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Q&A with accommodation provider and trail legend Bill Trolove
Bill Trolove is a man of the mountains. He’s also a bit of a legend amongst the Te Araroa community.
Bill owns The Sanctuary – a bunkhouse on Arthur’s Pass with the byline: “quiet enjoyment of the mountains”. It provides a refuge for backpackers, trampers, and casual visitors, with his main clientele being Te Araroa trail walkers.
The thing that really makes Bill tick is the people he meets. He puts them at the heart of everything he does, offering hot showers, good company, a place to lay their heads, and all the home comforts a weary traveler could want. He even volunteers his time maintaining and clearing dangerous parts of the trial, to help keep people safe on their journey.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Bill and interview him about his time working on the trial. Here’s what he had to say…
How long have you been hosting Te Araroa walkers at The Sanctuary, and how many do you think you have hosted over the years?
The Te Araroa community crept up on me. The first walkers came through about six years ago, just two or three people. This suddenly grew to significant numbers, so I decided to jump in and tailor my services to them. I’ve hosted many thousands over the years.
Do you provide any services tailored specifically to Te Araroa walkers? How popular is the bounce box/resupply box service?
I have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the Te Araroa market to cater to their needs: cheap dorm beds, tent sites, inexpensive private rooms, a $2 hot shower, laundry and hot water, USB charging stations.
For the past three years, I have been promoting the idea of "slack packing” the Goat Pass section of the trail, where people can hand off their pack and do the section unimpeded. It cuts a two day slog into a nice outing, with a soft bed, cozy restaurant, and lots of beer on offer at the end. This summer, I will run a return bus service to Morrisons Footbridge to facilitate the slack packing of Goat Pass, so I’m encouraging walkers to get their satellite communicator pre-programmed with a text message to book a ride.
In terms of bounce boxes, these are very important to the business, because even though I lose money on them, I have the opportunity to sell other services. They’re also very important to walkers, and I make sure to give them 24/7 access. Pre-covid, we did close to 400 boxes per season.
What percentage of your business do Te Araroa walkers make up?
95%. That is how important the community is to this business. With the rise of campervans, bootpacking, and AirBnB, the backpacker accommodation industry has been in decline. It was a slow natural death bought on by changing markets, so the Te Araroa community has been a lifeline.
What is different about hosting Te Araroa walkers, compared to other people who stay with you?
That’s an interesting question. The biggest difference is that the Te Araroa walker is part of a tight-knit community. The through walkers have been on the trail for near three months, forming friendships along the way.
Is there one particular Te Araroa walker that sticks in your mind? What was it about them that made them unforgettable?
All the walkers I have met are special - all different and unique people. This may sound trite but everyone has stories that are interesting. It has been a privilege to meet them and help them along the way.
Has it been different hosting Te Araroa walkers since the Covid-19 pandemic began, with many of the walkers passing through being Kiwis?
It’s a completely different market with the closed border. Numbers fell 80% for accommodation and 60% for bounce boxes. I suspect many people are now just doing sections of the trail.
Also, Kiwi walkers have family and mates scattered round New Zealand, so when they get to the end of a section, they make a call to stay with them for a hot meal, bed and catch up. It’s understandable.
The Kiwi walker is different to their international contemporaries - the young are more relaxed and more casual, whereas the seniors are far more vocal and opinionated.
I understand you also do a lot of working maintaining and helping out with the trail in the Arthur’s Pass area. What are some of the most challenging or unusual things you have had to deal with?
Five years ago a young woman came stumbling out of the trail at Morrisons Footbridge and she was completely broken; shattered and in tears after struggling in the bush all night. She wasn’t the first, being one of many that summer with a similar experience because the flood route section of the trail along the Otira River was near impassable.
Thinking that the Te Araroa trail would not survive if word of such experiences became commonplace, I started to maintain the trail between Kiwi Hut and Morrisons Footbridge. This flood route is notoriously bad and I spend at least ten days annually keeping it in order after each major weather event, but in that first winter it took three solid weeks to clear and improve. It’s an activity I am happy to do as it gives me an excuse to get into the hills and give something back to the community.
In the pioneer days, the term "The New Zealand death" was a colloquialism for death by drowning. Both the Taramakau and Otira Rivers need the greatest of respect. I hope that one day the Department of Conservation will reinstate the swing bridge over the Otehake River so that walkers don’t need to place a toe in the water.
What do you love about most about Te Araroa?
The people, the people, the people.
What I really love is seeing as many young people as possible experiencing the mountains and wilderness, for these youngsters will be the politicians and decision makers of the future. It’s important that they know just how precious and unique our outdoors are.
I hear that The Sanctuary is on the market?
This is true. It was pragmatic decision, because if the border remains closed, this business has no future. Also, with age, some things are inevitable.
However, the good thing is that I don’t have to sell, so I will place a big price on the place and hope our politicians open the border soon. I am still good for a few years yet.