Lockdowns cause havoc as trampers stuck on road to nowhere

Victoria Bruce and her daughter Emilie, 7, spent six days walking the 90 Mile Beach section of Te Araroa Trail before Northland was put into level three lockdown.
Victoria Bruce and her daughter Emilie, 7, spent six days walking the 90 Mile Beach section of Te Araroa Trail before Northland was put into level three lockdown. Photo credit: Image - Supplied via RNZ

RNZ by Jean Bell

The walk of a lifetime has come to a shuddering halt for trampers stuck in the upper North Island's alert level three lockdowns. 

About 650 people were registered to walk the entire Te Araroa Trail this season. 

The mammoth 3000 kilometre route runs the length of New Zealand from Cape Reinga to Bluff and takes about 4 to 5 months to complete. 

Te Tai Tokerau, Tāmaki Makaurau and Waikato were set to be under alert level three until at least Monday 18 October, meaning inter-regional travel was tightly controlled and overnight tramping was not permitted. 

Up to 200 walkers were stuck on the road to nowhere, meaning the only walking they could do was to a local Covid swabbing station to get a test to pair with a plane ticket out of lockdown. 

Claire Nelson, 39, a writer who recently returned to Aotearoa from the United Kingdom, had taken on Te Araroa as a way of reconnecting with her homeland. 

But so far, she had spent more days stuck in an Ahipara campground in Te Tai Tokerau than she had taking in the sights. 

"We'd all entered into it knowing that things could change and to prepare to skip the Auckland region. But no one was prepared for a Northland lockdown, especially so soon into the walk, otherwise we wouldn't have embarked when we did." 

She was all the more frustrated by the circumstances of the Northland lockdown, where two Covid positive cases used fake documents to travel to the region and refused to tell authorities their movements in the region. 

"It's a real kick in the teeth, as its a person who has deliberately breached the lockdown and they're not co-operating." 

Nelson had decided to get a Covid test then fly home to Wellington, before starting the walk again south of the Waikato border. 

While she wished Te Araroa walkers were permitted to cross the border, she knew it was not realistic. 

"I really do think we pose such a minimal risk and everyone would be so happy to do any testing, walk with masks or do whatever it took to be able to just get out there. I understand logistically that'd be a really difficult thing to impose." 

Victoria Bruce is walking the trail with her 7-year-old daughter, Emilie. 

They had also reluctantly decided to bypass the upper North Island and restart the trail in Taumarunui. 

The Ōtautahi resident had quit her job to walk the trail, take a mental health break from daily life and raise funds for charity along the way. 

"We spent six days walking 90 Mile Beach, rocked up to the campsite and the next day we heard the announcement Northland was going into level three lockdown," she said. 

"It's very hard when it's a waiting game. You just don't know whether to wait in case the lockdown is lifted, or you wait and Covid spreads further, there's more restrictions and it's even harder to get out of Northland." 

Te Araroa Trust executive director Mark Weatherall estimated up to 200 walkers were affected by the lockdowns, some of whom had planned their mission for years. 

"A lot of them resigned from jobs with the intention of taking four or five months to walk the country and reassess their life. I think they're frustrated, not knowing what's going to happen or when, but I think we all know what that feels like." 

He urged all walkers to adhere to the alert level rules of the region they were in.