Tourists win right to walk on wild side

NICCI MCDOUGALL
Last updated 05:00 15/02/2013
Kepler Track group
BARRY HARCOURT/Fairfax NZ

Ready to take on their first challenge, the Kepler track, are Stephanie Hathaway of the United States, Joel Cogger of Australia, Toshitake Suzuki of Japan, and Richard Harrison of the United States.

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A woman whose dream of visiting New Zealand was put on hold after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and a British man who slimmed down after his weight kept him housebound are among a group of walkers in the south taking on the region's great walks.

The walkers, from the United States, Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom, started the Kepler Track yesterday morning.

During their time in New Zealand, they will attempt to complete the country's nine great walks.

Their New Zealand visit is the result of an international competition run by Air New Zealand as part of a three-year commercial partnership with the Department of Conservation to provide support for conservation programmes around the great walks network.

Applications came from people in 45 countries.

Air New Zealand representative Dayna Vawdrey, who is accompanying the group, said yesterday all four walkers had stories to tell including UK man Richard Harrison, who two years ago struggled to fit into a vehicle and could not buy clothes in normal shops but had since changed his life and slimmed down.

For US woman Stephanie Hathaway, visiting New Zealand was her dream but, while on a world tour, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and forced to return home.

Now cancer-free, she was looking forward to visiting New Zealand, which was the last destination on her world-tour list, Miss Vawdrey said.

The group was yesterday welcomed with a haka by Fiordland College students, who were part of the Kids Restore the Kepler project.

Kids Restore the Kepler education co-ordinator Caroline Carter said the walkers were overwhelmed and moved by the welcome.

Three of the students walked with the group for the first part of the track and showed them some of the biodiversity work being done by DOC, Air New Zealand and Fiordland's young people.

While completing a total of 550 kilometres, the group will also take part in a raft of outdoor activities and will be joined along the way by celebrity guests, including members of the All Blacks.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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