No room for complacency
Having negotiated an extension to this magazine’s deadline in an attempt to evaluate four wheeling options after September’s general election, I was, like most of us, no better informed in the immediate aftermath of the election! It was clear, however, that Winston Peters’ New Zealand First Party was going to have a significant influence on the eventual government. While I’m all for clean and swimmable rivers, the prospect of the Green Party as a government coalition partner is not something that I would relish for our recreation. NZ First has a similar vision to the Greens for our environment, but perhaps not as radical. Recognising that the environment is going to stay as a high profile topic, we in four wheeling also need to consider the implications. We’ve already seen water quality being used as a reason to close a vehicle track on conservation land, and will need to seriously look at how we as users of land can minimise our impacts so that we don’t draw unneeded attention to ourselves. It certainly does not need much to arouse objections to the use of vehicles on public lands. Photographs abound of wheel tracks on fragile land, especially soft swampy areas that in cooler parts of the country can take years before nature manages to disguise wheel tracks. The NZ First website contains a couple of statements that provide a guide to their thinking around recreation and the environment: “Our country’s natural environment has international significance and is a New Zealand First priority. Wise governments view the preservation and enhancement of the environment as sound economics. All environmental policies will be proactive with a view to creating employment and sustainable wealth whilst improving one of our few competitive advantages. Serious environmental problems and risks need to be addressed. ‘100 percent Pure’ must not be empty words, but must be backed by effective environmental policies. “New Zealand First believes in the right of all New Zealanders to responsibly hunt, shoot, fish and enjoy the great outdoors and to take food from the bush, the rivers and the seas. We support a sensible balance between the often overlapping requirements of outdoor recreational activities and those of industry, farming, conservation, tourism and the environment.” Noting of course the use of the word ‘responsibly’ in the use of our outdoors. Whichever way the eventual outcome of coalition negotiations finishes up, it’s my belief that four wheeling will need to ‘up our game’ in an environmental sense so that we don’t make a good target for the ‘100 percent Pure’ brigade. Following my attendance last November at a NZRA/ Walking Access conference in Hamilton, I again had a chance to attend another in Wellington in September. With financial help from Auckland 4WD Club, I was able to make a single day flying trip to Wellington on Sept 5 to attend the second day of the annual Outdoors Forum which is a gathering of the outdoors sector, although largely in the professional/ commercial category. This year the Walking Access Commission promoted the emerging community-driven trail building movement as a focus for that second day. What was in it for four wheeling you are probably asking? Directly not a huge amount, but simply knowing what is being proposed by other outdoor persuasions and their aims for the same countryside that we are also looking at. I did not advocate directly for 4WD, but attended under the name of the Friends of 42 Traverse and the policy of keeping it open for all groups. Over the day there were some interesting presentations and people. Again, it’s the networking that can open doors ( and gates) sometimes, and being able to have a few moments chatting with people such as Gavin Walker, DoC manager of recreation and tourism, and Bubs ( Tyronne) Smith of Ngati Tuwharetoa ( central North Island Iwi ) may yet have useful outcomes. They were both enthusiastic about the idea and aims of Friends of 42 Traverse Inc. The short presentation by Gavin Walker identified some forecasting that has been skewed by the tourism boom, and an admission that following the 1995 Cave Creek incident, DoC had become “standards obsessed”. The volume of overseas tourists has put pressure on the margins of DoC lands because of time restraints and popularity of destinations have changed. One that he identified is a 20 percent to 50 percent drop in visitors to the Denniston Plateau where DoC had made investment in facilities. The same could not be said for the Tongariro Crossing, where visitor numbers are now huge, and with some shifts in the National Park management roles with greater involvement of Ngati Tuwharetoa, it is likely that some restrictions to walking the Tongariro Crossing will be introduced before long. DoC marketing will be aimed at promoting alternative locations and opportunities for tourists around NZ to better spread the load and the tourism spending. The main focus was on “trails/ tracks” for walking and cycling, and as I’ve previously noted, the costs for maintaining those are not cheap. One trail group along the Kapiti Coast, as a part of the Te Araroa Walkway, are basing their annual maintenance calculations around $ 2,000/ km! They have recently installed a pedestrian counter which suggests they could have up to 100,000 users per year over the 10km walkway. The walkway cost $ 1.4 million to construct, of which they reckoned the resource consents consumed 10 percent. They do, however, have financial support from local councils. Another trail organization spoken about is the Upper Clutha Region Trust which has created many km of tracks. They got started with a grant of $ 25,000 from the Council, but have identified that neither the councils nor DoC, are enthusiastic about helping with maintenance, and the trust is looking to “user groups” to “own” sections. Overall an interesting day with some useful contacts, and a reminder that four wheeling can’t be complacent about future access options. We were told that there are more than 20 groups just around Auckland, working on trails or plans for trails on public lands.