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May 2014 Issue
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Dream maker

Peter Vollweiler has helped tens of thousands of New Zealanders tramp our most famous tracks. Photo: Edith Leigh

 

For many Kiwis, the Milford Track, or perhaps the Routeburn or the Kepler, are on their bucket list, but they have never quite had the confidence to tackle it alone. Edith Leigh talks to a man who has helped more than 17,000 people realise their dreams

Peter Vollweiler knows the Milford Track pretty well.

He has walked it 59 times and enjoyed every step.

The 84-year-old hopes to make it 60 this year – although if his doctor is reading this, he’ll likely be wearing a frown.

But doctors and tramping mileage aside, Vollweiler has also given thousands of hours of his own time, for the past 28 years, to get others out enjoying the wilderness as well.

More than 17,000 people, mostly Kiwis, have joined tramping and cycling trips organised by the Rotary Club of Milton Tramping Club, in conjunction with the Otago Youth Adventure Trust.

Each year, up to 70 volunteers will be involved as the club organises transport, food, hut bookings and leaders. The trips are run at cost, but any surplus funds from club memberships and donations are shared between the two organisations.

Vollweiler looks after most of the administration, a huge task, and is a regular trip leader. Aside from the Milford, he had done all of the other trips at least 20 times, including the Kepler, Routeburn, and Tuatapere Hump Ridge tracks as well as trips in the Catlins, Mt Aspiring National Park and southern Fiordland.

For Vollweiler, the pleasure of his involvement has been in meeting new people and soaking up the scenery.

“I’m not a religious person, but I get quite stirred up when I’m up on top of a mountain looking down on the world,” he says.

Many New Zealanders harbour a wish to walk our well-known tracks, but may not have the experience or confidence to undertake a “freedom walk” by themselves, Vollweiler says.

Most participants are much like Vollweiler himself – did a bit of tramping in their younger days, before family, work and business took over, but are now keen to come back to it in their middle age.

“It’s fantastic. They get back into the outdoors, and once they start, the majority come back year after year.”

Far from the mountains, in the rolling green farm country of Waihola, near Dunedin, a small, cramped office in Vollweiler’s home tells its own story.

“I’ll see you in a couple of hours then,” Vollweiler’s wife Flora jokes, as I follow him down the hallway.

It is obvious this is where Vollweiler spends a lot of his time, often in the middle of the night, when he can’t sleep. Two big whiteboards detail the year’s trips, with dates, destinations, leaders and bookings. A shelf is laden with folders holding a named group photograph from every trip and a shoebox overflows with letters and cards of appreciation, “and that’s only some of them,” Vollweiler notes drily. Glowing amongst the paperwork is of course a computer, where an online booking system has made Vollweiller and his helpers’ job a lot easier.

Retirement never slowed this former farmer down, and he likes to take a daily hour’s walk, not down around the lake where it’s too flat, but up the hill behind his home.

Last year, however, he did hit a speed hump when he fell while tramping in the Catlins, knocking himself out and cracking a vertebra in his neck. The accident has slowed him down a little, but he’s determined to get back tramping again and is a little grumpy his doctor insists he uses a stick out walking.

After nearly 30 years, Vollweiler says it’s time to let someone else take up the reins and he is hopeful there is a person out there keen to take over his role. To find out more about upcoming trips or volunteering with the club, visit

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