The Whanganui-Manawatū section of Te Araroa Trail is famous for its long, boring slogs along road verges. Laurel Stowell spoke to trail chief executive Mark Weatherall who wants to change that..
Te Araroa Trail, which runs for 3000km, covering the length of the country from Cape Reinga to Bluff is designed to be mostly offroad.
The popular trail brings hundreds of tourists through Whanganui each year but since it officially opened in 2011 those leaving Whanganui have hit a snag.
The trail comes down the Whanganui River but after it reaches the city, walkers face almost 30km of road walking; 20km of SH3 and 8km of Turakina Beach Rd before they go offroad again.
During November and December small groups of people with backpacks are slogging their way along the tarseal in the heat, without much shoulder to rely on.
This week Te Araroa Trail chief Mark Weatherall was in Whanganui to talk about how to get walkers off roads, and about how last season went.
The Te Araroa Whanganui Trust has four members: Maureen Bamber, Brian Doughty, Ridgway Lythgoe and Dave Scoullar who plan to cut 18km off that SH3 stretch next season.
Instead people will walk out from Portal St and No 2 Line to Fordell, then Warrengate Rd and just 2km of SH3 to the start of Whangaehu Beach Rd.
Once at the beach they will carry on to coastal Koitiata, wading the Turakina River at low tide.
They'll then head down the beach, turning inland toward Bulls through Santoft Forest — or somewhere near it.
The initial plan was for walkers to head from Whanganui to South Beach and onward along the coast to Koitiata, with the trust putting foot bridges over the Whangaehu and Turakina rivers.
But landowners on that stretch have said no, and the trust has run out of money for the bridges.
In 2016 one landowner, Turakina farmer Andrew Major, complained that walkers on the road were a danger, and didn't want to allow access across his farm. He was feeling under attack from new health and safety legislation, and didn't want to be responsible for people on his farm.
It looks as if the coastal route from South Beach to Whangaehu is off limits now anyway.
"Even if we get landowner approval, the next thing would be how do we fund [the bridges]? Longer term we could still look at it. We will keep on negotiating with these parties," Weatherall said.
Meeting with region mayors, he found Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall keen to promote the trail.
In the Manawatū on June 5 he opened a new shelter for trail walkers heading for the Tararuas.
Like their Whanganui counterparts, the Manawatū group is looking to reduce road walking.
"There are people that skip this section," Weatherall said.
That's not what Whanganui and Partners visitor industries lead Paul Chaplow wants to hear. He said the Mountains to Sea cycleway, Tour Aotearoa and Te Araroa trail bring economic and social benefits to Whanganui.
"We are at the end of quite a remote stretch, for them. They will want to stop and recuperate and get some creature comforts."
There were nearly 1200 people who walked the whole Te Araroa last summer — but lots more bite off little sections. The Paekakariki Escarpment section has a trail counter, and 40,000 people walked it last summer.
Weatherall would like more Kiwis and more children on it. Kiwis could make completing it, in sections, a life-long ambition.
"Not many of us could take four months off work and walk this thing."
He's only been in the job 14 months and said the trail is fragile, a "poor cousin" of the well-funded cycleways it sometimes piggybacks on, and dependent on Conservation Department priorities, the voluntary work of regional trusts and the generosity of landowners.
He is in talks with Government about long term funding for it and said it is unique in the world, for combining walking cities, beaches, lakes and mountains.
TE ARAROA TRAIL
+ 3000km, from Cape Reinga to Bluff
+ 60 per cent on conservation land
+ 14 per cent walking on roads
+ founded by Geoff Chapple
+ formally opened in 2011
+ given $5 million by Helen Clark's Government
+ one staff member - CEO Mark Weatherall
+ 130 sections
+ among top 10 long walks worldwide
TE ARAROA TRAILWALKERS
+ 1200 through walkers last summer
+ up 200 on previous year
+ many people do sections only
+ 25 per cent Kiwis
+ others mainly from Germany, United States, United Kingdom, France
+ often young people
+ or middle-aged and older couples