When Bruce Hopkins says he's taking the long way home he really means he's taking the long way.

The actor, born on Stewart Island but raised in Northland, is taking his father's and brother's ashes back to New Zealand's southernmost inhabited island, and he's doing it on foot.

Mr Hopkins is walking the 3000km Te Araroa trail from Cape Reinga to Bluff to connect more deeply with New Zealand and its people, while raising money for the charity Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.

Read more: Bruce Hopkins: An odyssey for forgotten grandparents


He had a rest day in Kerikeri on Tuesday, where his sister Wanda Connon and mum Coe live, then hiked through Waitangi Forest to Paihia on Wednesday before taking a detour though Russell.

Russell is not on the trail but he wanted to take his father and brother through the town where he went to primary school, "as part of my farewell to the north".

Mr Hopkins worked out of Houhora as a crayfisherman with his father before becoming a professional dancer. Stints with various dance companies followed, including the renowned Limbs, before he switched to acting.

He played the part of Gamling, commander of the armies of Rohan, in The Two Towers and The Return of the King in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

He first heard about Te Araroa three years ago when he was MC'ing a fundraiser and had to introduce Geoff Chapple, founder of the long-distance trail.

"It was the thing I was looking for, to express my gratitude at being born in this land. It's about connecting me to this land and its people," he said.

He started following blogs of people walking the trail - "it just fascinated me" - and started training. He hit on the idea of carrying his father Bill's and brother Doug's ashes home to Stewart Island; and when someone asked if he was planning to raise money along the way, he recalled being impressed by Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.

The charity supports grandparents who have ended up as their grandchildren's primary caregivers. The extra burden that placed on grandparents, who were already dealing with the trauma of their children's problems, was immense, he said.

Mr Hopkins said he had never been a tramper so he was still reeling from the shock of walking up to 10 hours a day with an 18kg pack.

The toughest parts so far had been the Herekino and Raetea forests, with deep mud and endless hills, and his last day on Ninety Mile Beach with a 31km walk into a 30-knot headwind.

The campground at Twilight Beach, first stop on the Te Araroa trail. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF
The campground at Twilight Beach, first stop on the Te Araroa trail. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF

Highlights included camping at Twilight Beach near Cape Reinga, where he used to moor with his father in their crayfishing days, and being offered a bed and a meal at Takahue after a gruelling day in the forest by an "incredible woman" raising her grandchildren.

He hopes to reach Bluff in mid-March. He will then carry on to Stewart Island to take his father and brother home.

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren is supporting 286 families in Northland with about 540 children in the care of grandparents or wider whanau. Thirty-two new Northland families have signed up for help since March 31.

You can follow Mr Hopkins' journey on the Facebook page The Long Way Home - Te Araroa or donate via the Givealittle page Bruce Hopkins Walks the Long Way Home for GRG.