Waiheke Walking Festival Director Denise Whitfield shakes her head. It’s just a few days since the launch of this year’s programme and more than half the walks are ‘sold’ out.
Many bookings come from previous attendees; attendees, organisers and patrons, become like a family, Denise says. This year she received an email from an Australian couple who apologised that they would not be in attendance because they are expecting a new grandchild. “But they promise they will be back again next year.”
The Waiheke Walking Festival was launched as a weekend of walking in 2010, the brainchild of Auckland City Council parks officer, Gary Wilton. Gary worked with the original festival co-ordinator Jenness Reeve to deliver a series of walks that would showcase the island’s network of spectacular walkways. The first festival comprised 10 walks. It now offers 50.
At first the festival was supported by funding from Auckland City’s tourism promotion budget, but this was always seen as an interim measure to establish the programme, and to gauge interest from the public. The Hauraki Gulf Conservation Trust took over governance in 2013 and Denise, whose background is management in the health sector, was engaged to deliver the project.
Denise said it was an enormous undertaking which would not be possible but for the incredible support of the community. “Nobody says, no,” she says. “It could not happen without the support of the landowners, the volunteers and the businesses. I would say that receiving this type of community support is rare. It’s a wonderful festival to be a part of. What keeps me going is the non-monetary rewards: all of the happy smiling people. Everyone is just so happy and excited.”
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