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Te Araroa trail season begins

Australians Mickey O’Donnell and Michelle Doyle in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, in the lead-up to their Te Araroa journey. The musicians will play gigs across New Zealand while walking Te Araroa. Photo: Daniel Di Biase Photography

October 1 marks the official start of the 2019-2020 Te Araroa Trail walking season, which runs through to the end of April 2020.

Among those walking Te Araroa this year are harpist Michelle Doyle and jazz fiddler and singer Mickey O’Donnell. The Australian duo are known for their contemporary folk music and plan to stop in at pubs, halls and other venues to play gigs throughout their journey. (We’ve interviewed them for the upcoming November issue.)

Doyle has osteoporosis – a chronic bone disease that increases the risk of fractures – and their walk will also raise money for research into the disease.

Other walkers include Brook van Reenen from Wanaka, who is running the trail to raise money for the Mental Health Foundation, and Greytown man David Murray, who is fulfilling a lifelong dream by walking the trail with his 14-year-old son Baxter.

Te Araroa Trust chief executive Mark Weatherall said he was pleased to see the trail providing inspiration for fantastic adventures and worthy causes.

“When Te Araroa was being created the goal was simply to create a continuous trail traversing the length of New Zealand that would allow people to connect with and enjoy our stunning outdoors. Few could have imagined the amazing stories Te Araroa is now giving rise to, and the life-changing experiences it is providing for walkers.”

Last year a record 1100 people walked the length of Te Araroa, and tens of thousands more walked individual sections during their weekends and holidays.

Weatherall said awareness of the trail was continuing to rise – highlighted by its selection for a New Zealand Post stamp series in September – and walker numbers were likely to grow again this year.

“We want the trail to be popular and enjoyed by many, but we know it needs to be managed carefully to ensure the experience remains a high quality one,” he said.

To help manage the growing numbers, the Te Araroa Trust has spent the winter developing improved guidance and support for walkers.

This includes enhancements to The Trail App – a smartphone app many walkers use to access trail notes and other helpful information. The app has been upgraded this year to enable the trust to more effectively push out safety alerts to walkers.

The trust has also worked with other outdoor organisations to produce a code of conduct, dubbed The Trail Pledge, to help raise awareness of responsible behaviour among Te Araroa trail walkers.

The pledge provides advice on how to respect New Zealand’s environment, Māori culture, private property and other trail walkers. It will be shared on Te Araroa’s website, as well as on posters at campsites and other accommodation providers along the trail’s length.

“The pledge is part of our ongoing effort to help walkers understand the Kiwi way of enjoying and caring for our outdoors. While the vast majority of Te Araroa walkers are respectful and responsible in the outdoors, there are always a few that need a helping hand.”

Te Araroa Trust has been working closely with the Department of Conservation, councils and others to manage walker numbers and ensure the future sustainability of the trail.

“Managing Te Araroa and providing a high-quality experience is a team effort which involves multiple agencies, organisations and private landholders. Funding is of course always a challenge and we are still seeking trail partners and supporters,” Weatherall said.

Meet some of this year’s walkers

Dave and Baxter Murray

Father and son duo Dave and Baxter come from Greytown. They will leave their home later this month and head to Cape Reinga, where they will begin their long walk south on October 17.

“It had always been a goal of mine to do a long-distance hike, since I was about 16,” Dave Murray said.

“Then life got in the way and it was never a good time – with work and family commitments always taking priority. It was actually Baxter who badgered me into taking the plunge. He was keen, and his logic was flawless: ‘It will never be a good time so let’s do it next year’.”

Brook van Reenen

Brook van Reenan, from Wanaka, is running Te Araroa to raise money for the Mental Health Foundation. Van Reenen, 33, is already on his trail journey, having left Cape Reinga to begin his run in September.

“I would like to raise money for Mental Health because some of my closest friends have been affected by it,” van Reenen said.

“Running is great for my own mental health and I will be overcoming massive mental battles within myself when I am running day after day. I’m doing this because nearly 50 per cent of New Zealanders will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, and I don’t want them to face it on their own.”

Van Reenan is alread more than three-quarters of the way to his $12,000 fundraising goal. Donate here.

Mickey O’Donnell and Michelle Doyle

An Australian duo walking the trail while playing gigs at halls, pubs, and festivals along the way. Michelle plays the harp and Mickey plays jazz fiddle and sings. Their journey is raising money for osteoporosis research, and Michelle took her first steps from Cape Reinga on 29 September. Mickey broke his toe in the lead-up to the journey and will join her from Whangarei, once he receives the all-clear from his doctor.

The six-month adventure will take them through New Zealand’s major cities, rural locations and scenic mountains while their instruments are couriered to each gig. They have released their debut album ‘A Walking Pace’ in time for the walk and will donating 20 per cent of the tour’s merchandise sales to osteoporosis research.