Spot a Te Araroa Trail walker coming through Whanganui last season?
No surprise as the trail had its biggest year with almost 1200 through walkers, up from 1000 the previous summer, while tens of thousands more completed individual sections.
Through walkers came from 31 nations and the biggest group, some 25 per cent, were Kiwis.
Will TA walkers continue to rise? That is hard to say, but it is reasonable to think that the novelty factor is still there and that the 2018-19 figure will be exceeded.
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Whanganui is an important link in the 3000km long trail from Cape Reinga to Bluff.
Walkers, 80 per cent of whom travel north to south, arrive here after several days walking or canoeing and we are an ideal place to rest up and resupply. This provides opportunities to host walkers and some people are already fulfilling this role as so-called "trail angels".
I hosted a Welshman met near Upokongaro last summer and he was a delightful guest with whom I subsequently kept in touch as he continued his trip south. I understand one local household hosted (for free) some 28 walkers last season and is looking forward to do the same again this summer.
We could be more welcoming as a community. How about erecting "welcome TA walkers" signs on either side of the city, with similar signs in cafes? Trail walkers spend some $10,000 each in their four-month odyssey so there are economic benefits to consider.
Canoe hirers and the Top 10 at Aramoho have found through walkers provide a good revenue stream but there are other opportunities awaiting far-sighted entrepreneurs.
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Meanwhile, the Te Araroa Whanganui Trust has solved the problem of walkers having to use SH3 between the city and Turakina. The trust hoped to take walkers down South Beach and cross a planned bridge near the Whangaehu River mouth. However, years of negotiations with land owners came up short so another solution was needed.
As a result, walkers are now being re-routed through Durie Hill along No 2 Line to Fordell. From there they turn on to Warrengate Rd to SH3. They go down SH3, cross the Whangaehu River bridge and along Whangaehu Beach Rd to the beach. Then it is along the beach to the Turakina River, crossing at low tide to the settlement of Koitiata.
The Santoft route to Bulls has also been tweaked because of logging in a forest on the original route. Walkers will now head south along the beach for about 16km, then follow blaze markings to the forest road. They will follow the forest road which leads south-east for about 2km until Raumai Rd. From there is it about 11km to Bulls.
Total distance from Whanganui to Bulls is just under 60km and takes two days, usually camping at Koitiata.
Now only 3km is on SH3. The trust is pleased at the re-route away from the busy highway which was unpleasant and even dangerous to walk.
Whanganui to Turakina had been one of the least liked sections of the whole trail, often skipped by walkers who bussed it, hitchhiked or even biked.
Reducing road-walking and delivering a high-quality experience for people walking the trail are among the top priorities identified by Te Araroa Trust in its latest three-year strategy.
The popularity of the trail and the need to manage it in a sustainable way are major drivers for the strategy update which identifies five focus areas.
In addition to facilitating a high-quality experience for walkers and improving trail infrastructure, the trust will focus on strengthening relationships with stakeholders, clearly communicating trail information to walkers and securing the sustainability of the trail and trust through partnerships and new funding streams.
Opened in December 2011, the TA has been ranked among the best long walks in the world by CNN and National Geographic.
We are lucky to be a way station on this awesome national trail.
•Dave Scoullar is a tramper, conservationist and member of the Te Araroa Whanganui Trust