A spiritual experience involving Sir Edmund Hillary was key in keeping Geoff Chapple going when it seemed that the 3000km Te Araroa Trail would beggar him.

"I'd been to see Sir Ed, who was project patron, and as I was leaving he said, 'Geoff I know you won't give up until this trail is finished' and he was holding up one hand with what looked like rays of light coming from it. I'm not kidding. I said 'yes Ed' and whenever I felt like flagging, that oath kept me going."

When it became clear that local authorities were not going to take up the idea of creating a walkway from Cape Reinga to Bluff, Chapple, with the aid of a $20,000 grant, started mapping a North Island trail, talking to every council and DoC conservancy on the route.
Deciding in 1997 that the only way to whip up interest was to walk the trail and write as he went, he used the new-fangled internet and became one of this country's first bloggers.

"I wasn't confident of being able to walk a long distance," Chapple confesses.

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"I'd done a lot of bush work in the Waitakares growing up but had never been in a tramping club. I reckoned if I aimed for manageable chunks I'd be all right and by the time I got to the Whangārei Heads I knew I could easily do it – and the blog had 30 followers."

His first national interview took place near Whangārei – on the top of Mt Manaia – with Radio NZ's Kim Hill.

"Listeners could hear a mad old woman cursing me – I only had one hand on the cellphone for most of the interview in case I had to fend her off. She was mad, but impressive ... and blog views went into the thousands."

To help finance the trek, Chapple began writing articles.

"I was just about a vagabond," he recalls, "sleeping in public toilets on wet nights and asking for donations. My family and I were made very poor by that 5-month tramp and I couldn't have done it without the support of my wife [Miriam Beatson]."

He met every mayor on the route, as well as every landowner.

"It was very personal," he says of turning up to farmhouses. "I'd have a cup of tea with the farmers and get to know them. That was valuable later on."

A $30,000 grant in 2002 enabled him to design and walk the South Island trail – "and I suddenly had a credit card that worked".

Te Araroa trail was officially opened on December 3, 2011 with Chapple's guidebook published at the same time. After standing down as the trust's chief executive in 2012, Chapple received an ONZM.

Why do people tackle Te Araroa?

"Some people are walking towards something and some people are walking away from something. Lots of people want to prove something to themselves or change something in their lives, while some are looking for a good adventure.

"But I walked to make the trail come true."


Geoff Chapple gives an illustrated talk about Te Araroa trail on Friday, June 1 at the X Space, Baycourt. Tickets from www.ticketek.co.nz or Baycourt. TECT cardholder discounts apply until May 25 (Baycourt box office only). See the full Escape! programme at www.taurangafestival.co.nz