With his rest stop full of lollies and fruit, Sam Pepper is one of the most popular trail angels on the Te Araroa Trail.
For the Peppers, the summer months bring a steady parade of people from around the world to their farm near Taumarunui.
At least once a week, Shannon Pepper sees a familiar sight: a thirsty, backpack-wielding thru-hiker who asks to spend the night. And because the Peppers are Te Araroa trail angels – their home is right on the trail – the answer is always yes.
For four years, hikers have been stopping by their home. The numbers ramp up every year, Shannon said, with more and more foreigners every season. One of her sons, Sam, has become so interested in the hikers that he set up a “rest stop” in their front lawn.
“People were coming in thirsty, and they were wanting fruit to eat because they were hungry and had run out of food the night before,” 13-year-old Sam says.
The rest stop is a small wooden stand that houses freshly picked fruit, water, and even lollies, which Sam purchases with money earned from the family’s chicken eggs. He said he buys a big bag of lollies for $15, which typically lasts about two or three weeks – depending on how many hikers come through.
“I buy heaps of different lollies, just in case people don’t like certain lollies,” Sam says, adding that the peppermint ones are usually the most popular.
There’s a world map on the wall and a stack of pins for hikers to add where they’re from. Most of the pins are in Europe and America.
The Peppers also included a book for hikers to sign, which is likely one of the better indicators of how many people do the trail each year. In 2016, 116 thru-hikers signed their rest stop book. This year, by mid-January and just two months into the season, they’d already had 155 stop in.
“They always write ‘thank you’ because a lot of time they’ve run out of water right about here,” Sam says. “Sometimes they’ll leave money behind, so then I’ll try to buy more lollies and fruit for them.”
The Pepper’s house is one of the first stops when walkers come out of the Hauhungaroa Range.
“When they get to us, they’ve been in the bush for four or five days,” Shannon said. They’ve regularly had people asking to stay the night, because it’s another 20km to Taumaranui from their house. “They’re camping on the back lawn a lot of the time, and we have a barbecue set out for them, so we usually cook them a meal,” she says.
“It doesn’t worry us at all. Usually the people who are walking are really lovely anyway because that’s just their nature – they’re pretty easy-going,” Shannon says.
Sam says it’s “pretty cool” being a trail angel. “You meet a lot of people, and they’re usually really nice.”
Meeting hikers every week has inspired Sam, who says he’ll probably do the Te Araroa Trail one day. “It sounds pretty cool, from what most of the hikers say.”