Te Araroa walking trail popularity creates pressure points
Te Araroa trail walkers are putting pressure on facilities in the Nelson Lakes National Park as the region adjusts to the trail's increasing popularity.
The trail, which runs the length of the country, has become an increasingly popular asset in New Zealand's adventure tourism toolbox with an estimated 350 people taking took to the 3000km trail last season. This was up from 30 walkers during its opening year in 2011.
The increase has led to concerns over trampers going to the toilet around Blue Lake - the clearest lake in the southern hemisphere. There were also reports of up to 50 people staying the night in its 16 bed hut.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) estimates 800 people annually could be tramping the length of New Zealand in the next five years.
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DOC partnerships director Nicki Douglas said they were excited by the growth, but it did create some "pressure points" on DOC land.
"Over the last 12 months we've become pretty aware of the number of people on the trail.
"The pressure points isn't really the tracks themselves it's more where people want to stop for accommodation and other facilities."
The top of the South Island area was a known pressure point, with northbound and southbound walkers converging mid-summer.
"And there's a couple sites in the lower South Island where we have some of the same issues but we're addressing that. It's manageable," Douglas said.
Nelson Lakes National Park operations ranger Paul Dulieu said they were "absolutely blown away" by how many Te Araroa trampers were passing through the Blue Lake Hut daily over the summer.
However there was concern over an excess of trampers at certain locations like Blue Lake. The lake has the clearest water in the Southern Hemisphere, however, toilet waste had been found around the area.
To cope with the visitor numbers there were plans to construct a dedicated campsite with toilet facilities at the site. Dulieu said DOC was working with the Ngati Apa iwi to ensure an acceptable solution was reached.
Chief executive of the Te Araroa Trust Rob Wakelin said the numbers had exceeded expectations and were a testament to the trail's developing reputation.
"There is no shortage of blogs, imagery and other feedback to shape the expectations of future walkers," he said.
While it was difficult to gauge the numbers on the trail, he estimated at least 450 "through walkers" will begin walking the trail later this year.
Adding to that were more than 10,000 "section walkers", he said.
The kinds of walkers found on Te Araroa were a "real mix". The majority of trampers were young and from abroad, but an increasing number of Kiwis were walking the trail.
Rebekah Cone, 23, spent just over four months walking the Te Araroa last summer.
She said it was "definitely" growing in popularity, with trampers from across the world attracted by the challenge of walking a whole country.
"They're all just raving on about it ... I think because New Zealand is such a beautiful country."
The majority of her fellow walkers were from abroad, and there were "a lot of Americans" with experience on long hikes such as the Appalachian trail.
She agreed more Kiwis, like her, were taking the opportunity to see their country.
"I always wanted to see New Zealand before I saw another country, I wanted to see my home.
"It was the best thing I possibly could do," she said.
There was a strong sense of community on the Te Araroa. Cone formed a "trail family" along the way, and generous locals often provided support - called "trail magic" by the walkers.
As long as future walkers respected the trail, there would be no problems, she said.
"It can only get better."