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Q&A with Te Araroa walker and Wellington trustee John Craig
There are many ways to experience the beautiful landscapes of Aotearoa, but none quite so liberating as the experience you get while walking it.
We caught up with John Craig from Te Araroa Wellington Trust to hear about his experiences walking the trail and why he and others are so passionate about improving some of the trail’s tracks in the lower North Island.
How long have you been involved with Te Araroa?
I have been a trustee of Te Araroa Wellington Trust since 2011. I had just finished walking the 4,300 km Pacific Crest Trail in the USA and a good friend of mine, who was already a trustee, suggested I may wish to help.
What do you do for work and what is it about Te Araroa that convinced you to give up your spare time to improve the trail experience for others?
I retired in 2003 and a few weeks later left for the USA to walk the Appalachian Trail (3,500 km). I wanted to 'give something back' to the long-distance hiking community and Te Araroa was the obvious choice.
What is the primary role of the Te Araroa Wellington Trust?
The Wellington Trust meets monthly to discuss issues to do with the trail in our region, which extends from Levin south to Island Bay in Wellington. We keep a check on the trail which uses a mixture of tracks provided by the Department of Conservation (DOC), Wellington City Council, Porirua City Council and Kapiti Coast District Council. We are endeavouring to eliminate all road walking and have a couple of projects that we are currently working on. Liaison with all the councils and DOC is an important function.
How many volunteers support your efforts in the Wellington region?
There are currently seven trustees in the Wellington Trust. We can call on others when we walk over and check the Wellington trails twice a year. We make sure that the trail is in good order – especially over the Tararuas – that Te Araroa signage is in place, and that the trail notes are correct.
How important is the work done by volunteers supporting Te Araroa regional trusts around NZ?
In Wellington we are 'the feet on the ground' for Te Araroa Trust. Some trustees act as 'Trail Angels', helping through-hikers when they arrive here. Others spend time talking to and making presentations to the councils. Still others complete funding applications as required.
Do you need more volunteers or supporters? How can others get involved?
We are always interested in talking with people who would like to help with work along the track or as future trustees.
What do you think makes the Wellington stretch of Te Araroa special?
Our special section is the 10 km Escarpment Track between Pāekakariki and Pukerua Bay. This was built on land leased from KiwiRail and completed in 2016. It is a challenging section but is very popular, with nearly 30,000 hikers walking over it last year. Because of the terrain and weather, there are many slips along the track which require ongoing clearance work.
What are you most proud of, in terms of the Te Araroa Wellington Trust’s achievements?
The Escarpment Track, of course. But we have also fundraised for and installed metal plaques in the footpath through the Wellington CBD; four drinking fountains around Wellington harbour; and a special Te Araroa sculpture in the Botanic Gardens. These are all on the trail through the city.
What are the Trust’s plans or focus areas for the coming year?
We are in talks with local iwi to move the 7km road walk from the Reikorangi trail head up and over iwi land to connect with DOC tracks down into Waikanae. This will make it safer. Other smaller changes are being considered.