'Time for a change' so walking weekend founder hands the job on

The volunteer guides have thoroughly prepared their walks.
The volunteer guides have thoroughly prepared their walks.

For Jean Goldschmidt, the upcoming Mangawhai walking weekend will be a time of mixed emotions.

The event organiser of the annual festival is stepping down from the role after being in charge for the past 15 years.

"I have had such fun meeting all the wonderful walkers, many of whom we see year after year," she said.

"I will be leaving a vibrant and enthusiastic walking community that is keen to see the continuation of the event."

The walking weekend began in 2000 with only 150 keen athletes. It was designed to bring people to Mangawhai and has grown into something much bigger.

The 15th edition of the walking-get-together offers 30 guided walks. All walks are graded from easy to extreme levels of fitness so everyone is catered for.

The event is expected to attract about 700 walkers.

The organisers gather everyone together at the beginning each day which enables all walkers to meet as a large group and catch up with people from previous years.

"Friendships are made and I often hear the call at departure 'see you next year'," Goldschmidt said. "The guides are proud of their Mangawhai area and keen to show it at its best."

The walking tracks have evolved as well. When they began the Mangawhai clifftop walk was the only trail on offer, but many new private walks have been devised and added.

"I loved discovering the area through helping to create these unknown walks. When we began Mangawhai had only one walk and now we have 30 that showcase some beautiful parts of the area."

Goldschmidt said her favourite day each year was the guides' training day.

"We are constantly improving the quality of guiding so the guides gather to go over the important basic skills and look at how we can do better," she said. "There is always something to learn. Education is the key."

The walking weekend has also played its part in exposing local talent. The development of the art trail began about three years into the event and now the art group has developed "with people coming to Mangawhai because they have heard there is an art community".

Another feature is the popular Mangawhai Wine and Food Festival, created by the walking weekend to provide a fun and relaxing finish to the walkers' day and an opportunity to showcase local food and wine producers to visitors.

"Now eight years on, this event has been embraced by both the walkers and the wider community as we farewell our magical Mangawhai summer," said Trish Whyte who runs the festival.

Goldschmidt remembered that before the food and wine afternoons they staged concerts in the 1890s hall.

"They were wonderful displaying the amazing talent of the locals. With the increase in numbers these unfortunately had to finish. I really felt proud that here were all these people being given the chance to be on the stage performing and having a great time because we had provided a venue for their talents."

Her best achievement was the establishment of the Mangawhai Tracks Charitable Trust three years ago which was a direct outcome from the Walking Weekend.

"Beginning with the Friday track cutting men, the group evolved to find paper roads and unused Department of Conservation land on which to create new tracks.

"The need for money to build a bridge brought about the formation of the trust. We have an outstanding group of talented and experienced men on the trust."

There are plenty of great moments to reflect on but Goldschmidt says she knows the role will carry on.

"The time has come for change. The walking weekend takes a year to plan so my mind has followed one track for 15 years. I have had a wonderful fulfilled and exciting life in so-called retirement."

Stepping out

When:March 28-30
• 30 walks to choose from, walks are guided and graded from easy to extreme fitness.
• All the volunteer guides have had a training day and have thoroughly prepared their walks.
• Event includes one of the top coastal walks in New Zealand and the unique Troubadour Trail.
• For more information visit: www.mangawhaiwalkingweekend.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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