News from the field - December 2012

John Gibbs, Western Bay of Plenty and Waikato

For some reason, walking and cycling access has a high profile in the Coromandel Peninsula. Of all the localities in my patch, the majority of my cases, whether general enquiries, new access proposals or access disputes, come from that region.

It is good to see this interest, especially the focus on new access proposals, most of them for walking and cycling tracks along and near the coast.Regions such as the Coromandel, with limited agricultural and industrial opportunities, rely heavily on the visitor industry as a mainstay of their economies.

Agencies with responsibilities for managing public land can work with community groups to create real social and economic benefits from proposals that protect and enhance public access and recreational opportunities. It is good to know that the New Zealand Walking Access Commission can support and facilitate these efforts with advice and practical tools like the upgraded Walking Access Mapping System.

One of the more common areas of disagreement is access along unformed legal roads. A recent example is a case where access had been blocked across an unformed legal road that leads to the Coromandel Forest Park.

The issue was brought to our notice by an enthusiastic local tramping club that had difficulty encouraging the various parties to discuss access in the area. Eventually the local council secured agreement from an adjacent landowner that his fence indeed blocked the legal road.

To solve the problem, the council built a stile across the fence and installed a culvert in a drain behind it, and the landowner realigned part of a second fence that was blocking the way. The council also formed a vehicle turning area at the end of a maintained section of the road and made a small car park a short distance away.The Department of Conservation helped out by using a GPS to mark the route along the unformed legal road to the forest park boundary, and supplying signs describing the route.

What began as a somewhat unpromising task turned out to be very satisfying as a collaborative approach resulted in a practical solution and public access was restored.

Geoff Holgate, Canterbury

Resolving any access issue requires collaboration between landholders, recreational users and local councils. The largest number of enquiries I receive in Canterbury relate to the identification and clarification of areas of public access, many relating to unformed legal roads. Resolving these enquiries requires me to work closely with the staff of the relevant councils because they are responsible for administration of all roads, other than state highways.

I have also been receiving an increasing number of enquiries about access to popular fishing areas, such as the Hydra Waters tributary of the Rakaia River and the South Branch of the Hurunui River. Ready access to these areas of the rivers is limited in places and I have been working closely with Fish & Game New Zealand and landholders to resolve these enquiries.

The Commission provided funding to two Canterbury groups in recent rounds of its Enhanced Access Fund and it has been a pleasure working with Te Kohaka o Tuhaitara Trust, which was provided with funding to restore sections of the Pegasus Walkway that were damaged by fallen trees and liquefaction in the Canterbury earthquakes. Hurunui Trails Trust has also been provided with funding and I look forward to working with its staff as they implement the Trust's vision for a walking and biking trail through some of the Waipara vineyards.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to groups about the Commission's role and activities, and I regularly speak at events held by organisations and clubs in the Canterbury region. I recently enjoyed meeting with and speaking to a group of Environmental Policy students at Lincoln University.

Working with people to ensure rights are respected, and to enhance existing public access and secure additional public access, will continue to be my focus and challenge.