As told to Elisabeth Easther
Growing up in Kaikohe, we used to play tiggy on our bikes, and use the whole town as our playground. Sometimes we'd cycle down to Twin Bridges and camp and swim. Or we'd head to Ngawha, to the spa at the old hotel, but unfortunately it's closed now.
When I was at Teachers' College, one summer a group of us cycled around the South Island for six weeks. Because one of us was a scout, we stayed in scout halls; we also had tents, so sometimes we freedom camped, although it wasn't called that then. Because we didn't have cellphones, we didn't have weather forecasts, so we'd just get up and start cycling – but one day the wind was blowing over 100km an hour. We also got caught in a horrible flood in Lyell.
I went on an overseas experience when I was quite young and that helped me work out which places I wanted to go back to, and which ones I never wanted to see again. The first time I went to Venice, I thought it was quite dirty and needed a good water blasting. As for London, just walking around made your clothes go black. I loved Ireland and Scotland, I think because they reminded me of home. I also loved Austria. Coming from Northland, we never saw snow and I remember our tour bus driving through snow. Seeing it fall was like something from Disneyland.
About 30 years ago, I was living in Rerewhakaaitu at the base of Mt Tarawera near Rotorua. It was the school holidays and I'd been out to get groceries when I picked up some Swiss hitchhikers. They were hitching to Minginui to do the Whirinaki Track, and I said "you'll never get a ride here", so I took them home for lunch then dropped them where they wanted to go. And I said to them, "if you want to walk up Mt Tarawera, come back on Saturday morning and I'll take you". Well they hitched back and were at my doorstep at 7:30 on Saturday morning. We went up Mt Tarawera and we've been friends ever since. They live in New Zealand now and we've done a lot of travel together, including walking Te Araora trail.
When I was principal of Russell School I took leave without pay and the three of us walked the North Island which took 65 days. We also took my motorhome, which is like a photo album on wheels. I got sick of looking at all the whiteness, and then I discovered The Decal Shop. We had all these pictures we never looked at except in our computers, so I sent them some photos and the decal place printed them out. I ordered oval ones, so it didn't matter if I put them on crooked.
In January I took early retirement and we walked the South Island and it was the perfect summer. But Te Araroa was lot more crowded than the last time. There are more than 1000 people doing it each year now.
Eight years ago, Rikki from the Duke of Marlborough called a meeting of local people who were interested in getting more visitors to Russell in the shoulder season and the idea to showcase our walks was born. The Bay of Islands Walking Weekend has a really personal feeling. You get to meet the locals and have a good walk. One woman came three times, and she liked the spirit and feel of the place so much she bought a house here and now she's one of our guides.
One walk has you picked up at 6:30am and taken to Tapeka to watch the sun rise over the islands, then there's breakfast at a local's house to look at the view, then we walk back to town. On the way we stop to meet Jim, he's 85 and walks to Russell every day. He's put in a track called Jim's Walkway. Then we go to The Eagles Nest and they share their story, then it's over to Frank Habicht, the photographer. Frank is very articulate and loves to tell stories about his photographs. He's taken pictures of all sorts of people, including The Beatles. He's very entertaining. Then we get them back to the Bowling Club in time for lunch.
There are 18 walks this year, but it's really hard to choose a favourite. There's one I compare to the Tongariro Crossing, it has the same beauty but without the crowds. The Pukehuia and Whangamumu Whaling Walk is about 10km. We start at Rawhiti and look out over to the Cavalli Islands, then we drop down through beautiful kauri forest to the old whaling station and the scenery is stunning.
When I was working, walking really helped when I needed to think. I like how walking helps you find yourself and, if you're stressed about something, after a good walk, you often realise your problem wasn't so bad after all.
William Fuller is a walking guide and will be involved in the Bay of Islands Walking Weekend, October 18-20. boiwalkingweekend.co.nz