News from the field - August 2016

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 Felicity Brough (Waikato), and Rod Smillie (Taranaki, Whanganui and Manawatu).

Felicity Brough, Waikato

2015 Felicity Brough for news from the fieldIn June, I walked parts of the Hakarimata Walkway and was reminded of the varied reasons people access the outdoors. This gazetted walkway is located on the outskirts of Ngaruawahia and had 134,000 users in 2015. Part of its popularity is due to the fact that it has something for everyone.

The bags of rock that the Department of Conservation leaves at the bottom of the stairs for the very fit to carry up made me shudder and remember that I'm very much a recreational walker, not a fitness guru. But I know that others will take up the challenge with enthusiasm. Where I walked, I encountered people in their street clothes who simply wanted to enjoy the great view from the top.  The wider scenic reserve also has hunting opportunities, something I was reminded of when I saw pigs rooting in the dirt on the track. It is fantastic to see how one walkway can cater to so many different needs.

Public access means different things to different people. Just as the reasons for seeking access vary greatly. Often, access is sought on public land, Department of Conservation or Council-managed land. This could be a river trail, a mountain track, a forest park or a nature reserve. We're lucky in New Zealand to have such varied scenery. There are so many opportunities to wander and explore.

A recent case reminded me of the pleasure people get from accessing the outdoors. It is also a good example of how an access issue can be positively resolved, with the active participation of all concerned.

A fisherman I spoke to told me how, 25 years ago, he used to love surf fishing in coastal Taranaki. Recently, he returned to the area and found that the local landowners were denying him access to the sea. The landowners were not trying to be difficult, they were simply concerned about their health and safety obligations. The fisherman contacted the Commission to see if we could help resolve the issue.

Using the Walking Access Mapping System, we were able to tell the fisherman where he could have legal access. We also provided him with health and safety information, which he shared with the landowners. He was able to start fishing again, and to assist other fishermen who wanted to operate in this area. 

This story illustrates the results that can be obtained when people get together to resolve access issues. It highlights another important fact: access comes with responsibility towards and respect for the environment and landowners.

I recently worked with the Ruapehu District Council on an access issue where the parties involved needed to be reminded about respectful behaviour, for the sake of their own safety and that of others. In this instance, public access meant walkers and cyclists were using a road shared by horses, quad bikes and other motorised vehicles. Public safety, therefore, was paramount. The sign that the Ruapehu Council designed sums it up well: “Share with Careâ€