If you speak to WorldMark Owner Geoff Wilson, he will tell you his leisure pursuits have become more docile as he has gotten older. And perhaps his latest hobby, golf, does seem slightly tame compared to scaling New Zealand’s Mount Cook, trekking to Everest Advanced Base Camp in the Himalayas and representing New Zealand at the World Duathlon Championships – all things Geoff has done in his lifetime.
But while he says these days he is content with more laid-back activities, it is a little bit hard to believe. Particularly considering the 69-year-old recently completed New Zealand’s Te Araroa, one of the world’s newest and best long distance walking trails.
Running from Cape Reinga in the north to Bluff in the south, the 3,000 kilometre trail takes in some of the country’s most spectacular scenery, including the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and Queen Charlotte Track, while showcasing its stunning natural diversity, from towering kauri forests to sparkling coastal stretches, lush green farmland and stunning volcanic peaks.
Te Araroa was officially opened in December 2011 after years of campaigning to create a formal long distance tramping route. Today it is growing in popularity and attracts hundreds of visitors each year looking for an immersive experience in awe-inspiring New Zealand.
After reading about the pursuits of Te Araroa’s biggest advocate, journalist and author Geoff Chapple, Geoff decided the trail was something he wanted to try, setting himself the goal of completing it by his 70th birthday in 2016 – which he did when he reached Bluff in March this year.
He had never done any tramping (the Kiwi term for hiking or trekking) prior to starting Te Araroa in 2012, but a passion for the outdoors and the love of a challenge had him planning his journey.
Known as a ‘sectional walker’, Geoff broke the walk up over four summers, as opposed to ‘through walkers’ who complete the trail in one go, usually taking around four months. Completing the walk in sections meant Geoff spent two summers completing the North Island and another two on the South Island, spending up to a week walking and camping or sleeping in basic Department of Conservation huts along the way, before being picked up for an “airing out” by his “trail angel”, wife Judy.
Using pre-arranged accommodation along the way, including Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific Wanaka while completing parts of the South Island, Geoff was able to get some rest between periods of tramping, while also allowing Judy to follow his journey and join him for parts of the trek.
Taking on challenges is nothing new for Geoff, but tackling Te Araroa was about more than conquering the trail.
“This walk of mine, to some extent, has been a tribute to the fact that I’m a fifth generation New Zealander,” he said. “I was getting to know my country that so many of my ancestors have contributed so much towards – its colour, its diversity, its rawness, its closeness .”
As dramatic and awe-inspiring as the track can be, it can also be physically and mentally challenging with periods of isolation and little human interaction. Climatic variations add to the test, particularly on days that involve traversing a high mountain slope or negotiating a river crossing.
Trampers need to be prepared and carry supplies including food, cooking equipment, bedding, wet weather gear and a tent. Throughout the trek, Geoff carried a pack weighing about 17 kilograms and usually covered between 20 and 30 kilometres a day (about eight hours walking), choosing to use topography maps to track his course rather than GPS like many of his fellow trampers.
Despite the challenges, Geoff knew at the end of each section that he would rendezvous with Judy, who would greet him with a cold beer and take him for a well-deserved rest before he started the next stretch.
There aren’t many places that can rival New Zealand when it comes to sheer beauty and natural diversity, and Te Araroa gives trampers the opportunity to experience it all.
From Northland’s golden beaches and dense kauri forests to the starkness and colours of the Tongariro Crossing, the beautiful Marlborough Sounds to the rugged mountain passes of the Richmond Ranges and the city centres of Auckland and Wellington, the trail is full of contrasts.
While Geoff describes completing Te Araroa earlier this year as “a wonderful feeling of satisfaction”, there was a moment at the start of the journey that has been permanently etched into his conscience.
“A major memory is the dramatic views at Cape Reinga, gazing north to the lighthouse, surrounded by the turbulence of seas crashing into each other and being conscious of the spiritual Maori myths associated with this place ; and then turning and looking south along 90 Mile Beach, knowing that there were to be so many future experiences for me beyond, disappearing into the haze,” Geoff recalls. “I think that will be a moment that will be with me for a long time. My spiritual moment.”
Real Kiwi experience
The Te Araroa track is designed to take hikers into heartland New Zealand, through many historical sites and significant geographical landscapes.
Cape Reinga, in the far north, is one of Māoridom’s most sacred places – the point where the spirits of the deceased leave to return to their spiritual homeland of Hawaiki. The route also passes through Waitangi, where New Zealand’s founding treaty was signed in 1840.
In the central North Island, the trail takes in the Tongariro Crossing – a world-renowned one-day mountain crossing through a unique volcanic landscape – while some of the most spectacular routes are along mountain trails through the South Island’s Southern Alps.
Article courtesy of Tourism New Zealand