News and media
Q&A with trail personalities Mark Williams and Kerry Shanta
Mark and Kerry walked Te Araroa a couple of years ago and are now trail angels and volunteers based in Northland. Northland is where the majority of walkers begin their journey, so Mark and Kerry are some of the first people they meet on their adventure through spectacular forests, beaches, and culturally significant Māori land.
This month we caught up with the two of them to find out what makes Te Araroa so special to them and why they put in so much work to give back to this unique community of hikers.
What is your current involvement with Te Araroa? It sounds like you do a lot!
Thank you, we are both volunteers for Te Araroa Northern Trust (TANT).
Mark is the Operations Manager – he reports to our meetings and the National Trust on physical issues regarding the tracks and trail status in Northland.
Kerry is TANT’s Department of Conservation liaison representative and she reports on issues on public conservation land and tracks (e.g. feral dogs).
What motivates you to do so much for the Trust and the trail?
We became trail angels and volunteer trustees after walking Te Araroa trail. We were hosted by some amazing, generous fellow Kiwis during our journey and it is our way of giving back. Walking the trail put us in a unique position because of the knowledge and experience we gained; we know what walkers want and need and what infrastructure and maintenance is required on the trail. We wanted to use this knowledge to contribute in the best way we could.
When did you walk the trail? What was it like and what did you take away from it?
We walked it in the summer of 2018/19. It was an adventure of a lifetime - we loved every moment (even the bad bits). Our backpacks were our home for six months. We loved the discipline of just putting one foot in front of the other and have learned to appreciate the simple pleasure of a smooth log to sit on and cool, clean mountain water to drink.
It proved our resilience and independence, and it gave us a massive sense of personal achievement. Walking Te Araroa is a journey of enlightenment and a spiritual cleansing of the soul. We got to see a whole slice of New Zealand that we would not have otherwise experienced.
Also, never underestimate the weather elements, which can change so quickly in the mountains. And the rivers rise so fast!
What is your favourite thing about Te Araroa?
There are so many things: the adventure, the thrill of achievement, the personal journey, New Zealand’s beautiful and varied landscape – from beach to mountains to forests – the people you meet along the way, the towns you visit, friendships made. The list goes on.
Tell me a bit about the property where you host walkers now.
We are very fortunate to have a quarter-acre orchard section in Mangawhai, with a small cottage and outside flush toilet. This provides a perfect location for walkers where they can be independent and have privacy. We offer electricity for charging phones and internet for updates etc. There are also shops, takeaways and a post office nearby, and the property is right on the trail.
Is there a walker who has stayed with you that sticks in your mind? Who were they?
They are all unique with their own personal journey and story to tell. They love arriving to a cold beer, shelter and a willing ear to hear about their adventure. And our advice is always well received.
What has it been like being a trail angel over the past year, with the majority of walkers being New Zealanders?
Much quieter. It is mostly now section walkers; we are not seeing the serious overseas ‘dedicated’ walkers of previous years who get up at 5.30am and can cover 40 km or more with an ultra-lite backpack and very technical gear. We love the Kiwis though!
What do you think makes the Northland section of Te Araroa special?
Kerry grew up in Northland, so it will always be a special place for her. Walking Ninety Mile Beach (Te Oneroa-a-Tohe) was one of her highlights. The people of Northland are unique – friendly, hospitable and helpful.
The trail in Northland gives you an immersion of everything as it takes in beach and forest, the cultural history of Waitangi and then the beautiful Whananaki coastline and Bream Head. And if you can make it to Mangawhai intact, then you are well positioned physically and mentally to complete the whole trail.
Northland provides a great opportunity for the walker to experience the Māori history and culture.
What are your hopes and dreams for the Northland section and the trail?
We want to progress our relationships and partnerships as a Trust with stakeholders in Northland. We’d also like to reduce the amount of road walking and improve facilities such as toilets and picnic tables. We want a sustainable trail that is accessible to New Zealanders and visitors alike. Finally, we enjoy promoting and bringing awareness of the trail.