News From the Field - December 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 John Gardiner (Northland), and Geoff Holgate (Canterbury).

John Gardiner, Northland

In the last few months I have been working extensively on a task I particularly enjoy, and that is assessing land for public access that has been acquired by an overseas purchaser.

The Overseas Investment Office (OIO) usually makes it a condition on the overseas applicant to consult with the New Zealand Walking Access Commission to determine whether there are any access opportunities that should be secured for the benefit of the people of New Zealand.

I am aware some New Zealanders have concerns about the purchase of rural land by overseas buyers. At least in this situation, some comfort can be had in this opportunity of securing access for the public where none existed before – a condition not imposed on Kiwi purchasers of lands.

In assessing these acquisitions for potential public access, the Commission works to a set of criteria for regional field advisors like me to follow, to ensure that we are consistent in our approach throughout the country.  This criteria is all about looking for access potential where none currently exists; over or to land on the coast, adjoining rivers or lakes, to conservation areas, to areas of scenic or recreational value, or to areas containing sport fish or game.

In Northland most of the OIO cases I have been involved in are commercial forestry blocks – many of which are quite isolated.  Often, large publicly accessibly conservation blocks administered by the Department of Conservation (DOC) are not far away and so, unless there is a particular access need that DOC is not already providing, or a site of special interest within the forest block, no recommendations for public access are made.

Where access opportunities are identified and the access recommendations accepted, I work with representatives of the landholder (e.g. a forestry block manager manager) to ensure the public access proposals are implemented.  In the past, I found many forest managers adopted a “lock-up” approach towards public access but, in more recent times, I have found many of them actually embracing public access.

I get the strong impression that those managers who are positive towards access to their forests have drawn the conclusion that policies that allow for well managed and controlled public access have better social as well as better bottom-line outcomes than a "no access" approach. Many of my regional field advisor colleagues also report that forest managers in their regions are actively seeking managed access arrangements on the evidence that recreationalists discourage illegal and unwanted behaviours that can flourish in areas where access is prohibited.

The bottom line is that forest managers who embrace public access generally have a far greater understanding and more control of what is going on within their forest than forest managers who deny public access and who believe that preventing public access is the most effective approach in reducing risks.

I hope this gives a little insight into the flip-side of overseas purchases of New Zealand land, where good outcomes for the public do occur and, where a similar outcome, if purchased by a New Zealander, would be unlikely.

Geoff Holgate, Canterbury

While summer has started to show itself, our thoughts have been diverted by the recent earthquakes in North Canterbury, Kaikoura and further north. Any disruptions to holiday planning and outdoor activities are minor in relation to the hardships faced by people in these areas, and our thoughts are still with them.

The Commission has been promoting the New Zealand Outdoor Access Code since it was published in June 2010. The Code aims to enhance public knowledge and understanding of responsible behaviour in the outdoors, and to raise awareness of access rights and responsibilities.

When you work hard to secure and maintain public access in the outdoors, it’s always disappointing to find that there are still some people who don’t appear to have ‘got it’ yet. While most people understand and practice responsible behaviour in the outdoors, unfortunately it only takes one or two irresponsible actions to adversely affect public access for everyone.

I have been working on one access dispute for several years where the irresponsible behaviour of a few people resulted in the loss of informal vehicle access to a stretch of the Waimakariri River. Thanks to one farmer’s good will, and in spite of a few ongoing problems with illegal vehicle access, there is now agreed walking access on a marked route to the river. The Waimakariri District Council and Fish & Game New Zealand have teamed up with the Commission to erect signage that clearly sets out the legalities and requirements for public access, and hopefully people wishing to go to the river will behave responsibly to ensure public access is maintained.

I’ve mentioned before the great work that the Rod Donald Banks Peninsula Trust is doing for public access on Banks Peninsula. The Trust and the Department of Conservation (DOC) have been working to re-establish a network of tracks on the peninsula, and I was fortunate recently to be able to attend the formal opening of Te Ara Pātaka/Summit Walkway, on Mt Herbert.

The walkway is a 35km route linking Gebbies Pass on the Lyttelton crater in the west to Hilltop on the Akaroa crater in the east, along with access links from the north and south. It was a unique experience to see people reaching the summit from several locations and converging on Mt Herbert.

The route is a fantastic recreational asset for Banks Peninsula, Christchurch and beyond, and the Trust and DOC have done a great job. The occasion also included a centenary celebration for Harry Ell. He was a Christchurch City councillor and a Member of Parliament, and is particularly remembered for his conservation work around Christchurch's Port Hills, his advocacy for the Summit Road, and construction of the Sign of the Packhorse and other road houses along the Summit Road. One of his great granddaughters spoke and delivered a fitting tribute to his foresight and perseverance.