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Jim Eagles: The great walk of New Zealand opens

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Geoff Chapple, here at Waipapa River in Northland, revived interest in a country-length trail in 1994.
Photo / Supplied
Geoff Chapple, here at Waipapa River in Northland, revived interest in a country-length trail in 1994. Photo / Supplied

The idea of a National Cycle Trail got a lot of mileage when John Key took it up a couple of years ago and there's no doubt that his encouragement - plus a bit of Government cash - has led to the development of a lot of great cycle tracks around the country.

It's very much still a work in progress, and there's a very long way to go before we can realise the original vision of cyclists being able to ride a unified trail all the way from North Cape to Bluff, but it remains a wonderfully worthwhile aim.

And if those involved with the project need some fresh inspiration to keep pushing they should get it this Saturday with the official opening of Te Araroa - the long pathway - a national walkway running the length of the country.

To signify that it really is a national trail there will be ceremonies at Cape Reinga, at one end, Stirling Pt in Bluff at the other, and - the main one, involving Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae - around the midway point, in Shorland Park, Island Bay, Wellington.

This project has drawn inspiration from many sources, including ancient Maori walking trails and the grand pilgrimages of writer/publisher A.H. Reed in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

But the concept of a national trail as such seems to have been first put forward back in 1967 by then president of the Alpine Sports Club, Bob Usher. It was taken up by the Federated Mountain Clubs and adopted by a National Government, which even set up the NZ Walkways Commission, resulting in the development of 130 walkways around the country before the commission was axed 10 years later.

The idea of a long pathway was revived in 1994 in an article by journalist and tramper Geoff Chapple and generated so much interest that he and a few supporters set up the Te Araroa Trust to promote it and, later, to build tracks to fill in the gaps.

In 1998 Chapple demonstrated the feasibility of the long trail by walking the possible route, though this did involve a lot of bushcrashing in places where there were no tracks, and crossing some private land where there was no official access.

But now, 44 years after Usher suggested the idea and 17 years after the trust was established, it is actually possible to walk from North Cape to Bluff down Te Araroa (though you do have to use the roads in a few stretches).

I've walked some parts of the trail - including a section at Mangawhai which I've written about - and I nurture a vague ambition to do it all one day. Its creation is a magnificent achievement and a fantastic national asset that we should all use.

- NZ Herald

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