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Walkability, Connectivity, and Te Araroa

Two months ago [1] I wrote about Te Araroa (The Long Pathway) [2], and it seems apt to point out that there’s now a set of forums [3] which attempts to build a community of people wanting to discuss walking of the route. I heard about it during a typically tangenting discussion [4] on the NZ Tramper website, which caused me consider more clearly what Te Araroa is for me.

I guess it’s possible to perceive that Te Araroa is (or should be) a top-down consistently-designed, clearly-marked and well-managed walking track. Perhaps this will be the case some day with sufficient motivation throughout its length, but presently it’s a bottom-up effort to link together a massive collection of smaller walk-ways. Much of Te Araroa already existed, but the project (approaching 20+ years of effort) ensures that individual routes and walkways are connected and defined as part of the network. In places where there’s been no reasonably direct or useful connection between sections, access has been negotiated or built to complete the continuity.

Being a bottom-up creation rather than a top-down creation, Te Araroa is not automatically a sparkly, consistent and necessarily easy-to-locate walkway for the entire length, despite ongoing efforts to improve it. What it does mean, however, is it’s actually possible to walk legally between any two places along the route with the exception of occasional bodies of water. At no place is it necessary to stop and get a bus, or drive a car between two points.

Celebrating the ability alone to walk between two points may seem an unusual thing, as walking is usually the lowest common denominator. If there’s land one needs to cross, it seems intuitive that there should be a foot-friendly route even if it’s not possible to ride a bicycle or drive a car, or catch a train, bus or taxi. Sadly we live in a modern world in which this isn’t always the case, because the demand for efficient routes between popular places means that walkability no longer gets priority.

A Wellington-centric example of this effect, which I wrote about in 2009 [5], involves the State Highway 2 Hutt Road route between Ngauranga and Petone: the main link between Wellington’s CBD and the Hutt Valley. This direct line used to be an accessible route for walking or riding between those two centres of population. Over the years, any sensical form of walkability has been obliterated by the presence of two railway lines, four lanes of roads, and a horrible cycleway [youtube video] [6] which most cyclists despise and avoid as much as possible. All of this is now a high-speed asphalt corridor pressed between a cliff-face and Wellington Harbour. I last tried walking this stretch in 2005, mostly sticking to the bumpy and pothole-infested cycle-way until it abruptly ended 400 metres short of Petone. At that time I hitched a ride into Petone rather than brave walking into accelerating high-speed traffic with no side-lane. The walking infrastructure that once existed along that stretch has simply dissolved in the demand for nuclear-family-age transport infrastructure.

The above length is a relatively short stretch between Ngauranga and Petone, but it’s a major commuting route. Unfortunately, anyone who wants to walk between the two ends today can only sanely do so by walking towards Tawa or Porirua, then at some point climbing over the hills of Belmont Regional Park to get to reach Petone or the Hutt Valley. Disconnected streets and private land make this largely impractical without walking an absurdly long way compared with the original 5 kilometres, and a one hour walk suddenly requires the better part of a day. To travel direct, however, means travelling by train, bus or car. Wellington is more walkable than some other places, but this is one of at least several such routes where I’ve encountered major frustration trying to walk relatively directly between two seemingly obvious points.

The Te Araroa concept attracts a variety of people who intend to, or already have walked the length of New Zealand, either via a Te Araroa based route or via some other route. It includes people from overseas who want to experience New Zealand in unusual ways, and also a few kiwis. I don’t think I’m the sort of person who would ever attempt to walk the length of Te Araroa from one end to the other, or even a significant section of it in a stretch. To do this takes a very particular type of person with certain goals which, while totally valid, are not priorities that I presently share. I’m glad that it’s possible to carry out such a trip, but for me it’s not the highlight.

In my mind, the most important achievement of Te Araroa is not that it gives people something new to do, but that it promotes connectivity by foot in general. Following mountains of work by people on the trust and others, Te Araroa has buy-in and support from local and regional councils, governments, land-owners and other stakeholders at the highest levels. It unites the goals of all of these bodies for ensuring foot-based continuity for 3000 kilometres, ensuring that continuous walking routes remain open and available. As long as Te Araroa exists, there will always be a connected way to walk between anywhere on the route, even if it’s re-routed on occasion.

The existence of Te Araroa establishes a precedent for the importance of actually being able to walk reasonably directly and comfortably between important places when planning infrastructure for other forms of transport. Even when it’s necessary to create corridors for other forms of traffic, having walking routes ensures that a reasonably direct route is available at that level. All that really remains is to take the precedent and extend it in other directions.

In case there’s any confusion, please be mindful that I have no direct affiliation to any of the Te Araroa Trusts [7] and do not speak for them.

13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "Walkability, Connectivity, and Te Araroa"

#1 Comment By Stef On 24 October, 2012 @ 10:51 am

I would love to hear you expand on why you are not the sort of person who would consider walking the length of Te Araroa.

The idea of walking the length of the country is very appealing to me, but aside from the obvious issue of having a good chunk of time to commit to such a project, I wouldn’t be motivated to undertake it if it means regularly having to endure a road bash or ‘boring’ suburb walking – which I’m afraid it would.

Are you thinking along similar lines, or do you have other reasons for not wanting to walk this sort of track?

#2 Comment By Mike McGavin On 24 October, 2012 @ 4:53 pm

Hi Stef. I couldn’t place it exactly, except that I think it’s a combination of rating it behind a lot of things I’d prefer to do first. I also have various things to motivate me which I find hard to nail down exactly what they are, but walking ultra-long distances isn’t one of them. Getting up hills and getting to places with viewpoints of the surrounding areas, getting to places relatively remote from people, on the other hand, are things that do often motivate me, but there are plenty of them in New Zealand without involving Te Araroa.

As you said there’s also the stigma of inter-mingled roads and suburbs which doesn’t appeal. If I already wanted to walk from Cape Reinga to Bluff then I’d be all good with that, just as I’d be good to put up with a noisy road walk between Ngauranga and Petone if I could make my head immune to the possibility of being run over inside an insanely constructed vehicle corridor, because I’ve recurringly wanted to walk between them for other reasons. But if there was nothing on either end or in the middle (though there’s potential for a nice harbour-side walk) then I don’t think I’d bother.

All this said, I tend to change my mind from time to time, and might wake up tomorrow morning really really wanting to walk Te Araroa. I certainly don’t want to appear as if I’m trying to de-value other people’s priorities.

#3 Comment By Stef On 25 October, 2012 @ 9:45 am

You’re not! I think it’s quite interesting to see what motivates each of us to swing a heavy backpacker on our shoulders and/or walk up a really steep hill for no obvious reason (i.e. no material gain, which is sadly the yardstick often used to measure pretty much anything and everything nowadays), and what posseses us to fancy this or that walk or type of walk.

By the way, I relate to your overarching point about walkability. I waited until quite late to get my drivers licence (I was 26 when I finally got around to it) which meant I was always walking everywhere (also, I like doing that). I’ve been shocked quite a few times at how dangerous or impractical it could be to be a pedestrian, and find it disturbing that we would so favour cars and other motorised transport that we would just ditch pedestrian options entirely.

#4 Comment By Mike McGavin On 31 October, 2012 @ 9:26 pm

Hi Stef. Thanks. Thinking further, I guess much of it is just that it seems to me that walking from the north of the north to the south of the south doesn’t seem like an interesting enough reason for me. It could be some day, and clearly has benefits of finding things you might not have realised were there, but I think I prefer to aim more specifically for places where there are things I might wish to see or visit.

#5 Comment By Stef On 25 October, 2012 @ 9:47 am

Haha… swing a heavy backpacker… I should really re-read myself before I hit “post”, not after! 😉

#6 Comment By craigofnz On 26 October, 2012 @ 6:31 pm

I probably am the exact kind of person that would absolutely go for the ultra-distance walk or tramp. I think I would be unlikely to exclusively follow the official “Te Araroa Walkway”. There are many places that I think make far more scenic, (but more demanding and thus not a “walkway”) alternative routes. I would spend time evaluating alternatives before beginning such a walk.

I would like to see a future of Te Araroa containing the official route and also a documented set of optional and legal variations contributed by the community. I see on the new forum that I was previously unaware of includes a section on alternative routes. I will keep on eye on that thread.

To me Te Araroa is about making the “through-trip” adventure possible. However, to me the Long Pathway is about the end-to-end adventure, and an adventure need not always exclusively follow a route specified by someone else.

#7 Comment By Mike McGavin On 31 October, 2012 @ 9:28 pm

Hi Craig. As I just inferred to Stef, I might be convinced some day if I thought it would focus on places that I’d expect to find interesting. As you suggest, I’d be surprised if people don’t develop and publish variations. Te Araroa is what makes it reliably possible, legal and practical at all, but perhaps the unofficial variations where available are what could make it interesting.

#8 Comment By Gazza On 30 October, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

The challenge of walking the lenght of the country appeals, but like craigofnz I think I would prefer some more wilderness based alternative routes. At the moment my currently busy work schedule and lack of fitness (the first contributing to the later) means that for the moment its but an idea for the future (plus I would have to sell the girlfriend on the idea…which would be a hard sell indeed).

Still I can see the attraction of the idea, I can also see why the officail route doesn’t appeal to a lot of people.

#9 Comment By Mike McGavin On 31 October, 2012 @ 9:44 pm

Hi Gazza. I relate to the busy schedule and other commitments, and in the background that probably helps to put me off along with the perception that the route could be more interesting. Thanks for the thoughts.

#10 Comment By wayne On 31 October, 2012 @ 2:05 pm

walking the length of a country on a given track as a concept on it’s own isnt enough to be appealing to me. it depends on the track itself , the terrain and scenery it goes through. and the alternatives to the track.
there are more scenic alternatives than te araroa. less mundane walking. more stimulating walking.

#11 Comment By wayne On 31 October, 2012 @ 2:31 pm

i used to walk to petone from johnsonville. through newlands, then come down through the quarry and walk on the highway shoulder to pick up the footpath at petone..

#12 Comment By wayne On 31 October, 2012 @ 2:36 pm

i wanted to walk the hilltops but theres no public access to land allowed north of newlands on the hilltops. not sure where you an get public access up there if at all… i only know of people getting to the hutt valley by walkin on the old coach road from the back of porirua pauatahanui to belmont up the back of the hutt valley.

#13 Comment By Mike McGavin On 31 October, 2012 @ 10:00 pm

I’ve gone over from Porirua several times after getting into Belmont Regional Park via [14] which backs onto Takapu Road. Is the quarry route one that starts around Mark Avenue, then over to Horokiwi Road? I’ve been over that way once, but once there I realised that I wasn’t certain about access rights. Checking out [15], if I understand it correctly, it doesn’t look as if there’s any legal connecting route over the farm-land in that region unless a private leaseholder or land-owner is unofficially allowing access across. It’s really annoying.