A great summer for a road trip

In this column, New Zealand Walking Access Commission Board Member Penny Mudford recounts some of her holiday experiences, and touches on some of the factors that preserve New Zealand's special outdoor access culture and heritage.

It's been a great summer. Over the break I enjoyed a road trip around parts of the North Island, and along the journey I drove through towns and rural landscapes all of which have a character that is typically New Zealand.

I spent as much time as possible outdoors, sometimes walking and other times just hanging out and enjoying the fresh air and the beauty of the scenery.

It's difficult to imagine what it would be like if we didn't have free access to our lakes, beaches, rivers and mountains. To be able to sit at a lakeside with a coffee or a good book or take a walk alongside a river for a hike or a spot of fishing is such a part of our Kiwi way of life. Whether fishing or cycling is your favourite recreational pastime, access to the outdoors is key to the activity.

The freedom to wander along a beach for no particular purpose other than to enjoy the experience, or cycle down a leafy track away from the traffic, is often taken for granted. However, without the legacy of the Queen's Chain which sets aside land for the public along rivers, lakes and beaches, access to some of our most beautiful landscape might not be possible. There are also many generous landowners who allow people to walk over their land at any time to get to rivers and beaches that would otherwise be inaccessible.

The New Zealand Walking Access Commission is tasked with preserving this heritage. It works to enhance free, certain, enduring, and practical walking access to the outdoors for the benefit of New Zealanders and overseas visitors. This commitment is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to walk up a river or amble along a beach without being obstructed or having to pay a fee for the privilege.

District councils also play a huge part in providing public access. Many Councils have given priority to retaining and improving public access. For example, Tasman District Council has been working to improve public access in its region, and in 2014, won a national award for its work.

The work being done to retain and improve public access is not just for the pleasure and benefit of people today. This work will be enduring, and ensures that future generations of New Zealanders will also be able to enjoy recreational activities and take pleasure in the outdoors.