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January 2018 Issue
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Mission through Middle Earth

Bruce Hopkins hopes to reach Stewart Island in March. Photo: George Driver
Actor Bruce Hopkins is walking the Te Araroa Trail with the ashes of his father and brother. He discusses his journey with George Driver.

Bruce Hopkins, who played the character of Gamling in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, began walking the Te Araroa Trail in October and has been making a podcast about his trip for RNZ. His brother and father died several years ago and he says the walk is a spiritual journey.

“I call it the missing link,” Hopkins says. “I’m a fourth generation Stewart Islander. The family moved to Russell in the late 1950s and then to Auckland in the late 60s, but dad’s stomping ground was north of Cape Reinga, out towards Three Kings Islands, and I grew up commercial fishing with him out there. The Te Araroa Trail is perfect to connect those two significant chapters of our family.

“It’s a symbol and I’m walking them home.”

But after injuring his leg two weeks into the trail, slipping on a combination of seaweed and jellyfish near Bream Head, he was laid up for nearly three weeks. After two courses of antibiotics, Hopkins is now back on the TA.

“I’ve done some deep damage to the blood vessels and may have to put up with this for years to come. But it seems fine now – it doesn’t hurt while I walk.”

He says he anticipated the Te Araroa would be an immense challenge.

“I was addicted to the blogs people write while walking the trail and I was reading of people in agony and exhausted and I’ve seen the photos of the blisters.”

Other than one training trip, Hopkins had never tramped before and says the physical side is more draining than the mental aspect.

“I have discovered that there’s a tramping fitness that people build up over years. It’s like a body muscle-memory, I imagine. I may have it at the end of the North Island, but I don’t have it yet.”

With a 20kg pack, including 3kg of podcast equipment, getting the right kit has also been a learning curve.

“So far I’ve ditched the air mattresses – I’ve had two that went flat – and I’ve gone with a roll-up foam mattress, which is lighter. I’ve also ditched my blow-up pillow. I’ve now opted for trail shoes too, rather than tramping boots – they are a lot lighter and breathe and dry-out quicker, and it seems to be what most people wear on the trail.”

He says the best part of the journey has been the people.

“I think anyone who comes from overseas and does the TA should be given immediate residency. They have an intimacy with the country that most New Zealanders don’t have.

“It’s been fascinating because people have a diverse range of reasons for doing it.”

Being a Lord of the Rings actor also gives fellow walkers a thrill, he says.

“They get a real buzz when I tell them. Sam and Frodo pretended to walk through Middle Earth. I’m doing it for real.”

While walking the TA, Hopkins is fundraising for the charity Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, which provides support for grandparents who become sole guardians of their grandchildren.

“I have three grandchildren and I don’t take that for granted, but raising a child as a grandparent can be a bruising reality. You have to be financially responsible and a lot of grandparents are not affluent. You can’t be a doting grandparent and also get your grandchild to school and sports practise and everything that raising a kid entails. You become a parent and it’s often in very traumatic circumstances, especially with the epidemic of P and family violence.”