Suky Thompson on Mt Herbert

Banks Peninsula trail blazer recognised with award

Walkers and cyclists can enjoy more of Banks Peninsula, thanks in great part to Suky Thompson’s leadership. Suky is being recognised with an Outdoor Access Champion Award from the Walking Access Commission for her significant and lasting contributions to outdoors public access in New Zealand.

“I’m absolutely thrilled and proud to be given this award, something to treasure for the rest of my life,” says Suky, who has worked in public access for the last 26 years. She has managed the Rod Donald Banks Peninsula Trust since it began full operations in 2011. Ric Cullinane, chief executive for the Walking Access Commission, notes that the Trust and the Commission started around the same time and have “grown up together”.

“Suky is a dynamo with the rare gift of being able to relate extremely well with a wide cross-section of people. This has enabled the development of the track network on different land types over the years, and has culminated in the outstanding Te Ara Pātaka project,” says Ric.

Te Ara Pātaka is a three-day walk along Banks Peninsula’s spectacular summit ridgeline, from Gebbies Pass to Hilltop, connecting to many communities in the valleys below. The track crosses Te Ahu Pātiki, a 500-hectare block the Trust brought into public ownership last year after Suky spearheaded a fundraising campaign to purchase it (with extra help from The Press and Stuff’s Buy the Hill campaign). The land provides enduring track access for walkers and cyclists and fills the missing gap between three neighbouring conservation areas – a boon for biodiversity.

Suky is now retiring from her role. “I’ll still be walking around the area and involved in lots of things. But it’s still really hard to give up a job that was utterly brilliant – going around buying mountains to create walks on,” she says, “I wish my successor and the Trust well.”

Te Ara Pātaka is just one thread in a web of tracks Suky has worked to create on Banks Peninsula, linking together reserves, unformed legal roads and private land crossings, often with help from the Walking Access Commission.

Suky’s advocacy and awareness work has also been crucial. She led the Trust’s development of the Banks Peninsula Walks website – the first place recreationists could see all the peninsula’s tracks, regardless of who manages them. She followed this up with a series of printed maps and guides.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Suky also launched the popular Banks Peninsula Walking Festival in collaboration with local community groups and landholders, welcoming people of diverse ages and abilities to explore the tracks.

This year, five women are receiving Outdoor Access Champion, with Suky being the first.