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.

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