Te Araroa - the Long Pathway - is the ultimate New Zealand hike. It begins at Cape Reinga, the very northern tip of New Zealand, and finishes in Bluff. It winds along beaches, across mountain ranges, through volcanic landscapes, over farmland and down rivers taking in some of this country’s most spectacular landscapes. It also connects country settlements, townships and cities.
A diverse range of hikers take on Te Araroa every year, and according to Te Araroa Trust Chief Executive Rob Wakelin, they all do it for very different reasons.
You've got the life-changers who want to find themselves, those who want to challenge themselves and those who do it for a cause or in memory of a loved one.
Currently on Te Araroa is Naresh Kumar, originally from India, who is running the track in sandals, Kyle Lang who is raising awareness for mental health, and a vegan couple who start each day with a 90-minute yoga session.
Every story is unique and personal, says Wakelin, and it is fascinating to meet some of these travellers or read their blogs.
American writer, film-maker and adventurer Margaret Hedderman is currently hiking the trail with her 66-year-old father Bob. She is documenting her journey through social media, print and regular videos. Her posts are highlighting New Zealand’s history, indigenous culture and the country’s diverse landscape. And, once completed, the ultimate aim is to produce a book on her experience.
For her father, Bob, the reality of hiking 3000km is a little daunting. Bob, a retired marine biologist, music promoter and restaurateur, admits that hiking long distances has never been on his bucket list.
The Te Araroa Trail is no walk in the park or three-day Disney World endurance test disguised as a vacation. There are real dangers: river crossings, sudden snowstorms, and potential food and water shortages.” But there was no way he was going to let his only child walk it alone.
Having Dad along for the expedition has its own set of dangers, says Margaret. "I've had to have a really good talk to him about not treating me like a child because I have actually had more hiking experience than he has," she laughs.
Since the official opening, numbers on the track have grown by about 30% annually. Summer 2014/15 should see around 150 hikers completing the track.
"We don't keep an official tally," says Wakelin. "We can only go on blogs and information they send us, so it is quite possible that number of walkers out there is much greater."
Margaret and Bob Hedderman are getting limited sponsorship from Te Araroa.
"It is a great opportunity to get information about Te Araroa out through Margaret's posts and channels," says Wakelin. "She will be a great ambassador for the trail and help spread the word about her experiences and what New Zealand has to offer."
For many the idea of taking five months away from work to walk the length of New Zealand is just not practical but, as Wakelin explains, Te Araroa has something for everyone: "There are section tramps lasting anything from a few days to a week or more, with many attractive day or overnight walks. Te Araroa is not just about walking, it is about getting to know the land and the people."
Wakelin describes it as a corridor that encourages social and economic transactions en route where you can be invited in by strangers to experience Kiwi food and culture.
"We want to encourage every New Zealander to get involved, whether it is by walking the trail, donating to it or even becoming a volunteer. We want them to become aware the person with the back-pack, traipsing through their town could be on their ultimate life journey. We want Te Araroa to become a rite of passage, something kids are inspired to do when they leave school. The hope is that Te Araroa gets onto every Kiwi's bucket list."