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Trailblazers

Geoff Chapple

Alfred Hamish Reed

Author and publisher, Auckland

Alfred Hamish Reed MBE, was New Zealand’s original ultra-distance walker and is the man responsible for popularising the romantic ideal of travelling the length of the country on foot.

During a six-month period between 1960-61, Reed walked from the lighthouse at Cape Reinga to Bluff, not bad for an 85-year-old. Then, in 1961, Reed crossed the North Island, road-walking from East Cape to Cape Egmont. Reed’s adventures and subsequent books made him a living legend, part of New Zealand folklore.

The idea of a foot trail the length of New Zealand has been around a long time. Indeed, Federated Mountain Clubs first proposed the idea in the 1970s. When the New Zealand Walkways Commission was established in 1976, valuable work was completed on a regional basis, putting in over 100 new walkways. Part of the brief was to link these into a national north-south route, but when the commission was dissolved in 1989, this hadn’t been done.

Geoff Chapple

CEO Te Araroa Trust, Auckland

In 1994 Geoff Chapple, a red-headed journalist from Auckland, penned a letter to his newspaper, the Sunday Star Times, proposing a walking route the length of Aotearoa.

“I conjured up this vision of a national trail,” Chapple recalls. “I saw Te Araroa as a leisurely exploration of the bush, the farmed and cultivated countryside, the landscapes, mountains and rivers, but also a trail to link small towns and even the cities. It should follow the contours of our history.”

The mayor of Waitakere City, Bob Harvey, read Chapple’s letter about this lofty idea and assisted in forming the Te Araroa Trust. Chapple’s wife, Miriam Beatson, becomes the trust secretary and Sir Edmund Hillary signed on as a patron.

Chapple trialled the trail during 1997–8 and blogged about the pleasures and pitfalls of the route he forged through the North Island. By 2002 he had walked the length the South Island section. By 2003, his book Te Araroa: The New Zealand trail won a Montana award and people began taking the idea seriously.

Over 18 years the Te Araroa Trust built up a dedicated staff of volunteers. With financial support from the Hillary Commission and Tindall Foundation, paths are formed, bridges and boardwalks built, huts repaired and markers are nailed to signposts. The route is designed to pass through regions of cultural and historic interest, like the Puhoi Pub, just north of Auckland. Access through private land is gained as farmers see the benefits of a nation-wide trail, although convincing landowners to allow public access was not easy. One win-win situation was when Canadian singer Shania Twain purchased the high country sheep station Motatapu in Otago. As part of the sale agreement, the Motatapu Track, including new huts, was constructed on the property linking Wanaka with Arrowtown.

In the rugged Tararua Ranges, dispute arose as to whether a new track along the Oriwa Ridge would destroy the remote experience of other wilderness users. Compromises were made and now the trail follows the old track up to Waiopehu Hut, over Pukematawai, and along to Otaki Forks.

In 2007 the Government allocated $3.8m for the development of the trail on conservation land. DOC is now behind the trust and Sir Wilson Whineray is their patron.

A website is created with track updates and information to be gleaned from the testimonies of other wayfarers.

On the Te Araroa website’s blog, Chapple writes of becoming as one with the trail: ‘My mind was a blank, and it occurred to me this might be the actual, final and happy condition of a long walk. All those long days when there’d been nothing but the light on the grass, the next turn, the glad hut. To walk, to eat and drink, to find shelter, to sleep. Those were the four corners of my universe.’

That’s something trampers who walk the trail will appreciate. So far, most trampers have been foreign backpackers following the strong ‘long-trail’ culture overseas. Some folk have opted to walk just the South Island section; some the whole shebang as a personal challenge or rite of passage. An Auckland tramping club is doing bits of the Trail each weekend. There are as many variations of Te Araroa as there are walkers.

While the official route bypasses some of the most scenic tourist spots in New Zealand, some walkers have detoured to different destinations en route, reinventing the trail and making it their own. One older American avoided the arduous Alpine Route behind Nelson – it was too risky for his level of experience. In search of adventure, one determined duo departed from the beaten path to walk up the Matukituki Valley, cross Cascade Saddle, waltz down the Dart Valley, then re-join the route near the Routeburn.

At 3000km, the Te Araroa Trail is one of the longest long-distance trails in the world and can take about three months to complete. The quickest time so far is 90 days, though this record will surely fall as numbers attempting Te Araroa increase.

But the trail is not about speed – it’s about slowing down and seeing life from a new perspective; seeing New Zealand in an intimate way: on foot.

Let the evocative words of Chapple himself invite you onto the long pathway: ‘The tedious, waterless curve of Ninety Mile Beach; the exhausting scree slopes of Mount Rintoul; the menacing whirlpools of the Whanganui River; the savannah-like grasslands of the St James Station; the wide crossing of the Rangitata River valley, the volcanic throat of Ruapehu’.

Te Araroa is open for business.

Read the book!

Te Araroa, A Walking Guide to New Zealand’s Longest Trail
By Geoff Chapple, $50

Te Araroa, the Long Pathway, or New Zealand Trail stretching for 3000km between Cape Reinga and Bluff. It’s our equivalent of the USA’s Appalachian Trail (3500km).

The trail goes through towns, cities, farms, mountains, and bush – with about 45 per cent of it on public conservation lands. Through walkers are already coming from overseas to do it. Release of this guidebook coincided with the opening of the trail on December 3, 2011.

As a trained journalist, Chapple engages with his subject in a distinctive style, and the text includes Maori legends, natural history, and even some poetry. He brings history alive: one passage describes of battle between two iwi on the Whanganui in 1864.

Obviously, the guidebook best serves ‘through walkers’ who intend to complete the whole 3000km. But it works equally well for local areas, as the walks are divided into regions, with 113 sections detailed. While not blow-by-blow, there’s plenty of information. Geographx provide superb maps, and colour photographs augment the text.

Te Araroa is more than just a guidebook. It’s the story of a man realising a dream, inspiring a country, and doing something of lasting value. Chapple deserves a Sir in front of his name more than an All Black captain, I reckon.

– Shaun Barnett

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