News from the field – June 2015

'News from the field' provides a roundup of public access topics being worked on by the New Zealand Walking Access Commission's regional field advisors. This month, we hear from Geoff Holgate (Canterbury) and one of our newest regional field advisors, Rex Hendry (Taranaki, Whanganui and Manawatu).

Geoff Holgate, Canterbury

Geoff HolgateSome of the most enjoyable aspects of a regional field advisor's 'lot' are working with people and organisations with a vision and commitment to improve public access.

In the Canterbury region, there are three projects I'm currently working on that provide prime examples of the great work people in the region are doing.

The first of these is the Rakaia Gorge Walkway. This walkway has recently been gazetted to formalise the status of part of a well-used track alongside the Rakaia Gorge, north of the Rakaia Gorge Roadbridge. This walkway was initially proposed in the 1980s, but for a variety of reasons was never actually made legally secure.

Thanks to the enthusiasm of local Department of Conservation (DOC) staff, and with the support of local landholders and community groups, we have been able to see the initial section gazetted. Negotiations are continuing to hopefully extend the walkway through part of the Terrace Downs complex.

Another great example of public access vision and commitment in Canterbury is the Christchurch Perimeter Trail. This trail will stretch some 120 kilometres around Christchurch and will link the coast, volcanic hills, streams, native bush, wetlands and the Waimakariri River. It has been promoted by Colin Meurk for more years than he cares to recall, and he and the Steering Group now have the opening of the trail firmly in their sights.

It has been hugely challenging for members of the Steering Group working with different councils, sections within councils, DOC, and numerous individual and corporate landholders to bring their vision to fruition.

The Christchurch City Council has recently provided some funding for signage on the trail, and I have had the opportunity to provide some advice and support to the Steering Group. The Christchurch Perimeter Trail will be a fantastic community asset once it is opened, and all largely as a result of the vision and persistence of volunteers.

Last, but not least, is the Spine of the Lizard project on Banks Peninsula. This is another example of vision and enthusiasm, this time by the Rod Donald Trust. The trust has a wide mandate to promote sustainable management and conservation, recreation, culture and heritage, research projects and public education in the Banks Peninsula area. The broad vision of The Spine of the Lizard project is to develop the network of trails linking valley communities and the Summit Walkway from Gebbies Pass to Hilltop into a cohesive, and well managed recreational asset.

The Spine of the Lizard project is supported by DOC, Christchurch City Council and Lincoln University, and I have been able to provide some general advice, and specific guidance on the establishment of walkways as a means of formalising certain and enduring access on the trails.

Rex Hendry, Taranaki, Whanganui and Manawatu

Geoff HolgateHaving just stepped into the role of regional field advisor, the first impression that I have had is the complex nature of some of the issues relating to public access.

Some issues are easily resolved with information transferring between local authorities, enquirers and landowners. However, there are some areas where there are long-standing issues with complicated physical and historic elements which may not be resolved until land ownership or land use changes.

Examples of this are where an existing or previous access is actually on private land and public access is adjacent but not physically or geographically feasible or the land use has safety considerations for public access. A long view of these issues is required as all parties work towards an outcome.

We are extremely fortunate in New Zealand with the wide range of outdoor recreational activities available and the landscape we have to enjoy and engage with the natural environment. Add to this the foresight in provision for access within public land ownership and the cadastre. It is critical that we do not lose these opportunities through oversight of the greater communal needs.

In the Taranaki, Whanganui and Manawatu region there is a variety of topography, from the Manawatu Plains to the rugged hill country to volcanic landscapes. Maintaining and enhancing access to and from the large tracts of public land, forest and national parks is an ongoing responsibility that will require attention and engagement of many, if not all, sectors of our communities.

I am fortunate to have had several decades working and recreating across this region – previously as an outdoor instructor, tramper, kayaker, multisporter and a DOC Area Manager. And I still enjoy going back country and heading 'up the hill', but do pick my days a bit more. I am actively involved in search and rescue activities in Taranaki, and across the country.

My initial focus in this role will be to review all of the outstanding projects and pick up the continuation of this work. Clearly, a collaborative approach is essential so renewing contacts around the region and maintaining close relationships with key stakeholders will become an integral part of this ongoing work.