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April 2009

Walk for the Planet hits its stride

Upon reaching its half-way point, Walk for the Planet (W4TP) turned out to be a successful effort that has generated lots of interest and discussion of environment issues in the communities it has passed through.

It has also been marked by a high level of ecumenical cooperation with congregations of all denominational persuasions offering hospitality and support. Mayors and district councillors have been on hand in all major centres to greet the walkers when they have arrived.

W4TP coordinator Rev Mark Gibson says while there was a degree of central organisation to the walk, many of the details were worked out at the local level by regional coordinators.

"This meant W4TP had much the same look throughout its journey. We had the same support vehicles, the same T-shirts, and two walkers, Hugh Klein and Geoffrey Love who are committed to the whole journey. Yet it has also had a different flavour in each region.

"The ability to tap into local knowledge was a real strength. It meant we have been able to highlight some of the hopeful environmental projects that are underway in Southland, North Otago, and South Canterbury."

Mark says W4TP also revealed some negative stories about environmental degradation.

"In fact we have seen some of it. Some of the rivers and creeks we crossed in Southland are in appalling condition because of dairying. Some of them look like sewers.

"Another impact all the walkers comment on is the amount of rubbish on the sides of the roads. Between Bluff and Invercargill two of the walker attempted to pick up and bag the recyclable cans and bottles but they had to give up because there was just so much."

Mark says many people have commented on the ecumenical nature of the walk, saying they have not seen people from different local churches work so closely together for a long time.

W4TP walkers assembled to launch the walk at Sterling Point, Bluff.

Walk a journey of discovery

Stewart Island

Te Punga O Te Waka a Maui/The Anchor Stone of Maui’s canoe (Stewart Island) might be so far south that many Kiwis never go there but it was the right place to begin the Walk for the Planet (W4TP), say organisers. As the conservation capital of the nation it provided the spiritual anchorage and inspiration for the long journey north to the political capital.

W4TP coordinator Mark Gibson says Stewart Islanders have a passion for conservation and they are practical people so this is woven into their everyday lives. This was evident when local organisers chose to launch W4TP not with words but by making Shrove Tuesday pancakes and selling them to raise money for local conservation projects.

Mark says the launching ceremony for W4TP was a very special event. Methodist President Jill van De Geer joined the group to take part in it. Twenty people and a dog gathered at a golf course on Ringaringa Bay, the southernmost golf course in NZ. Locals opted to hold the ceremony there because they are engaged in a native replanting programme on the course.

Local coordinator Beverley Osborn, Jill and Mark led the opening ceremony with Jill speaking on behalf of the Methodist Church. The group sang ‘Pick the Breeze Up’ the official W4TP song written by Colin Gibson. A final blessing was offered in te reo Maori by local kaumatua Philip Smith.

From the golf course they walked the 2km to the wharf in Halfmoon Bay. At the wharf there were farewells and words of thanks. A spokesperson from the Stewart Island council and a Department of Conversation staff worker thanked the walkers for coming and expressed strong support for the objectives of W4TP.


When W4TP walkers arrived in Bluff they were met at the wharf and taken to the local church for an Ash Wednesday service. The out of town walkers then went to the Maori Catholic Marae in Invercargill Te Tomairangi, where they were based for several days.

Over the next two days W4TP participants visited several environmental projects in the area, including the Bluff Hill-Motupuhe Environment Trust. This group is monitoring stoat traps so the native bird life returns to Bluff.

They also visited the South Coast Environment Centre in Riverton, which is developing community gardens including one at the local school where students will plant plots in the spring. There were also visits to reserve where bellbirds and tui reside thanks to the efforts of a group of seniors who set traps there and a walk along the wetlands at Gambles.

The Walk itself got off the ground on Saturday, February 28th from Stirling Point near Bluff. An enthusiastic band of about 25 walkers set out on the 30km walk. In Invercargill, the walkers were welcomed by kaumata Michael Skerritt, of Te Ao Marama Inc, which is Southland Maori’s representative body in local government.

On Sunday the group joined in worship at the marae with the local Catholic whanau, then visited Southland W4TP coordinator Sister Judith Robinson’s Korimako Dominican property to hear about the vision to set up a teaching and spirituality centre based organic gardening.

They then went to All Saints Anglican Church to hear about flood control on the Waihopai River. A brisk walk along the Waihopai River was followed by an ecumenical service.

On Monday, March 1st W4TP was on the road to Edendale with the encouraging words of deputy mayor Neil Boniface who said the walk is not only a voice of concern for the environment but also as a spiritual journey.

Weather during the next day’s walk to Gore was beautiful but the pollution from passing cars and trucks reminded walkers of the peak oil crisis. In Gore the walkers enjoyed a potluck meal at the Catholic Church.

On Wednesday Gore mayor Tracy Hicks officially met with the walkers near the big fish in the town centre and saw them off on the 40 km journey to Clinton.

Judith Robinson says W4TP organizers in Southland have encouraged people to continue talking about the walk in the weeks and months ahead. Other activities held in Southland associated with W4TP included more than 100 Southland seniors planting 100 native trees at Sherwood Forest QEII Bush Covenant, a walk along the beach from Riverton to Invercargill to count birds, and school initiatives to plant natives and pick up rubbish. The Invercargill Environment Centre had a window display about W4TP during February.

A visit to Otipua Wetlands near Timaru.


On March 5th the walkers left Clinton and crossed into Otago on their way to Balclutha where they were hosted and billeted by the Anglican Church community. W4TP was reported in The Leader, a Balclutha newspaper.

The next day was a long trek through the town of Milton, where the walkers were met by members of the Presbyterian Church, and on to Waihola where they were then taken over by the Dunedin regional co-ordinator.

Otago W4TP coordinators from Dunedin met up the walkers south of Waihola on Friday March 6th. The next morning a van on loan from the Dunedin Methodist Mission carried eight cyclist and their bikes to meet up with the walkers at Allanton. The cyclists took over and cycled the 15 km to the Green Island Diocesan Anglican Church offices.

Other walkers arrived there by bus and after a blessing from Bishop George the group set off to Wesley Methodist Church in South Dunedin. There was lots of activity there, including a lesson from Colin Gibson, who taught the 100 walkers and supporters the W4TP song.

Otago coordinator Greg Hughson says most of them then walked to the Octagon, singing Colin's song as they travelled. At the Octagon they were welcomed by Mayor Peter Chin who gave a talk on Dunedin City Council's commitment to caring for the environment.

He cited the City Council’s purchase of Harbour Cone on the Otago Peninsula, so it could never be owned by developers, its support for the Orokonui Eco-sanctuary, and the lower beach pollution on Dunedin beaches as a result of better sewage treatment and disposal. Peter affirmed the W4TP initiative and said he had not seen people from so many different Churches together for a long time.

On Sunday evening a service at First Presbyterian Church was joined by four Muslim students from Otago University. The service focused on God as creator of our planet and our need to care more for the earth, sea and waters.

On Monday March 9th 15 W4TP walkers headed north from Dunedin. They had guided tour of Orokonui Eco-sanctuary, a 300 hectare area that included native bush protected by a pest exclusion fence where native fish and birds are making a comeback.

The following morning the walkers headed to Karitane. They arrived at the Puketeraki marae in Karitane where they were warmly welcomed. Later they visited coastal land returned to Ngai Tahu.

On Wednesday the walk left Karitane marae for Palmerston where they were Rev Bobby Kusifilu, the local Presbyterian minister.

The following morning the walk departed from Palmerston and went to Hampden, visting Moeraki Boulders along the way. On Friday, the walkers travelled from Hampden to Kakanui, where they visited a penguin colony.

A dozen people gathered outside the Kakanui Presbyterian Church for the W4TP march into Oamaru. The youngest was seven-year-old Sasha with her scooter.

A karakia was shared, before the walkers disembarked just before 9am. The route they took was along the coastal Beach Road away from Highway 1, which meant there were few cars and good conversation

Midway through the journey, walkers from Oamaru joined the procession. Upon their arrival in Oamaru they were greeted by Waitaki District Deputy Mayor Gary Kirsher, who commended the walkers for taking a stand for the planet.

Next stop was St Lukes Anglican Church where a number of Oamaru parishes served lunch. Then it was off to Oamaru's historic precinct, where someone on a penny-farthing guided them to the ‘Stable’ – the home of various modes of historic transport.

North Otago coordinator Rev Susan McCafferty then directed the group to the Oamaru Resource Recovery Park. There Waitaki Resource Recovery Trust manager Marion Shore explained the trust's philosophy which sees everything, including ‘waste’, and indeed every person, as a resource. The park provides employment for 22 people, and opportunities for a further 15 volunteers. These are opportunities and second chances many of these people may not find elsewhere.

More than 80 percent of the waste, recycling, compost and reusable items which are brought to the park is recoverable, including plastics that would be deemed uneconomical by other recycling centres. The resource recovery park was so impressive, that the Cantabrians in the group felt that Christchurch could learn from it.

The next day the walkers headed from Oamaru to the Waitaki River. One of the walkers commented that before all the dams were built on the river it was fine river. With increasing use of irrigation its flow has now dropped and a tunnel planned to divert more of its water into hydro generation, its flow could drop more.

Dunedin mayor Peter Chin and walkers sing the hymn that Colin Gibson composed for W4TP.

Cyclists covered part of the last leg in Dunedin.

South Canterbury

On Monday 16th March South Canterbury coordinator Margaret Johnson met the walk at the Waitaki village hall on the south bank of the Waitkai River. Two police cars then escorted a single walker across the bridge while the others crossed in the W4TP van.

Ann Te Maiharoa-Dodds welcomed the walk in Maori and gave thanks for the river and we said good bye to the North Otago people on the north side of the river. While standing talking at Glenavy a guy came up to us and introduced himself. He was working with the Baptist Missionary society in Bangladesh and was home for a while. He knew all about the W4TP and had been looking out for us.

On Tuesday morning the walk gathered at Keane park in the centre of Glenavy and planted two trees. After a blessing and singing the walk song it was on its way to Waimate.

Two of the walkers found edible mushrooms near the roadside so they were cooked up as part of lunch that day. The mayor of Waimate welcomed W4TP at a reception at 5pm and the ladies from Knox Presbyterian church provided drinks and nibbles.

The next day the walking recommenced with lunch in a farm shed north of Makikihi where the farmer told the group about his seed drying equipment and their experiments in making canola seed oil at a standard to cook with. The walk reached St Andrews by evening.

Once in Timaru, W4TP participants visited to the district council chambers where we had a talk about the 3, 2, 1 zero waste management that is in place in Timaru. After morning tea it was out to visit the Otipua wetlands where a dedicated group have been planting and caring for the 20 acre area.

In the evening a small group of 14 were addressed by Mark Oldfield who is a member of Environment Canterbury. He spoke about the water usage, the rivers and the air pollution in South Canterbury.

Walkers on the coast road into Oamaru.