Te Araroa trail walkers skip Manawatu
Trampers are choosing to skip Manawatu out of the national Te Araroa walking trail, with less than half of it actually off-road in the region.
Palmerston North walker Anthony Behrens said from Whanganui to Levin, via Palmerston North, there was 170 kilometres of trail. About 70km was meant to be off-road.
The on-road parts were unpleasant and uncomfortable, "where walkers are often in a ditch or on state highway".
As a result, a lot of walkers were choosing to skip Manawatu by busing or hitchhiking. Others were getting injured from sustained walking on the road or on camber.
It also meant Palmerston North was missing out, as walkers were often at a stage where they were looking to buy new top-of-the-line gear.
There was even less off-road section with a trail through the Gordon Kear Forest blocked off while logging was done during the week, leaving only the weekend open.
"For health and safety reasons – and fair enough – they block it. So from sunrise to sunset it is blocked," Behrens said.
The section was closed from November to April for logging, which was the same time walkers would be using the trail.
"The walking season is the logging season."
That had happened for the past two years and Behrens was not sure if it would continue into the future.
He hoped that with some communication "something could be sorted out".
"I'd hate it to be the same next year. Someone needs to sit down and discuss a way around this, literally."
The forest was the approximate centre of the trail.
"Its an irony that it is the centre and we block it."
Behrens acknowledged that Manawatu was not the only region with road walking, as many other parts of the North Island did too.
"Perhaps now is the time to start considering these things."
He put a conservative estimate that numbers of walkers were doubling every two years.
Palmerston North City mayor Grant Smith said they were in the early stages, but were keen to do more on the trails.
"It's a great idea, it fits perfectly with everything we are trying to do. We are very supportive.
"We haven't had time to scope any further, which doesn't mean we're not going to do anything, it just means it is early stages."
Smith said they would look for the money to do work, whether it be in existing funds or as part of budgets for road maintenance.
He said it was "not really appropriate" to have people walking on roads or along bridges with traffic travelling at 100kmh.
"There is probably more [road sections] in our region than we really want and we'll be looking to eliminate them, certainly in the Palmerston North and Manawatu District areas."
City council parks and property manager John Brenkley said closing the forest track was a health and safety issue.
"Unfortunately, we can't harvest the trees in the winter time, and people enjoy walking in the summertime.
"We've had to close the trail while forestry workers have been on the job during the week for health and safety reasons."
Te Araroa Trust chief executive Rob Wakelin said he was not aware of a trend of large numbers of people skipping the region.
However, he said they were upfront on their website that the trail was not 100 per cent off-road.
Wakelin said on-road sections led to more encounters with people and hospitality of locals.