If you want an example of how Te Araroa is effecting small town New Zealand, Lake Coleridge Village (LCV) makes an interesting case study.
It's so small that in the age of instant knowledge I couldn't find out how many people live there, but let's just say...stuff all people live there.
It sits on the trail on the north side of the Rakaia River, so acts as either the end or beginning of a section for TeA walkers.
Unless walkers choose to cross the very wide and often dangerous, braided Rakaia River, they have a 70 kilometre hitch on empty country roads to where the trail starts again on the other side.
The nearest major town is Methven, about 50ks away. LCV has no dairy, petrol station or shop of any description.
It does have several massive pipes running down the hill behind it into a power station where electricity is made.
It does have a lodge...but I'll get to that later.
A couple of French hikers we'd talked to told us that there was a bit of a stir happening in the community. They said that there had recently been a public meeting to discuss how the village is going to cope with the steadily rising numbers of tired, hungry and hairy travelers arriving in the town looking for a place to stay.
They told us that when they'd arrived in the town they'd been directed to a secluded tent sight by one resident only to be moved on by another. They were confused.
They aren't the only ones.
We arrived in LCV at about two in the afternoon. We'd hitched in and were picked up by recent local Stu.
Stu is in the process of retiring from his job in Christchurch and has built himself a nice little cottage in one of the town's "suburbs". The town only seems to have three streets.
Stu loves the idea of Te Araroa coming through his town. He's in LCV for the quiet life but we got the feeling that the random nature of TeA walkers and their interesting stories offers people like Stu a link with the big city life he'd let behind.
The village is small, secluded and a cool retreat from the harsh summers of Mid Canterbury.
It has no view of a beautiful lake like Ohau or Tekapo. It has a historic power station that hums all day and night and heavy power lines run through the town. These "features" probably preclude the town from ever becoming a tourist mecca.
This lack of marketable attractions and the fantastic trees that have been planted around it make it an ideal getaway.
There may be no shops or petrol stations...but there are no camper vans either. There are no moneyed tourists. There are no heli-ski-para-bungy rides being sold.
Lake Coleridge Village is REALLY NICE!
I can understand why some locals want it to stay that way.
Te Araroa is here to stay. I don't know the figures but everyone we've talked to reckons the number of hikers walking it is doubling every year.
Do the maths.
Let's make a stab in the dark and say that 200 people are walking TeA from North to south this year. Next year 400...800...1600...
OK. Let's be a bit more conservative.
200 this year. 300 next...400...500...600...
All these people will be arriving at LCV.
There are public toilets and the Coleridge Lodge is making moves to accept some walkers, but the lodge is just as low-key as the town. The night we booked in, there were six people staying in a place that could hold many more - yet the No Vacancies sign was out.
Toni and Dean, the owners Coleridge Lodge, run a very slick operation. But it's small.
Their business seems to be as much about their lifestyle as it is about making money. Any ramping up of visitors will mean more work. More staff. More headaches.
The lodge is also designed for high end users looking for quiet luxury. A sensible decision if you can pull it off...which the lodge seems to be doing.
That's not to say Toni and Dean aren't doing a great service for trekkers. They hold supply boxes for walkers and are trying to formulate some way to accommodate tenters.
This year they held sixty boxes for walkers - double last year's take - and storage is becoming an issue.
Toni told us that they'd had Te Araroa CEO Rob Wakelin through recently to discuss some of the issues the village faces.
TeA walkers aren't exactly big spenders. Many are young and broke. Some are driven by the idea of getting away with as much free stuff as they can. Even the ones who can afford the occasional night off in a motel usually just opt for the one closest to the side of the road. They're happy with crisp sheets and a comfortable chair.
TeA walkers just aren't very profitable.
(They do buy food...lots of food...pizza, beer, chocolate, hamburgers, chippies, chocolate, coffee, chocolate, lollies...)
Do you get Lake Coleridge Village's dilemma?
Te Araroa is an opportunity for LCV. But not really a business opportunity unless the town changes its very nature - which it may not want to do.
But people like Stu could hold part of the answer. He's keen to have walkers staying at his place and he reckons there are others who'd enjoy the chance to share their little slice of heaven with what we've found to be a really interesting and pleasant bunch of people...the walkers of Te Araroa.
He's thinking of putting a container in his yard and fitting it out as a funky homestay.
I reckon that unless it tries to solve its TeA "problem" with creative and generous thinkers like Stu, the village could be in for a little bit of conflict.
Here's hoping they can figure out a way through it without ruining the essence of Lake Coleridge Village.
Walkers arriving in LCV don't need much:
- A smile and a hello.
- A tent site.
- A toilet.
- A place to pick up drop boxes (supplies that the walker sends ahead so they don't have to leave the trail to find a supermarket).
- A way out of town.
Most of this is available at Coleridge already. It's up to locals if they want to offer anything more.