By Erika Zambello, based on an article by Dan Hawkins.
New Zealand is known for breathtaking scenery, popularized in the blockbuster Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie series. Since 1975, citizens have been working toward a scenic, thru-hiking trail to showcase the country, culminating in an official trail that opened in 2011. Today, the Te Araroa is 1,864 miles long, stretching from Cape Reinga at one end to Bluff at the other. Most finish in five-month treks, but day hikes and backpacking legs are also popular.
Te Araroa not only showcases the natural resources of New Zealand, but its suburban and urban districts as well. Dan Hawkins recently completed the entire trail and wrote about his experiences for Voices for Biodiversity.
“In a car, the world is perceived visually; on foot, the world is perceived through all five senses — walkers can feel the morning dew soak through their shoes, hear the hedgehog grapple with the tent fly at 2 a.m., smell the detergent on the clean clothes of approaching day hikers,” Hawkins writes, “Walking in New Zealand, the more I observed, the more I began to doubt the boundaries between urban, suburban, and wild.”
Thru-hikers like Hawkins are on the rise across the world. In the United States, the most famous regional thoroughfare is the Appalachian Trail. Stretching 2,200 miles, the path crosses 14 states from Georgia to Maine. The first thru-hiker completed the 2,000+ miles in 1936, and according to REI there has been a 78 percent increase in these adventures in the 21st century compared with the 20th. In addition, “the number of 2,000 milers, ‘a hiker who has walked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail,’ over the last 15 years will likely double that of the previous 63 years.”
Similarly, Te Araroa has seen increased popularity, as well as increased pressure on the trail’s infrastructure. In 2016, Thomas Manch wrote that “an estimated 250 [took] to the 3000 km trail last season. This was up from 30 walkers during its opening year in 2011.” Looking ahead, “The Department of Conservation (DOC) estimates 800 people annually could be tramping the length of New Zealand in the next five years.”
While additional funding may be needed to accommodate the higher numbers of thru-hikers, more people who experience the joys and trials of the trails could benefit the conservation movement.
“[I]f we think of wilderness as a place ‘untouched by human hands,’ then to preserve it, we necessarily can’t live, work or interact with it,” Hawkins writes in his reflections, “By presenting the success of humankind and the success of the natural world as diametrically opposite, we stall productive conversations about preservation.”
Thru-hiking showcases the fluidity of “human” and “natural” boundaries. Hawkins continues, “Perhaps if we think of our urban areas as widely populated ecosystems, or our backyards as a place of communal exchange between one species and others, we could start a new dialogue about preservation and wilderness.”
Long-distance hiking is the perfect vehicle for engaging in deep thinking about the relationship between people and the natural world. If trails can safely accommodate more hikers, their increased popularity will be a boon for the environmental movement.
Read Hawkins full article on Voices for Biodiversity.
Dan Hawkins is constantly scheming about his next hike. When he isn’t thigh-deep in a glacial river, or sweating out lunch’s Nutella on a summit push, he enjoys thinking about wilderness, what it represents, and how we might preserve it. He currently works as a carpenter in Maine.
Erika Zambello is a writer and photographer currently living on the Emerald Coast of Florida. She has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Management from the Duke Nicholas School of the Environment, where she specialized in Ecosystem Science and Conservation. She is also a National Geographic Young Explorer, completing four trips to the Maine North Woods in each of the four seasons, Fall 2015-Summer 2016.
In addition to acting as the sole blogger for the entire Florida State Park system, she is a regular contributor to the Duke Nicholas School, the Maine Sportsman, Bangor Daily News, and 10000 Birds. In the past she has written for The Conservation Fund, the Triangle Land Conservancy, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, BirdWatching Daily, Guy Harvey Magazine, and the Florida Sportsman. Finally, she is the founder and managing editor of the travel website One World, Two Feet, co-founder of TerraCommunications, as well as the co-managing editor for the award-winning online magazine Voices for Biodiversity.
Follow her daily adventures on Instagram, or zambellophotography.com.