The Beautiful Estuary
Photo by Holly from South New Brighton School (2020)

A vision for rebuilding trails and outdoor access

We share, with other New Zealanders, our compassion and concern for everyone affected by Cyclone Gabrielle and the preceding North Island storms. As storm frequency and intensity increases, Herenga ā Nuku Aotearoa, the Outdoor Access Commission, envisions a way to build back better.

Connecting people, connecting places – a vision for the future

Our vision for the future is that Aotearoa will have a comprehensive and safe network of tracks and trails, accessible from big cities and small towns as well as our wilder places. It will provide for a range of activities, from walking and biking to horse riding. It will be planned and funded in a fair and coordinated way.

This trail network will connect people with places, such as shops, schools and community centres. It will enable active transport, recreation and alternatives to on-road routes.

It will connect us to each other and with te taiao by enabling healthy ways to spend time together and with nature.

The outcomes of this tracks and trails network will include improvements to:

  • mental and physical well-being
  • community and whānau strength
  • equity of access
  • nature connectedness and environmentally responsible behaviour
  • safer travel
  • climate resilience and mobility
  • reduced emissions and consumption, mitigating the climate crisis
  • economic growth through environmentally sustainable tourism.

These improvements will reduce pressures on other infrastructure, such as health and transport.

How things stand now

Tracks already aid climate resilience in some places

Many existing tracks offer vital connections between communities that have lost roads and would be otherwise cut off.

Tracks already help economic growth in some regions

In parts of the country, publicly accessible trails have helped small towns develop sustainable local tourism economies.

Along the Otago Rail Trail, local businesses have blossomed, especially as e-bikes become increasingly popular and available.

The Buller District’s tourism has not only survived the COVID-19 lockdowns but has grown because of its network of cycling and walking tracks: Kawatiri Coastal Trail, Paparoa Trail, Heaphy Track and Old Ghost Road – all of which provide sustainable local jobs.

In addition, communities along such trail networks are strengthened through related benefits such as better connections, increased time in nature and health through active transport.

Some people don’t have access to local trails – but we can help

Many of our best outdoor resources are far from our big populations. New Zealand has amazing outdoor access infrastructure, but we need more of it in our urban and residential areas.

Kauri dieback exacerbated outdoor access problems for Aucklanders, closing tracks in the Waitakere and Hunua Ranges and other nearby parks. Cyclone Gabrielle has only made things worse.

Herenga ā Nuku has expertise in developing good public access for our growing populations. Currently, we are working with communities to the north and south of Auckland, designing networks of trails that will ensure those communities are connected by more than just cars and motorways.

To the north, between Pūhoi and Mangawhai, we are working in partnership with Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, the Matakana Coast Trail Trust, Ngāti Manuhiri, the Department of Conservation and Waka Kotahi to create a network of trails on the northern boundary of Auckland. The local community has a vision for how it wants things to be: in 20 years, once tens of thousands of people live in the area, every child can walk, cycle or even horse-ride to school without travelling on the road. We’re using our expertise to help make that vision a reality.

To the south, we worked with the Waikato District Council, the Waikato Regional Council, and the Franklin Local Board of Auckland Council. We drafted a report that identifies the need for routes that form a network of primarily off-road tracks and trails for walking, cycling and, where appropriate, horse riding. These routes will connect communities, towns and natural amenities.

As well as Pūhoi to Mangawhai and North Waikato, we support local communities to develop coherent regional trail strategies in Tairāwhiti and Taranaki – these are case studies of successful infrastructure planning.

Community projects need professional support

Track and trail development works best when a community initiates it. Most communities have the people and resources to build trail networks. Community volunteers play an essential role in building walkways and public access infrastructure. They can often do the job much more cheaply and effectively than a government agency. They also create community ownership and pride in the trails they build.

However, each community needs strategic, legal and logistical support and funding to get projects started. They also need strong, cross-agency government support, particularly for issues regarding environment and conservation, tourism, health and wellbeing, infrastructure, transport, regional development and local government.

Herenga ā Nuku offers regional trail strategy development support to regional communities, volunteer groups, other agencies, iwi, hapū and whānau so they can develop effective, efficient and sustainable trail networks.

If there were a coordinated national network of support for communities, those communities with plans for walkways and cycleways would be ‘shovel ready’ when funding became available.

Funding needs to be more coordinated and fairer

Currently, funding for building and maintaining outdoor access, walkways and cycleways is divided across various providers. These include local authorities, MBIE, Waka Kotahi, the Department of Conservation, private philanthropic trusts, Herenga ā Nuku and other agencies. This leads to significant inconsistency in opportunities. 

If a single agency oversaw the funding, development and maintenance of outdoor access for active transport and recreation, it could develop a national strategy for managing, planning and implementing that infrastructure.

Legal legwork must be done before building starts

It is crucial to first put in place easements and access rights to protect people’s quality of life and access to the outdoors before construction begins on building or rebuilding houses, suburbs and infrastructure.

We must get this right before the peri-urban areas convert to suburban ones because retrofitting good public accessways to an already developed site is less effective and more expensive.

Our northern cities of Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga are rapidly pushing peri-urban areas outwards or subsuming them. All our rebuilding towns and cities must adapt to a more volatile climate. Well-thought-out long-term planning is most important when building and rebuilding.

That means putting in a legal access network of walkways, cycleways and tracks that connect people in these new homes to all the facilities around them and to neighbouring suburbs.

We need a national plan for working together

If you walk a path over public conservation land, local authority land, Māori land and private farmland, you see only the journey and not the barriers and boundaries dividing those agencies and owners. As a first principle, we should imagine public outdoor access infrastructure from the perspective of the participant, minimising those boundaries when planning.

We can protect the future by planning for access now

In the short term, Herenga ā Nuku is providing any support we can to storm-affected people. We are also engaging with people as they are ready to turn their attention to public access. That support includes facilitating collaborations between diverse stakeholder groups.

In the long term, we are collaborating with agencies and people with an interest in public access to the outdoors to support infrastructure that minimises climate change. We have an opportunity to use infrastructure to connect people with each other and with our environment in a way that builds mental and physical well-being, connects communities and strengthens our environment.