Time to take back the tracks

Whanganui Chronicle - - Nation - By Brian Doughty

Ihave just spent a few days tramp­ing in the Waito­tara Con­ser­va­tion Area, start­ing at the Pu­ni­whakau Rd end east of Strat­ford and head­ing south to the up­per Waito­tara Val­ley through some of the most in­ter­est­ing low­land for­est, con­sist­ing of ma­ture rata, rimu, kamahi and black beech.

Large ar­eas of re­gen­er­at­ing scrub early on the track re­mind you of early at­tempts to farm this area, as you leave the last of the open coun­try.

In a re­cent Con­ser­va­tion Com­ment Dave Scoullar talked about tourism in Taranaki and asked the ques­tion: what about Whanganui?

The con­ser­va­tion area is west of Whanganui Na­tional Park and was once pro­moted as a pos­si­ble main walk­ing at­trac­tion for the Whanganui-Taranaki re­gion. The Whanganui River could be the exit point for those walk­ers who ex­tend to the Mate­m­ateaonga Track, who can then choose to head down­river via jet boat to Pipiriki.

What we see now is the Man­ga­pu­rura walk­way/cy­cle way get­ting most of the in­ter­est from walk­ers and cy­clists head­ing south from Na­tional

Park into the Whanganui River Val­ley.

For some rea­son DOC has ceased to main­tain the track sys­tem that al­lows ac­cess to large parts of the Waito­tara Con­ser­va­tion Area. It still has three huts — Pu­te­ore, Tahupo and Trains — which are un­der­used as a re­sult. DOC has large ar­eas to man­age in the Cen­tral North Island, and tramp­ing clubs could take on some of this Waito¯tara work. Fed­er­ated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand has a Back­coun­try Trust which clubs can ap­proach for fund­ing.

Any­thing from $5000 to $20,000 could be avail­able if a project was ac­cepted by the Trust. Wan­ganui Tramp­ing Club could work with neigh­bour­ing clubs in Manawatu and Taranaki. All are likely to end up us­ing the tracks and huts, along with deer­stalk­ers and pos­si­bly even moun­tain­bik­ers.

Dis­trict and re­gional coun­cils, iwi, tourism and con­ser­va­tion in­ter­ests could also get in­volved.

We are al­ways hear­ing about en­hanc­ing and pro­tect­ing our con­ser­va­tion es­tate to en­sure a fu­ture for gen­er­a­tions to come. What’s wrong with look­ing to the fu­ture by de­vel­op­ing and main­tain­ing this track sys­tem so that all can use it?

What bet­ter way than by all work­ing to­gether to achieve an area which could be­come the eco­nomic driver for re­cre­ation in our own con­ser­va­tion es­tate?

Move over, Taranaki. This could be done for much less in dol­lar terms than the Taranaki project, while in­volv­ing lo­cals from both ar­eas.

All we need is Re­gional De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Shane Jones, along with Con­ser­va­tion Min­is­ter Eu­ge­nie Sage, show­ing some vi­sion in our re­gion.

Brian Doughty is a tram­per and mem­ber of the Te Araroa Whanganui Trust

The for­est of the up­per Waito¯tara Val­ley is lush with nikau palms. PHOTO / FILE

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