Linking New Zealand through joined up trails

In this column, New Zealand Walking Access Commission Chairman John Forbes discusses the benefits of a regional approach to trail development.

You seldom meet a tramper or hunter who is worried about the council district they are in when they are exploring the outdoors. Rarer still is a river or mountain that changes direction or shows any kind or respect for council boundaries.

So why is it that so many councils and track builders are confined to developing trails that don't venture outside of the district that has provided the funding for them? If we are serious about developing tracks and trails with the 'user' in mind, then it makes sense to take a regional approach to track and trail networks.

As the mayor of Opotiki District, a rural area, this is a topic I'm particularly passionate about.

At a national level, Te Araroa Trail is the benchmark. Traversing spectacular landscapes from North Cape to Bluff, this 3,000km trail shows what can be achieved when different local authorities and groups work together for a common goal.

The benefits of working together to create "joined up" trails that offer variety and challenge are being increasingly recognised, and groups involved in trail building may be pleasantly surprised with how receptive councils are becoming to proposals of this type.

Currently work is going on that will connect many Waikato trails to neighbouring trails in the Bay of Plenty. One connection that is being developed out of Waikato through Rotorua and into the Eastern Bay of Plenty will offer opportunity to both users and the businesses that support the well-used tracks. Work of this kind results in clear community benefits, including more visitors and spending in the local economy that sustains accommodation providers, cafes and other businesses.

The Otago Rail Trail in the South Island is another much celebrated example, and there are plenty of others springing up around New Zealand.

Community groups, councils and others involved in developing trails are, and should be, taking notice of these multi-region trail success stories. In many cases the New Zealand Walking Access Commission can assist those who want to develop trails of this kind by providing advice and assisting with negotiations with private landholders, iwi, and local and central government.

The Walking Access Mapping System can also be a useful tool for trail developers, particularly when scoping a potential route.

The Commission also considers opportunities to “link New Zealandâ€