Hikers on the national walking trail, Te Araroa, have been diverted on to a busy stretch of road between Matapōuri and Ngunguru after a private land owner shut them out.
Arriving at Matapōuri, on the east coast north of Whangārei, from the north, walkers used to turn south on to Clements Rd for the next stage on the 3000km trail from Cape Rēinga to Bluff. From there the trail wound its way through mostly privately-owned native bush to Waiotoi Rd, in Ngunguru.
However, the closure of a short section of the track means the entire length of the Matapōuri-Ngunguru trail is currently out of bounds. Until an alternative route is found, hikers will have to walk 10km along Matapōuri Rd, which has no footpath, minimal shoulders, and dozens of blind corners.
Te Araroa chief executive Mark Weatherall said a land owner had chosen to restrict access to her property, which was her right. While the affected section of trail was relatively short, there was no simple detour, so the entire Matapōuri-Ngunguru leg of Te Araroa had to be re-routed.
''It's a shame. It was a beautiful walk, and almost all through native bush. But that's the risk we run, especially on private land, where access is an ongoing challenge," Weatherall said.
The Te Araroa Trust had been talking to the land owner, Silvia Pinca, about working with her on a native forest regeneration project after a pine plantation was felled, but she had raised concerns about hikers not sticking to the trail, and spreading weeds where she was trying to replant the forest.
The trust was working on an alternative route that would still involve road walking, but it definitely would not be on Matapōuri Rd, which Weatherall said was too dangerous.
The new route would be ready by the time the new walking season began on October 1, but the trust would continue its discussions with the land owner.
Pinca, who runs a naturopathy centre, said the previous owner had allowed the trail through the property, which at that time was pine forest. In any case, he lived in Australia, so didn't care much.
She had tried to reach an agreement with the Te Araroa Trust before asking them to put the trail somewhere else.
The land was undergoing major ecological restoration, and she had spent six months clearing invasive weeds, and walkers were a major vector of weeds.
''That's why I'm not interested in having thousands of walkers going through this land. The previous owner was very kind to let people through his property. It's not a duty of a private land owner,'' she said.
''In future people will enjoy going through this land again, but right now it is a horrible, destructed site where people could step on young trees that I have just planted.''
She said walkers did not respect the trail, kauri dieback hygiene stations or private property, and continued to come on to her land despite four signs at the gate.
''I have been verbally aggressed by people on my land. I've had to ask foreign walkers to leave during lockdown. This land that I'm restoring will be a protected sanctuary with a covenant, so I'm doing it for the people, for nature," she added.
Pinca's business website still states that her land is located ''along the path of the Te Araroa trail''.
A Matapōuri resident, who did not wish to be named, said the affected section of track had been established more than 10 years ago, and was popular with locals as well as through-hikers.
She was also worried about people walking on Matapōuri Rd.
''Sending walkers on this route is an accident waiting to happen,'' she said.
Meanwhile, a drastic drop in the number of overseas hikers using Te Araroa is expected this summer due to the Covid-19 crisis, but Weatherall said the . lack of crowds could encourage more New Zealanders to try it. Overseas hikers generally walked the entire 3000km in one go, but New Zealanders were more likely to walk one section at a time, with the goal of completing the trail over their lifetimes.