The solitary shop at Mangamuka Bridge is just a blip on the landscape for most who drive past it on their way between Kaitaia and the rest of the world via State Highway 1, but for a new breed of customers it is a welcome oasis.

Those customers are among the growing number of walkers exploring the national Te Araroa trail, who are helping to sustain many of the businesses and small communities along the way.

The 3000km trail passes through more than 20 towns and cities as it winds its way from Cape Reinga to Bluff. More than 1100 people walked the full length of it over the 2018/2019 season, many thousands more exploring individual sections.

Te Araroa chief executive Mark Weatherall said the average through-walker spent between $7000 and $10,000 over their three to five-month journey, and millions more was spent by the tens of thousands of others who hiked specific sections.


"The volunteers who have worked for decades to create Te Araroa would be delighted to see so many people getting outdoors, connecting with the environment, and breathing new life into businesses and rural communities along the way," he said.

Pakiri Beach Holiday Park manager Rachel Macfarlane said her business was one of many in Northland that benefited from people walking the trail.

More than 200 walkers had made overnight stays at the holiday park on the Matakana Coast, this season, making a positive contribution to her business and others.

"It's really cool when they come through because a lot of them slot in around the traditional busy season. Those heading south often arrive in spring and many the walkers walking north arrive in autumn," she said.

Many bought supplies at the park shop before continuing their journey, and the diversity of visitors from overseas and other parts of New Zealand created a lot of energy and goodwill, she added.

Many local authorities are also positive about the trail's impact. Palmerston North City Council leisure assets officer Brian Way said Te Araroa walkers had been "very visible" in the city over the past year, particularly along the Manawatū River Pathway and in the town square.

"Te Araroa helps put Palmerston North on the tourist map," he said.

"Walkers provide an opportunity for locals to meet people from other countries, and they all stay somewhere and have to eat, so our supermarkets, restaurants, outdoor stores and accommodation providers all benefit."


Mr Weatherall said the economic benefits provided by trail walkers were just one facet of what Te Araroa was contributing to New Zealand. It also provided physical and mental health benefits for walkers, built a passion for the outdoors among children and young people, and connected Kiwis and others walking the trail with the people and landscapes that made up New Zealand.

The challenge for the trust in future was to ensure the growing number of visitors were managed for the benefit of trail walkers, as well as the environment, businesses and communities it touched.

"We know the trail's popularity places pressure on infrastructure, so one of our major focuses in future will be on working with local and central government agencies, iwi, private landholders and others to ensure future growth in walker numbers is managed effectively," he said.

The trust was working on a new strategy that would prioritise the trail walking experience, along with the sustainability of the trail and the environments and communities that supported it. That strategy would be available on the trust's website in the coming weeks.