Tuatapere's annual Stump the Hump is gathering momentum for a record turnout of participants.
Track Charitable Trust secretary Graham Sanderson said so far more than 150 registrations had been received, but there was still plenty of room for more.
"On our inaugural year, (in 2011) we had 39 participants, the next year we had around 120, last year we had 219 and this year we are hoping to surpass all other years."
The Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track was originally constructed by the Tuatapere community as a community incentive after the New Zealand forestry department closed its Tuatapere depot, several sawmills in the area closed their doors and the downturn in farming hit the country.
"This track symbolises what a strong, hardworking, rural community can achieve when it sets its mind to it - by getting up off their backsides and doing something to attract visitors to their town who will spend time and maybe help bring revenue into their community," Mr Sanderson said.
The 63 kilometre track was built over Department of Conservation and Maori-owned land.
The three-day walk is condensed down to 11 to 20 hours and takes its hikers over spectacular areas, combing coastal scenery offering the chance to see Hector's dolphins or southern right whales that frequent Te Wae Wae Bay. Walkers pass through marine terraces with pristine beech and podocarp forests, moonscapes of tors and tarns and see the historic three viaducts, including the Percy Burn viaduct, the largest in the Southern hemisphere.
The "Stump the Hump" is the major, annual fundraiser for the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Charitable Trust. Funds raised from walkers' registrations would be used to assist with maintenance of the track's boardwalks and lodge facilities.
Walkers leave Rarakau car park at midnight on Friday, February 7, and follow the glow torches to Okaka Lodge near the top of the Hump Ridge. Upon arrival each gets a bowl of hot porridge with tea or coffee and the chance to put their feet up and watch the sun rise.
"Stump the Hump is not a race - it's just the chance for people to enjoy and experience 20 hours in the life of the track and make the most of the spectacular ambience on offer," Mr Sanderson said.
The walkers then leave for Port Craig where they get to sample hot soup and sandwiches before attempting the final leg of the journey back to the Rarakau car park, arriving on February 8.
"All along the track we have check points. Each participant has to log in at each of these check points so we know where everybody is at all times. Each check point has a different theme going on to brighten up and encourage the walkers. We have two medical doctors and medical staff on hand at the lodges to check out the health of all the walkers."
The check points are supported by different sponsors and are all manned by volunteers. Most check points have a snack station offering energy foods and encouragement to all.
"We have a huge number of local volunteers helping us on the track - Stump the Hump couldn't happen without our volunteers however we are still desperately on the hunt for more volunteers and sponsors to help us make this event more successful," Mr Sanderson said.
Walkers must leave Port Craig Lodge by 4.30pm on Saturday or they must stay overnight until Sunday morning, otherwise they wouldn't have enough daylight to complete the walk back to Rarakau in safety."
Waiting for the participants return to Rarakau will be masseuses and the Last Light Lodge in Tuatapere would have showers available, for a small charge.
"We are going to erect a marque at Rarakau Lodge. We will be manning a barbecue and offering light refreshments to the walkers as they come off the track - supporters of the walkers are very welcome to partake in the refreshments for a small charge."
Certificates of accomplishment would be issued to all walkers at the end of the Stump the Hump.
There would also be entertainment for visitors and supporters, with an art exhibition and craft show at the Tuatapere RSA Hall opening at 7.30pm, February 7, and finishing at 3pm, February 8.
Organiser Kathryn Bennie said following the tremendous success of the inaugural exhibition last year, the art show would be an annual event, running under the umbrella of the newly-formed Artists of Southland.
The RSA Hall would form part of the Tuatapere "Arts Trail" catering for an influx of support people and visitors with friends and family walking non-stop overnight on the Stump the Hump.
Altogether there would be nine different venues forming the Arts Trail around Tuatapere.
The annual Tuatapere Waiau A&P Show will also be held that weekend in the Tuatapere Domain.
- The Southland Times