News from the field - April 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 our two new regional field advisors – Chris Arbuckle (Coastal and Central Otago) and Ange Van der Laan (Southland, Queenstown Lakes, and Fiordland).

Chris Arbuckle, Coastal and Central Otago

It's just a smidgen over a month since I started with the Commission and I must say thus far finding my feet has been fun. I inherited a number of projects from the excellent work of my predecessor Noel Beggs and all I can say is thanks to him for assisting me with a smooth move to the Commission.

Thus far most of my work has been meeting people to get up to speed on their projects. If there is one thing in common with each project from the Catlins to Oamaru and everywhere in between, it is a huge desire by committed individuals to open the eyes of others to the wonders of Otago's great outdoors.

When you have lived in a region most of your life as I have, and enjoyed walking, tramping and mountain biking about its environs, it's surprising when you re-stumble on a place that holds history for you.

I recently read about efforts to work with the landowner to make the route to the Sir John McKenzie Memorial on Puketapu, Palmerston more evident. McKenzie was the minister of lands in the 1890s and through his work and enthusiasm he ensured tracts of New Zealand held in large titles were made more open to others, both for farming and for protection. He is fondly remembered as the 'little' farmer's friend.

The monument is famous, for locals and those who pass by on SH1 as it stands proudly overlooking the small Otago Township. I have always looked at it when driving past, and I admit it held relevance to me only because I remember the very steep climb from family holidays in my teens, and the big stone thing that I leant against, gasping for breath. Oh, and awesome panoramic views west up the Shag Valley and back across the east coast.

Having read through the history of the monument, it's taken on a whole new relevance, and I am able to view its significance to the Commission's role, the local community and New Zealand as a whole. It's moments like this that have helped me understand the good work the Commission enables.

In this case, through the efforts of the community and the understanding of the landholder, the route to the monument is being improved through signage and standards so people don't stray from the trail.

Hopefully they will be encouraged to respect it's a working farm, and learn that sometimes (for example at lambing time) its best to look at it from afar and plan your future climb as you will need big lungs and strong legs.

In my teens it was a place to wander to; now it's a place to wonder at because of the work of others. I think that's a lot of what being a regional field advisor is about – helping people share a wider Kiwi value, making it open to others and giving all of us an opportunity to wonder at our history, a view or a special place. Not a bad job if I say so myself.

Ange van der Laan, Southland, Queenstown Lakes, and Fiordland

It's been exciting times here in the Wakatipu/Lakes District of late with regard to land access issues, so my mind has been busy getting to grips with this new job.

Top of the media agenda has been the recent QEII covenant announced for the Soho Properties suite covering 53,000 hectares of Crown Leasehold land, currently leased by Mutt Lange. Eventually, the public will be able to access as many as 21 tracks on this land by foot or bike, opening up a whole new playground to local recreationalists and doubtless, exciting tourism opportunities. 

As a keen mountain biker and walker I'm thrilled about the new opportunities on our door step. The Commission has been instrumental in this conversation so I'm enjoying a few 'warm fuzzies' as a result of other people's hard work.

Meanwhile, the Remarkables Ski Area access road has been closed to public access while construction of a new base building occurs, causing 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 so easily be prevented due to safety concerns during the construction phase. While a solution has been reached which allows for public access on Sundays by bus provided by NZSki, there are still some concerns in the community that this does not fit with the needs of users. 

Over the hill near Wanaka is the ongoing negotiation over public access to Kidds Bush campsite. While negotiations between the landowners and the Council drag on, one local has started a petition calling for Council to ensure an acceptable outcome is negotiated – sooner rather than later.

You can see that there has been plenty to keep this greenhorn on her toes. Thus far I have thoroughly enjoyed the interaction with the public and others and, in particular, the contact with my colleagues who I know will be a huge support as I get to grips with my life as a new regional field advisor.