They’re two bugbears that Te Araroa Trail walkers have repeatedly, if unfairly, come under fire for: not paying hut fees and not disposing of their toilet waste properly.
Wilderness has reported on several instances where huts and tracks on the trail have become littered with human faeces and toilet paper. Anecdotally, readers have reported encountering groups of foreign trampers who don’t appear to have purchased hut tickets.
But Te Araroa Trail Trust chairman Rob Wakelin said both these concerns are overblown, and it is not fair to blame Te Araroa Trail walkers for such issues. He pointed out that just 350 thru-walkers attempted Te Araroa in 2015-2016. He compared that to the millions of visitors overall to New Zealand: “It’s no news to anyone in the country that tourism is putting pressure on infrastructure in New Zealand.”
He also said New Zealanders are just as likely to avoid hut fees and behave poorly in the outdoors.
“Let’s not lose sight of the fact that I think any one of us has been in the outdoors and seen plenty of Kiwis whose behaviour leaves a bit to be desired. It’s not as easy as Kiwis versus foreigners. It’s just a generic pressure going on some of these places.”
However, he also said the trust is working with DOC to rectify pressure-related problems along the trail.
One solution under discussion is to create a ‘Te Araroa Trail fee’ that would encompass a hut pass for the entire trail, donations to the trust to help fund trail maintenance and facilities, and fees to those private campsite and hut owners who currently rely on donations.
“The conversation has started,” said Wakelin. “It will take a bit of discussion and I’m pretty cautious – I want to get it right before we launch it, not launch it first and then play catch up.”
Wakelin expects to have the one-stop fee established by the middle of next year, in preparation for the 2017-18 walking season.
The trust has also applied for Community Conservation Partnership Fund money to build more toilets, shelters and water facilities along sections of the trail in Northland. It will find out later this year if its application has been successful.
Another measure has been to add a trowel to the recommended gear list for thru-walkers.
“I would like to think our walkers will buy into it,” Wakelin said. “I think it’s fair to say Te Araroa walkers are more environmentally conscious than most, just due to the nature of them being fairly committed to the outdoors already. But I guess the proof is in the pudding.”
Wakelin said he has heard rumours that up to 1500 people could be walking the trail next year, but hopes such numbers don’t eventuate. “We’re expecting somewhere either side of 500. I’ve heard a few urban legends that there’s 1500 people on their way, but I’ve seen nothing in terms of hard evidence that would back that up,” he said. “I don’t think we would want it to grow to 1500 in the space of a year because certain parts would be creaking at the seams.”