It was 20 years ago that town promoters from Katikati, Waihi, Paeroa and Te Aroha came together, with the support of Sport Waikato, to develop an event that would showcase the natural beauty and intriguing history across the region. And so, the ECHO Walking Festival was established with a vision of drawing new visitors to the entire district, by offering a series of activities that ‘echoed and repeated in each town’. Paeroa town promoter at the time, Helen Andrews said, “The idea was proposed at a meeting in Katikati and then all the town promoters got in the same room and thrashed it out.”

The name ‘ECHO’ was decided on as the festival namesake, focusing on the eco-friendly nature of the festival, the connection/echo between each location and the link between the bush and beach – with the acronym of ‘Enjoy Connecting Hills and Oceans.’

Each location had its hero destinations and stories, and the festival strategy was to highlight these. For example, one of the Paeroa walks was developed around the history of Lemon and Paeroa (L&P). It included a visit to the giant L&P bottle in town and touched on the origins of New Zealand’s famous fizzy drink. Participants were told all about the original effervescing spring on a nearby farm where locals visited over 100 years ago and took home bottles of this palatable water. The water from this spring was later bottled and sold as ‘L&P.’ In addition, the wide array of antique stores in Paeroa offered an intriguing street route for visitors.

Te Aroha’s walks also focused on their natural springs and the magnificent Mt Te Aroha, while Katikati planned their schedule around the vibrant town murals as well as the lush hikes in the Kaimais. Waihi’s rich gold mining history and spectacular Pumphouse attracted those who wanted to learn more about this fascinating era as one of New Zealand’s highest yielding gold mines.

Thirty walks were identified and marketed as part of the initial ECHO Walking Festival. Most of these walks were unguided, with the key marketing message being to visit and try out new walks and experiences with friends or family. Over the years, as the festival developed, other organisations such as Sport Waikato, South Waikato Council, Matamata Piako Council, Thames Coromandel District Council, The Coromandel and DOC supported the intiative and additional walks, as far away as Putararu and Tokoroa, were added to the overall offering. The festival was advertised to a range of Auckland tramping clubs, generating a great response, with groups travelling down for the weekend to experience and explore the area.

Twenty years on, the ECHO Walking Festival is still going strong! Each year the committee reviews the walking calendar as new terrain and interesting attractions are introduced across the region. The main focus is still on walking, however new experiences, such as kayaking, biking, a river boat cruise and a day trip and a challenging walk around Tūhua (Mayor Island) have been added for extra scope and appeal. Every walk is now guided by experienced and passionate locals who are extremely knowledgeable about their area. A small koha is suggested for most experiences, to cover guide costs.

The festival is still coordinated by a volunteer committee and local representatives from Katikati, Waihī and Waihī Beach. The core festival objectives remain the same: to showcase local parks and reserves to visitors and locals; to promote the physical and mental benefits of getting outdoors; attract tourism and longer visitor stays in the region, all while educating people on the importance of conservation. In addition to annually reviewing the calendar, the committee also consistently reviews their operations to ensure the festival is sustainable and they are currently working on a carbon neutral event model for future years.

Doug Longdill has participated in ECHO walks for the past 10 years, and commenced as a guide in 2016. He has always been extremely passionate about the environment and was naturally drawn to guiding for the festival after exploring much of the local area and being an active member of several tramping clubs.

He finds guiding very fulfilling and meets many interesting people. He says, “Many of the festival participants have strong conservation ethics which align with ECHO’s values. The festival also provides a great opportunity to further educate and inspire people of all ages of the positive results of predator-free work and environmental restoration.”

The 2023 ECHO Walking Festival boasts 32 experiences, including a new, cultural walk (see below). Vicki Lambert, ECHO Festival chairperson says, “The growth and development of ECHO over twenty years is a testament to those in our region who care deeply about our local whenua (land) and want to share the stories and experiences of our region.”

For more festival information, including the full calendar of walks visit: echowalkfest.org.nz

The ECHO Walking Festival 2023 is proudly supported and sponsored by Hauraki District Council, Maurice Trapp Group, Taharoto Road Creative and the Tauranga Western Bay Community Event Fund.

New Waipaopao (Anzac Bay) Cultural Walk

The ECHO Festival team are proud to announce the addition of a new cultural walk as part of the ECHO 20-year celebration. The ECHO team worked with Reon Tuanau of Te Whānau a Tauwhao, to develop a walking experience around Waipaopao (Anzac Bay) to learn more about the cultural significance of the area.

Reon will share the area’s cultural and interesting history throughout the morning walk. As you are guided on this gentle walk around Te Kura a Maia (Bowentown Head), Te Ho (Pā Site), and down to Papatu (Cave Bay), learn of the important stories of these sites, in particular Mananui, the stronghold Pā that protected the people of Te Whānau a Tauwhao. Reon is an amazing orator and the ECHO team is grateful to Reon for sharing his knowledge and bringing this kaupapa to life.

When: Tue 11 April
Time: 9 -11am
More information or to register: www.echowalkfest.org.nz/events/anzac-bay-cultural-historical-tour

 

Words by Cindy Clare, with input from Helen Andrews, Doug Longdill, Julie Stephenson and Jo Heath.