Review of the Walking Access Act

Commission achievements and progress to date

Achievements since the Commission’s establishment in 2008 have been wide-ranging. Since 2010, it has created 17 new gazetted walkways, with a number currently in various stages of progress. These in-progress walkways include more than 20 additional walkways for foot, and mountain bike access on Coronet Peak and Glencoe Stations near Wanaka.

These tracks have been a joint effort between the Commission, Soho Property Ltd (who hold the Crown Pastoral Leases), QEII National Trust, and Queenstown Lakes District Council, and are a significant local drawcard for tourists.

Since 2012/2013, the Commission has negotiated a total of 300 access opportunities, of which 48 have involved formal access. The Commission has also resolved 2,715 enquiries and 329 disputes. Under the EAF, the Commission has 114 projects across New Zealand, awarding a total of $999,233 since the first funding round in 2010.

Examples of the Commission’s major achievements over the last 10 years are detailed below.

Major achievements

Walkways established

The Dry Acheron Track in Canterbury was the first walkway established under the Act after its enactment in 2008. This track created access along parts of the Dry Acheron Stream to the Big Ben Range in the Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park.

In 2014, the Commission gazetted the Westmere Walkway near Whanganui, traversing rolling countryside and providing views over Whanganui City and the Whanganui River.

The Castledowns Wetland Walkway was gazetted in 2017. Located near Dipton in Southland, it passes through a Rural Women New Zealand forestry block, links with an existing walkway to nearby limestone cliffs, and connects up to one of the few remaining flax wetlands in the region. The area was previously very difficult to access.

Disputes resolved

In 2010 to 2011, a Commission RFA worked with Ruapehu District Council and a landowner on Stone Jug Road (south-east of Taumarunui). Many anglers were neglecting an existing river track (it was heavily overgrown) and cutting across private land without permission. The landowner agreed to construction of a stile over a fence, along with a string of access signs marking out an agreed route.

In 2016, the Commission helped restore access to public conservation land, including the Kaimai- Mamaku Forest Park. Locked gates were preventing the public from using the only access that ran through to blocks of public conservation land. A Commission investigation concluded that one of the gates was illegally blocking a legal road. It was subsequently removed.

Provision of information on public access

In 2010, the Commission released WAMS, an online mapping tool that draws from a range of sources to show nationwide public access rights. The tool has been continually upgraded and altered to improve usability and functionality for stakeholders. WAMS was accessed by 20,405 unique visitors in its first year, increasing to 65,806 in 2017-2018. A user survey (completed in 2016) found that 98 percent of users surveyed found the information provided useful, and 97 percent would continue to use the system. This represented an increase since 2015 from 93 percent and 95 percent respectively.

In response to calls for a ‘one-stop shop’ for information on access, the Commission developed and launched Find My Adventure in 2018. This allows users to search for trails by region, activity type or by trail types (for example, hard walks, short trails or loop tracks). It also includes information about what trails are like, how to locate them and any conditions for walkers to beware of, such as closures for lambing.

This resource includes all walks that comprise Te Araroa, all of DOC’s great walks, day walks and short walks, the rides that comprise Ngā Haerenga (New Zealand Cycle Trail) and all of the Commission’s tracks and trails. The Commission is also working alongside territorial authorities nationwide to include tracks that they manage. From the launch of Find My Adventure on 26 November 2018 to 14 August 2019, it received 9,418 unique visitors.

The Commission has also played a significant role in developing resources to manage and guide behaviour of users of public access areas. In 2010, it published the New Zealand Outdoor Access Code (the Code), developed collaboratively by organisations representing landholders, local government and users. The Code outlines responsible behaviour for the public when accessing private land in rural environments. In addition, it sets out the rights and responsibilities for both recreational users and landholders.

As well as the Code, the Commission has developed a number of educational resources and programmes for teachers. These aim to help build awareness and knowledge of how to behave responsibly in the outdoors from a young age. Examples include PowerPoint resources to assist teachers to talk about walking the dog, being fire safe or general behaviour in the country, and animated videos with scenario cards to educate students about day walks, accessing public land and how to behave on land with cultural or spiritual significance.

Projects funded

In 2017, the Te Wairere Waterfall track (from the Stone Store in Kerikeri to the Wairoa Stream and a very impressive waterfall) was opened. This track was developed through the effort of several community groups, particularly Rotary New Zealand and Vision Kerikeri, and two funding contributions through the EAF. grant given to build signs and track markers to help

Funding from the EAF has also been used to help improve existing tracks. A good example is the $5,000 people walk local bush trails in Manawa Karioi. Further, in 2018, the Hikuai District Trust received

$11,000 to help complete stage two of the 25km Pauanui-Tairua Cycle and Walkway. When completed, the trail will allow residents and tourists to walk and cycle safely between Pauanui and Tairua.

In 2015, the EAF was reviewed. This process revealed that in addition to the 72 projects enabled through the fund (as at April 2015), the EAF served as a relationship-building tool between interested community groups and the RFAs. This has a positive impact on the reputation of the Commission, and helped broaden public awareness of both it and the Act. Other key findings included:

  • community projects supported by the EAF had outcomes that were well-aligned to the organisational goals of the Commission;
  • overall there was a high level of satisfaction with the application process from successful grantees; and
  • the EAF had been successful in leveraging community funds from third parties and utilising volunteer time.

The review also made recommendations for improvements to the EAF, including that the Commission:

  • use both examples, and clear and understandable priority wording, to ensure prospective applicants understand the type of projects the Commission is looking to fund;
  • address instances where grant recipients have failed to acknowledge the Commission on material generated through the fund (such as signage and media reports); and
  • formalise a process or monitoring system for collecting and analysing outcomes level data from funded EAF projects.

Strategic regional projects

In recent years, the Commission has also driven a number of strategic regional projects. These include:

  • improving and coordinating public access needs in Taranaki through development of the Taranaki Tracks and Trails Strategy 2040;
  • connecting fast-growing towns in the area north and south of the Waikato River;
  • planning for, and promoting public access in, the rapidly growing Auckland peri-urban environment; and
  • evaluating public access in the South Island high country to help plan for access in 50 to 100 years.

Opening public access to priority areas

One of the TOR questions for the review asks whether the Act been effective in opening up public access to the priority areas identified in section 11.

It is not clear from the Commission’s reporting on achievements to date, how these priorities have been applied to access opportunities that have been created. However, many of the new walkways established and owned by the Commission successfully connect people to those priority areas. Examples include the Tunnel Beach walkway in Otago, the Stony River (Hangatahua) Walkway in Taranaki, the Huka Falls Aratiatia Walk in Waikato, and the Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway in Northland. Each connects people with parts of the coast, rivers or lakes, and to areas of scenic or recreational value.6

Areas for improvement

Many concerns about the Commission’s performance and functioning relate to the amount of funding it receives. The Commission has stated that due to lack of resources, it is unable to engage in:

  • ongoing management of new or existing walkways;
  • acquisition of easements or other legal rights of access over private land to extend the scope of access;
  • funding of track construction;
  • regular and major upgrades to WAMS;
  • proactively seeking out priority areas for work; and
  • responding within a reasonable timeframe to all enquiries and requests received.

Concerns about the Commission’s responsiveness has been a dominant and reoccurring theme in previous stakeholder surveys. In the 2016 WAMS and Responsiveness Survey, 26 per cent of respondents said their reason for making contact remained unresolved. Another review indicated that while respondents felt the Commission was responsive, they noted its limited resources. Other concerns included that responses were not always comprehensive, and at times were very slow, and that the Commission’s approach was, at times, inconsistent.

Another area for improvement linked to limited resources was that stakeholders sometimes felt the Commission did not represent or understand regional differences. This was more often in areas without an RFA nearby. This has led to a perception that the Commission is a ‘Wellington-based’ entity, or at times is too South Island focused.

Despite the Code being published in 2010, a survey in 2015 found considerable demand for more information about responsible behaviour in the outdoors. This included calls for information to be located at the sites of access, to help remind both local and international tourists how to behave on private and public land. The survey found that

61 per cent of people felt there was not enough information available. The Commission’s role in guiding and managing visitor behaviour is addressed in greater detail under Challenges and future requirements.

The 2016 survey also highlighted a common perception that the Commission has too few powers to enforce access where it legally exists, but is not being provided. This can occur when walking access includes the use of unformed legal roads. While the Commission has no responsibility or statutory function for securing or managing access on legal roads, it does encourage local government to comply with and enforce the right to public access on unformed legal roads. Wider issues about unformed legal roads that emerged throughout the review process are dealt with under Partnerships.