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A remarkable rescue

Dion Reynolds was rescued with Jessica O’Connor after the pair spent 18 days lost in Kahurangi National Park. Photo: Facebook
A wrap of the biggest stories and best writing about the outdoors from New Zealand and around the world.

The successful rescue of two trampers lost for 18 days in Kahurangi National Park made headlines around the world last week.

Dion Reynolds and Jessica O’Connor spent more than two weeks without food after becoming lost and injured in dense bush in the park and were found after a search helicopter spotted smoke from their fire. RNZ interviewed Reynolds the morning after the rescue and he explained how the pair became lost and then injured before hunkering down to await rescue. 

O’Connor spoke to NZ Herald about how she never lost hope. The pilot involved in the search also talked to RNZ about the feeling of euphoria of the successful search. A photo published by NZ Herald showed the tiny clearing of bush the pair were waiting in, giving insight into the difficulties of the search.

Following the rescue, debate shifted to whether the trampers should be charged for breaching the level 3 lockdown. The pair left on the hike on May 8, when overnight hiking was forbidden. The AM Show host Mark Richardson called for police to “throw the book at them” for not abiding by the lockdown. RNZ reports police will not charge the trampers for the lockdown breach.

But a LandSAR spokesperson said the Reynolds and O’Connor did right the thing by staying put near a water source and waiting to be rescued and carrying good equipment. 

The rescue has also resulted in renewed calls for all trampers to carry a PLB when heading into the backcountry. The benefits of PLBs was also highlighted in another recent rescue. The Otago Daily Times reported a hunter was rescued from South Westland after one of a group of four injured their ankle. They had a PLB and were promptly rescued and no search was required.

RNZ has also published an interview with a psychologist who investigates why people freak out when they get lost and what to do to avoid it.

In other search and rescue news, the coroner has released findings after investigating how a man died on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in 2018. The coroner found several factors contributed to the 54-year-old’s death, including insufficient planning, a lack of experience, poor clothing and not understanding the risks. The man was separated from his group while attempting the crossing, and he died of exposure. His body was later found just off the track at Red Crater Ridge.

Body of missing tramper in Ruahines found

A search was launched after a tramper was swept away in a river in Ruahine Forest Park on Monday. Stuff reported the tramper was separated from fellow trampers while crossing the Makaroro River. There had been heavy rain in the region and the rescue effort was delayed due to the weather. 

Sadly, a body was recovered from the river on Tuesday. 

Aoraki plan review restarts

The review of the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park Plan is set to restart after an agreement between DOC and Ngāi Tahu. 

DOC began reviewing the plan, which sets what can and can’t be done in the park, in 2018 and had already released and consulted on a draft plan. However, the review was put on hold in February last year after a High Court ruling on a separate case appeared to set a new precedent for the role of iwi in conservation management.

After the ruling, Ngāi Tahu asked DOC to put the Aoraki review on hold. DOC is now restarting the process and is developing a new draft plan to be released for consultation, but no timeline has been set.

A date to restart the review of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park management plan, which was also placed on hold, has still not been set.

Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) had previously criticised the draft plans due to the proposed number of aircraft concessions and a lack of consultation.

Oparara Arches development criticised

FMC has blasted a proposal to develop tourism infrastructure at the Oparara Arches in Kahurangi National Park.

DOC has started work to upgrade the 16km road to the limestone features, install flush toilets and upgrade and reroute some tracks. But Newsroom reports that FMC president Jan Finlayson believes the project contravenes the conservation and management plans for Kahurangi National Park, putting tourism and economic development ahead of conservation. The Canterbury Conservation Board and Forest and Bird have also raised concerns about the project. Finlayson has written an opinion piece setting out FMC’s opposition. 

It highlights an ongoing tension between economic development and conservation which may heighten as the economy falters due to Covid-19. A group of West Coast leaders recently wrote to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to point out that 120 mining jobs in the region could be created if the government reconsiders projects on conservation land that had been previously rejected. The letter, signed by seven West Coast leaders including from its four councils and two local iwi, advocated for projects including the Te Kuha coal mine and the Waitaha hydro scheme.

Progress on massive predator-free zones

A five-year project to make 3700ha of forest predator-free at Lake Brunner has been given a boost with government funding. The $15.7m project aims to permanently eradicate possums from the forest using a trapping strategy developed by Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP) and will create 12 new jobs.

A 660,000ha predator-free zone has also been proposed that would stretch from Lake Hawea to Lake Wakatipu. The project is being developed by a consortium of conservation groups in the region and the groups are now seeking funding.

DOC has also announced $200,000 of funding for the Pukaha to Palliser Alliance, a conservation group attempting to eradicate pests from 600,000ha in the Wairarapa.

Meanwhile, two takahē have been released at Orokonui Sanctuary near Dunedin in a bid to start a breeding pair.

Trampers trespassed in Auckland

Three trampers have been served trespass notices after walking on closed tracks near Auckland during the Covid lockdown. Stuff reports the trampers were caught after Auckland Council reviewed video footage from cameras set on tracks that had been closed to prevent the spread of kauri dieback disease.

Great reads 

Online science magazine Undark has published a feature on Miramar Peninsula’s efforts to become predator-free, giving an outsider’s perspective on NZ’s pest control obsession. The article details the extreme lengths the community is going to eradicate rats and mustelids, including conducting autopsies on every rat caught. 

CNN has published a feature on a man’s pursuit to gather the seeds of Tasmania’s most endangered trees, hiking the Overland Track through the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. It paints a vivid picture of the 65km track, devoid of tourists due to Covid-19, and the lengths required to save the tree species.

For another good read, The Spinoff has published an essay which makes a convincing case on why the humble jersey is one of the defining elements of New Zealand.

Winter wanderlust

Outside magazine has published a series of incredible time-lapses on its website, with 20 videos featuring stunning footage of wild landscapes around the world, including from the Dolomites, the Grand Canyon and Aotearoa – the perfect kind of travel for the age of the global lockdown.