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January 2016 Issue
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Trail visionary

Geoff Chapple made the Te Araroa Trail a possibility. Photo: Josh Gale

Geoff Chapple, Te Araroa Trail founder. By Mark Watson

It wasn’t just another day on the Te Araroa Trail.

I was walking the North Shore beaches, homing in on Auckland City and feeling stoked; the first 600km was under my belt. No injuries. Feeling fit. The Devonport ferry awaited – the first motorised interruption of my walk. Beyond; an urban alleyway of steel, concrete and glass would contrast the rocky coastlines and rolling green hills I had become accustomed to.

On Cheltenham Beach, the last before North Head, a family sat in the shade of a tree. I glanced their way, noticing a purposefully held camera in their midst. Suddenly, a wiry, red headed figure jumped up from the group and trotted across the hot sand in my direction. I recognised him immediately. The figure called out.

‘Are you a tramper?’

‘Yes’ I replied.

‘Where have you come from?’

‘Cape Reinga!’

The figure closed in and thrust out a friendly hand, and with that, an identification:

‘I’m Geoff Chapple!’

And so my chance meeting with the founder of the very trail on which I was walking unfolded. I was struck immediately by Geoff’s vigour, enthusiasm and warm manner.

It’s that same vigour and some considerable vision that drove Geoff to pioneer Te Araroa Trail. Gifting New Zealanders a united network of trails and an aspirational concept that encourages recreation and has the ability to change lives, unite people and educate.

The form of the trail as we know it today is the result of Geoff’s tireless work. A well-known author and journalist, Geoff picked up where well-intended government agencies had lost direction after a national trail was mooted as early at the late 1960s. In 1994, a Sunday Star article by Geoff reactivated the idea and captured the public imagination. The formation of the Te Araroa Trust – of which Geoff was CEO – followed in the same year. In 1998, Geoff pioneered a possible route in the North Island, gauging landowner response, building relationships and raising the profile of the trail. A walk of the South Island followed in 2002 and the trail was born.

Geoff’s tireless efforts championing the trail were recognised in 2011 when Te Araroa was officially opened by the Governor-General. Geoff stood down as CEO of the trust in 2012, and was deservedly awarded an ONZM in recognition of his achievements.

– Mark Watson is the author of Te Araroa, walking New Zealand’s 3000km trail