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December 2021 Issue
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Leaving the trail

Mark Weatherall is leaving the Te Araroa Trust to take up a role as general manager of community and development at Rowing New Zealand

Departing Te Araroa Trust chief executive Mark Weatherall reflects on his three and a half years overseeing Aotearoa’s longest trail.

What initially drew you to the role?

I was looking for opportunities to move out of Auckland, in the nicest possible way, and the role took me back to my degree days when I studied parks and recreation management at Lincoln University. I always wanted to be a park ranger when I was growing up, so this appealed to me. I grew up in the outdoors – hunting, fishing, camping – so I thought, why not? 

How familiar were you with Te Araroa Trail before applying? 

I had no idea it existed. When I started, I would sit on a plane and the person next to me would ask what I do. When I mentioned Te Araroa, they would look at me sideways, and I’d spend half an hour trying to explain it. But throughout the last three and a half years, the trail has increased its awareness and popularity and now when people ask what I do, they will know somebody who has walked it, or they’ve heard of it or are planning on doing it. From that point of view, it’s quite cool, as I’ve played a part in it.

What has been the biggest challenge? 

I think the sustainability of the trail has been a real challenge, from a resource point of view but also just with the nature of the trail, the maintenance is incredibly difficult. We rely heavily on volunteers throughout the country to help facilitate, develop and maintain parts of the trail. Access is going to continue to be a challenge. There are around 30-35 private properties that the trail goes through, and that’s getting harder, because the trail is getting more popular and more people are coming through those properties and some of the farmers are saying, ‘hang on’. 

How has Covid impacted the trail?

The summer pre-Covid, we had 33 different countries represented on the trail but Covid basically stopped New Zealand’s tourism overnight. On the whole, it’s actually been good in a funny way because it’s helped us achieve one of our biggest objectives, which was to increase awareness with Kiwis and get more people out there. 

Last year, we were lucky because we dodged the walking season and had lockdowns during the winter, and then we had a really good summer with lots of Kiwis out there. But it’s caught up a bit now, and this summer will be incredibly challenging [due to alert levels in Auckland, Northland and Waikato]. Section walkers will be okay, but those trying to walk the length of the country are already experiencing some major challenges. I know there’s a number of people that are going to postpone and start again next year, because it’s just too hard. 

I feel for those people, you know – often those who are thru-walking will throw in their job, rent out their house and pack up their belongings. But like I said to them, we’re all affected – there are people losing jobs. So whether you can walk Northland or not, it’s important but it’s not the end of the world.

Do you think you will walk the trail one day?

For sure. I’ve got two children – my daughter’s 14 and my son’s 15 – and we’ve been doing bits and pieces of it. I definitely have every intention of walking it across my lifetime, and I would like to do it in one go; I think it would be amazing but with kids and jobs and having to make money, it’s not an option for me at this stage. 

I’m a section walker, though, and that’s what I’ll do.