Something for everyone is on offer in this year’s Waiheke Walking Festival - but be quick. Photo Dennis La Touche

Islanders should get their skates on to book for next month’s Waiheke Walking Festival. Registration for places on more than 50 free guided walks opened on 1 October and already a number of walks are fully subscribed.

“We have closed off about 10 walks – bookings are definitely up on the same time last year,” says festival organiser Denise Whitfield.

“The limit of six walks per person has been well received and people are reserving their spaces.”

The event is attracting newcomers from throughout the country as news of Waiheke’s tracks and the festival’s informative volunteer guides spreads, Denise says.

The number of people signing-on as ‘Festival Friends’ – paying $100 to help offset festival costs – has doubled this year. The endorsement is welcome, she says, as the event is on notice to reduce its dependence on local board funding.

Among the first to book-out were walks through usually private properties and most coastal walks. But plenty of options for the 18-26 November festival remain, Denise says.

On the first Sunday, a walk through the yet-to-open Orapiu-Te Matuku scenic track quickly sold out. But a second sneak preview of this stunning bush track comes with Tuesday’s ‘Walk and Wine’ trek, led by Matthew Smith of festival presenting partner Ray White Real Estate.

“One feature of this year’s festival is the strong midweek offerings – it’s not just the weekends.”

Vineyards are very much on the trail, several offering discounts for walks themed around the island’s boutique wine and food producing industries. For instance the Onetangi Vineyard Valley Taste Sensation on 22 November includes a sherry tasting with paired tapas at Casita Miro; wine tasting at Obsidian and a rosé at Te Motu before lunch at Tantalus Estate.

The following day, Waiheke Walking Trust chair Tessa Shaw will lead an ‘up hill and down dale’ ramble with stop offs at Alibi Brewing, Tantalus, Peacock Sky, Batch Winery and olive oil producer Rangihoua Estate.

But it’s not all indulgence. On Saturday 25 November, medical herbalist Helen Elscot will lead a walk through Te Toki Reserve explaining how to identify plants and trees with medicinal value, while also showcasing volunteer efforts to eradicate pests. Walks in a similar vein include a Wild Food Foraging Walk led by Kai Conscious on 24 November and Whakanewha Mindfulness, led by Simply B’s Mel Burdett.

There are also some serious opportunities for fitness fanatics to either test their endurance (a 50km walk anyone?) or learn improved techniques and exercises for walking.

A few spots are still available for a historical tour of the Stony Batter tunnels on Sunday 19 November though the following Saturday’s tour is booked-out. The tunnels were closed by the Department of Conservation in April 2015.

The festival has an array of events of interest to children including an all-ages treasure hunt for the tech savvy, led by graphics whiz Jan Ramp on Sunday 19 November. Jan will explain how devices can add to your walking experience before sending kids on a Pokemon Go-style exploration.

On opening night, Saturday 18 November, kids can view the night sky through professional equipment supplied by Astronz (including virtual reality goggles) at Onetangi Residents Hall while adults with ‘headlamps’ and a sense of adventure enjoy a stargazing walk through the nearby Onetangi Reserve.

Denise’s fingers are firmly crossed for favourable weather on that night and for the duration of the festival. For the full festival programme and to book your place, visit: • Geoff Cumming

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