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October 2016 Issue
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Build it, and they will come

Red Hills Hut in Marlborough is just one of many stops along the 3000km Te Araroa Trail. Photo: Evelyne De Boeck

Te Araroa Trail has put New Zealand on the long-distance tramper’s bucket list.

By Geoff Chapple

I ventured into a remote part of Te Araroa a little while back – the difficult Red Hills section behind Nelson – and some joker had posted an entry in the Top Wairoa Hut book: I’m so sorry . . . for everything. And signed it off ‘Geoff Chapple’.

Ha ha ha. Not me – and ‘Ain’t sorry yet’, as the song goes.

Te Araroa was built from nothing. I wrote a single newspaper story in 1994, and that roused enough interest to get it started. Bob Harvey, then Waitakere City mayor, responded. Jenny Wheeler, then editor of the Sunday Star did too. There was no active Government policy for it, and even the Federated Mountain Clubs seemed suspicious at first. It was just an idea that had once popped up its head with the New Zealand Walking Access Commission, but was then dropped. Too hard.

A think tank in America once did an analysis of the entrepreneurial ideas that come true, and rendered that down into a handy acronym ‘SUCCESS’. An idea succeeds if it’s ‘S’ for simple, ‘U’ for unexpected, ‘CC’ for both concrete and credible, ‘E’ for emotional, and ‘SS’ for a strong story.  Te Araroa, in embryo, was all of those things.

It had hard early years, but we had, most of all, a strong story. We were the trailbuilders who wouldn’t lie down. Even before the local and government agencies came aboard, the media, who love a struggle story, never let it go.

Te Araroa was opened in 2011, and by 2014 was named by National Geographic as one of the world’s top long trails. This year, the Mother Nature Network named Te Araroa one of nine ‘Epic Long Distance Trails’.

Even before the trail opened I knew we’d brought a new phenomenon into New Zealand – long distance trampers. They had trail names – Freebird, Yeti, Toek, Amoeba, Singing Wind, and Tengu, who was tattooed right across his back with the wings of a Japanese mountain god. Long distance, lightweight trampers, sometimes with basic pack weights of only 4 or 5 kilograms.

Collecting actual data on the number of through walkers is hard but when I was at Top Wairoa Hut, I went through the hut books and counted.

The figures were: 2010, nine; 2011, 24; 2012, 40; 2014, 75. When I was at the hut in December 2015, the season for tramping the South Island was only just beginning, but between October and December, 45 Te Araroa walkers had already signed through. If that rate kept up through the summer, the thru-trampers would have cracked 100 for that 2014-2015 year. This year, I’m told by Te Araroa Trust, the number has gone up yet again.

Build it, as they say, and they’ll come. Into the backblocks of this marvellous land.

– Geoff Chapple is the founder of Te Araroa Trail