Italian hiker Matteo Sgaggero is walking the length of New Zealand using the Te Araroa trail and says we should be prepared for an influx of travellers following in his footsteps.
The 26-year-old spent some time in Wanganui before resuming his journey. "In the next 10 years, you will have thousands on the trail, I'm pretty sure," he says.
The popular trail runs from Cape Reinga to Bluff, a total of 3054km.
Matteo is from Vicenza in northern Italy, a large city lying between Venice and Milan. A year ago he moved to the mountains overlooking Lake Garda.
"I can ski in the morning and go kayaking in the afternoon, or climbing, or biking ... everything."
A qualified mechanic, Matteo started working as a cook two years ago.
"I work in the kitchen of a mountain hut," he says. "I work in a ski resort, in apres ski, so party every night; and in another luxury restaurant. All these places are near where I live now." The job is seasonal and he's able to return to work when he finishes his travels.
Matteo gained his grounding in English at school, but a year's travel around Australia has given him fluency, after a fashion. He admits he was not impressed with Australian English. "It's pretty terrible."
He's a mountain runner, a sport that has its own magazine, an issue of which featured a runner taking on the challenge of Te Araroa.
"An English guy, he was sponsored by North Face, and he ran this trail, north to south, in 53 days. That is a record," says Matteo. He added that this "English guy" had an entourage of support, a team. The runner - with a support van - was Jez Bragg and he also chose to kayak across Cook Strait.
"My usual style is the European hiking style," says Matteo. "That means we have every kind of comfort - sleeping bag, tent, stove, etc - but there are people who walk the trail with nothing, maybe three or four kilograms of gear in their backpack. You are walking all day long - 30, 40, 50 kilometres a day, so my backpack is basic now, maybe 14 kilograms; with food and water, maybe 20 kilograms. That is heavy."
He started his walk in Cape Reinga on November 25, arriving in Wanganui on January 21, but then left the trail for a week to attend the Kiwiburn music festival in Hunterville, enjoying the company. "I like walking alone but it can get lonely."
Through Kiwiburn he met someone who got him accommodation at the home of Wanganui Chronicle manager Andy Jarden.
"The best thing about this trail are the people," says Matteo. "Ninety-nine per cent of Kiwi people are so kind and so nice like Andy, especially the people along the trail. When they see you walking with hiking poles and a big backpack, they know what you are doing and they offer you food, water, a place to sleep. I have been a guest in at least 15 houses. I could not say this about Europe."
After leaving Wanganui on January 28, Matteo headed to Turakina Beach, his first overnight stop back on the trail. He expects to take three months to complete the trail.
Some of the North Island was spent in the company of two young German men.
"It is a very young trail, so there are some parts where you don't understand how it works. You have to organise yourself. I walked from Taumarunui to Whakahoro - that was pretty boring." From there they took a canoe and a kayak down river, travelling for three days to Pipiriki, a hike to the Bridge to Nowhere included. His deviation to Kiwiburn separated him from the Germans.
"They will be a long way ahead now."
Matteo managed to get clothing sponsorship from Montura, a brand famous for its durable Gore-Tex fabric. He is maintaining a blog with photos for his sponsor.
His plans after returning to Italy are a little vague, although he has a job and two girlfriends waiting at home. "One is crazy about me, the other not, but that's the one I would like to have."