A tribute to Judy Donovan and the Pukekohe 5 Summits Trail

A tribute to Judy Donovan and the Pukekohe 5 Summits Trail

Fiáin d'Leafy

This blog recounts the history, successes, and predictions for the future of the Pukekohe 5 Summits Trail, drawing from the first-hand recollections and musings of Judy Donovan. With her permission, we blog-ified the information she provided us, with additional information and stories provided by Andrew from Franklin Trails.

Judy Donovan went missing in the Pureora Forest on Saturday, 23 March, before we were able to complete this piece. She was a long-time close supporter of Bike Auckland, member of the Franklin Trails bike burb, and made amazing contributions towards enabling active transport for her local community. 

We offer this as a tribute to her legacy.

Some words from Judy’s friends at Franklin Trails

Judy had a great ability to make things happen and convert hui into do-ey. She loved being active, and encouraging others to be active. Largely at Judy’s initiative there is now a Franklin Trails monthly bike ride in the Pukekohe/Drury/Waiuku area which attracts a huge turn out of people. Franklin Trails are committed to continuing and growing these adventures.

Late last year 5 intrepid adventurers – Judy Donovan, Louise and Andrew Sinclair, Paul and Gabriel Arthur – set off on the inaugural pioneer walk along the northern edge of the beautiful Taihiki Estuary. They completed 16.6km of the more challenging parts of a total 25km journey – you can see their adventure at this link. The quintuplet had planned for a 3 hour or so journey but with so much to see and explore (combined with some challenging terrain of blackberry, wetlands, gorse, woolly nightshade and privet) they arrived at their destination 9 hours later. In typical fashion, Judy was still lively even at the end of this trek. 

Judy’s passion for being active and encouraging others to be active was recognised and she was presented with the Outdoor Access Champion Award in 2022.

Judy Donovan walking along a fallen tree, balancing with arms outstretched
Judy walking across a fallen tree near Taihiki Estuary.
Photo: Andrew Sinclair

The Pukekohe 5 Summits Trail

The Pukekohe 5 Summits Trail is a loop just over 20km long, which starts at the Pukekohe Train Station, weaves through the outskirts of the greater urban area, and visits five volcanic summits of significance before returning to where it began. Teva documented his experience of cycling the 5 Summits Trail here.

The trail consists of a variety of pathways, parks and reserves, quiet roads, and, crucially, reclaimed paper roads and repurposed private land (with permission) to connect them! And it was all thanks to the Pukekohe Tramping Club, who wanted to celebrate their 50th Anniversary in 2019 by filling in the gaps of what wasn’t really, prior to then, a viable path. The path would highlight the five volcanic summits of geographic, historical, and cultural significance within urban Pukekohe. As expected, this was primarily a walking trail – but with the influence of Judy Donovan as its key driver and facilitator, it has also been made viable for cycling as well! 

Andrew Sinclair, Paul Arthur, Gabriel Arthur, Louise Sinclair, and Judy Donovan in hiking gear, standing in a grassy paddock with bush in the background
5 intrepid adventurers – Andrew Sinclair, Paul Arthur, Gabriel Arthur, Louise Sinclair, and Judy Donovan (left to right). Photo: Andrew Sinclair

The Journey Begins

The genesis of the trail came from local explorers of Pukekohe suburbia, who had a holistic knowledge of the reserves and pathways that already existed within the town’s urban boundaries. They identified a pretty good route, and some gaps that could be filled to make it happen. From there, the Pukekohe Tramping Club (of which Judy was a part) took charge, forming a dedicated sub-committee of skilled members, and together they all embarked on a mission to weave the existing pathways, parks, and reserves into something truly awesome. With the backing of the Franklin Local Board, the Pukekohe Business Association, and the NZ Walking Access Commission/Herenga ā Nuku, they secured the minimum level of funding needed – and, in just 8 hard months, they would see their vision come to life. 

Sweat, Toil, and Volcanic Soil

Working bees put the community to work! Volunteers lent their hands to smooth out trails, clear vegetation, and create steps, ensuring the path was traversable and, to some extent, accessible. The trail had begun to take shape. In Rooseville Park, the Pukekohe Lions joined the fray, adding their strength to the endeavor. 

No trail is complete without signposts, and the Five Summits is no exception. Decorated with Department of Conservation arrows and Pukekohe Tramping Club markers, it’s pretty easy to navigate the trail. The Club even had informative story boards installed, detailing the European history of the summits. 

Story board at Raven Rock, the view in the background
Story board and views at Raven Rock

They had map boards set up at the Pukekohe Railway Station, serving as an invitation to Pukekohe newcomers, tourists, and locals alike. The Club also developed a z-fold paper map, with the trail on one side, and historical information on the other. They printed 6000 copies (far out!) and distributed them throughout the community, starting with libraries, cafes, and local businesses. 

These promotional activities were especially important, because now a number of fresh visitors to Pukekohe are specifically visiting because of the 5 Summits Trail. It has become an attraction which is wonderfully in line with the unique character of the local area.

Franklin Trails - Five Summits Trail Map
Franklin Trails – Five Summits Trail Map. More information available here.

What this trail inspired

Franklin Trails (one of our Bike Burbs, which Judy was a highly valued member of) picked up the vision and built upon it, dreaming of a network of trails which connect beyond Pukekohe to the smaller towns of the Franklin Local Board area – so that people can travel safely via people-powered transport. 

The success of the 5 Summits Trail and Franklin Trails’ mahi has led to the suggestion for a local targeted rate for paths and trails. This was included in the local board plans, and recently in the Long Term Plan consultation. If successful, in the next 2 – 3 years the first pathways would be delivered – eventually leading to an interconnected network of paths and trails across the Franklin area. How amazing that would be. 

Judy didn’t stop with the 5 Summits Trail either. She was proactive in pushing for favourable trail outcomes for the Enviro Waste OIO requirements near where she lived. This was for a 3km walking and cycling track to connect Beaver Rd West with Ridge Rd via farmland with stunning scenery. In her younger days she used to ride her horse across this farmland. The initial proposal included a narrow 10m Herenga ā Nuku easement track across steep land, and it was obviously totally inappropriate for any form of bike access. Judy took up the challenge and pushed for the easement to be much wider in the steeper areas, gaining support from local MP Andrew Bayly. Together with Ric Balfour of NZ Landcare Trust, and Andrew Sinclair of Franklin Trails, her persistence led to the easement providing plenty of space for a suitable grade 2 – 3 cycle trail. It also now incorporates a considerable Pa site that would have been excluded from Iwi and public access. A great outcome thanks largely to Judy.

The Future

The journey is far from over. Other groups have gotten involved, further extending the 5 Summits Trail. Judy Donovan pictured all kinds of opportunities for it – for the information storyboards at each summit to be expanded to include their Māori history and significance; for schools to engage in the trail for nature studies; for fruit trees, water fountains, park benches, and fitness stations to line the way. She and an army of dedicated volunteers have established the foundation – and her vision was for a Pukekohe that would build upon it from here. 

Franklin Trails are working towards connecting Clarks Beach with Patumahoe along the northern edge of the beautiful Taihiki Estuary (the area they had trekked through for their inaugural pioneer walk mentioned earlier), using a legal public access corridor which spans most of the route. Stunning scenery and wildlife lies in wait, as yet undiscovered. When Judy was helping Franklin Trails with tree planting in the area she was blown away by the stunning scenery and the potential for the trail. She was keen to see it progress.

A map showing the route the 5 adventurers took for their pioneer walk alongside Taihiki Estuary, not far from Clark's Beach
The route of the pioneer walk around Taihiki Estuary – captured here.

And, as other communities across Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland take notice, the ripple-effect of the trail’s success continues to inspire others, daring to create trail loops in their own communities, wondering whether a local targeted rate would enable paths and trails that Auckland Transport hasn’t delivered, and realising there are possibilities beyond what they thought was possible before. 

Ka rawe Judy Donovan, we are lucky to have had you touch on our lives, and your mahi will continue to inspire others for generations to come. 

Franklin trails members Paul, Judy, and Louise sitting around a cafe table.
Paul, Judy, and Louise getting coffee after a ride (left to right)

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