After nearly two decades of bush bashing and fundraising, the Te Araroa walking trail, a 3000km hike stretching from Cape Reinga to Bluff through public and private land, is finally open.
"It's absolutely fantastic. After 17 years, it's the climax," says Geoff Chapple, chief executive of the Te Araroa Trust.
Te Araroa, which means "the long pathway", was officially opened on December 3 in Wellington, with celebrations spanning the length of the country. "One of the nicest things was we were in touch with either end of the country and the opening reflected the huge extent of Te Araroa itself," says Chapple. "We had Wayne Brown, who is the mayor of the Far North, opening from the north and Tim Shadbolt, mayor of Invercargill, opening it from the south, each in their own way. Wayne jumped over a surfboard and Tim was in full mayoral robes down in Bluff and cut a ribbon."
Work on the trail began after Chapple, a journalist and author, wrote an article in the Sunday Star-Times in 1994 about his vision for a walking trail the length of the country. The story led to the formation of the trust and the construction of parts of the trail, with DoC and various councils coming on board around 2002.
An enthusiastic bunch of volunteers gave their time and resources towards developing the trail. "You attract the sort of people who are often quite unconventional thinkers and they've usually got a hell of a lot of character and a hell of a lot of independence and drive," says Chapple. "Some of them were adventurers, like Marcus Waters in Christchurch, some were ex- mayors and some of them were early pioneers of hang gliding."
During development, Chapple walked the trail to test the route and confirm permission to walk through land owners' properties, although he admits: "I probably have walked it twice at least, because on most of the trails we built I've usually been through the same routes, or close to them, when there's been a trail formed." He's considering walking it again in the next few years.
For now he's busy with the trust and managing the increasing workload. There are "a lot of inquiries from trampers, there's a huge Facebook page now and people are all talking about when they're setting off, so it's quite lively and there's still building contracts under way to improve the route", says Chapple.
"The work continues to make it one of the best trails in the world."
For more information visit teararoa.org.nz
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