From behind the scenes to scenic job and acts of public interest

Ange van der Laan's new role as regional field advisor for the New Zealand Walking Access Commission is a long way from the film sets of Xena Warrior Princess in Auckland where she once worked. But it's a role the environmentally minded, outdoor-enthusiast is equally delighted to hold. 

A desire for a lifestyle change prompted Ange to re-locate to the South Island. With a good chunk of New Zealand's television commercials, and film servicing work based out of the district it turned out to be a solid career move. 

With mountains at her doorstep, Ange's appreciation for the environment grew and she was compelled to study Environmental Management and Planning through Lincoln University as a mature student. With this new string to her bow and a raft of contacts built up through involvement in a range of community groups, including the Arrowtown Village Association, Ange was identified as having a suitable background to manage walking access interests in the area.

She explains: “Often the role of field advisor is of chief negotiator so the more people you know locally the better. 

The New Zealand Walking Access Commission provides leadership on walking access issues and administers a national strategy on walking access, including walkways. It also undertakes mapping, provides information to the public, oversees a code of responsible conduct, assists with dispute resolution and negotiates new walking access.

“We enjoy amazing access opportunities here in Arrowtown and in the surrounding region. We have some extremely committed and accommodating landowners and managers. Often it's only when something like ownership changes we are reminded that formal public access to our mountains, and along lakes, rivers and the coast is fragmented. 

Ange's role covers Queenstown Lakes and Southland and recently there have been some major developments in the area. 

Making headlines has been the QEII covenant announced in March 2015 for the Soho Properties suite covering 53,000 hectares of Crown Leasehold land, currently leased by Mutt Lange (former husband of Shania Twain). Eventually, the public will be able to access as many as 21 tracks on the farm by foot or bike.

“As a keen mountain biker and walker I'm thrilled about the new opportunities on our doorstep. This is an amazing development for public access and Mutt Lange must be celebrated as an access champion. As well as keeping local recreationalists amused this will have major economic benefits for the tourism industry. The Commission has been instrumental in this conversation.” 

On other fronts, Ange has a watching brief regarding the Remarkables Ski Area access road, which has been closed to public access while construction of a new base building, occurs. This initially caused an uproar in the recreational community, particularly among climbers and hikers. Many of these users see the Remarkables Conservation Area as a summer playground and have serious concerns that their rights to access the area can be restricted without meaningful consultation with interested groups.

In Dipton, Ange is working on a Memorandum of Understanding between Southland District Council, Rural Women Southland and a private landowner in regards to opening access to a beautiful and previously inaccessible piece of wetland. Although all are in agreement to allow for public access and Rural Women will cover track costs, finding a controlling authority, necessary under the act, has not been so easy. “It's not a quick process but we'll keep on it and hopefully will have reason to celebrate a new public access site in time," Ange says.