing effort to help walkers understand the Kiwi way of enjoying and caring for our outdoors. While the vast majority of Te Araroa walkers are respectful and responsible in the outdoors, there are always a few that need a helping hand."
Te Araroa Trust has been working closely with the Department of Conservation, councils and others to manage walker numbers and ensure the future sustainability of the trail.
"Managing Te Araroa and providing a high-quality experience is a team effort which involves multiple agencies, organisations and private landholders. Funding is of course always a challenge and we are still seeking trail partners and supporters," Mr Weatherall said.
Te Araroa was opened by former Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae in December 2011, following more than two decades of work by dedicated volunteers and trail supporters to create and link a nationwide network of tracks from Cape Reinga to Bluff. In the years since, it has been ranked among the best long walks in the world by CNN, National Geographic and other major media outlets.