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Brewster Glacier loses millions of tonnes of ice

There's more snow (and ash) on the glaciers, but ice loss has been substantial. Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King, NIWA

A wrap of the biggest stories and best writing about the outdoors from New Zealand and around the world. 

Brewster Glacier has lost an estimated 13 million cubic metres of ice over three years, enough to supply the entire country’s drinking water for the same period, according to scientists.

The glacier is a popular destination for trampers, lying above Brewster Hut near Haast Pass in Mt Aspiring National Park. The findings come after Niwa and Victoria University’s annual glacier survey, where 50 glaciers are photographed from the air (the latest survey has been captured in a stunning video of the Alps). The survey has been carried out every year since 1977 and has found the amount of ice in the Alps has shrunk by 30 per cent.

Even counting the loss at Brewster, this year recorded more snow than the previous two years, despite the Alps being coated in a layer of ash from the Australian bush fires.

DOC launches new booking system

DOC has launched a new booking system, allowing backcountry hut pass holders to book huts online for the first time. 

Trampers will have to create an online account to book facilities and pass holders need to send a photo of their pass to have it verified. It is not yet clear whether the pass will be able to be used at all of DOC’s bookable huts.

Federated Mountain Clubs say it has been a long struggle to get DOC to develop a booking system which accommodates the backcountry hut pass and has welcomed the change.

In total, 38 campgrounds, 20 huts and 24 lodges, cabins and cottages can now be booked for 2020/21. A further nine campsites, five huts and four lodges will open for bookings in July and August.

Little progress on dieback plan

A national plan for tackling kauri dieback has been hampered with delays and some councils are cutting funding to manage the tree-killing disease.

Newsroom reports it’s been 30 months since the government announced it was developing a National Pest Management Plan for kauri dieback which would provide a national framework, funding and rules for managing dieback. Without a nationally-funded plan, Auckland Council is proposing to defer some dieback funding as Covid-19 impacts its budget.

Meanwhile, a Northland iwi is creating a kauri sanctuary on ancestral land near Kerikeri after getting a $6.25m grant from the government. The money will be used for pest-proof fencing, boardwalks, quarantine stations and other conservation work. It’s not clear whether there will be public access to the sanctuary.

New Zealand’s famous ‘spokesbird’

RNZ has published a profile of New Zealand’s most famous bird, Sirocco the kakapo.

The bird has more than 230,000 followers online and his Facebook posts reached more than 3.5m people in the past year. The 23-year-old now flies around the country in private aircraft in his role as ‘spokesbird’ and is insured for nearly $80,000.

Concession payments put on hold 

DOC is waiving concession fees for about 1000 businesses after sustained pressure from the outdoor tourism industry. 

Tourism operators on conservation land have to pay DOC a fee to operate, but many have been struggling with the lack of customers due to Covid-19 and have been calling for assistance. The fees will now be put on hold until mid-2021. Milford Sound Tourism Board chair told Stuff it could result in lower prices for tourists and trampers.

DOC taken to court over tahr plan

Forest and Bird is going to the High Court to get a ruling on DOC’s tahr control plan, which it says breaks the law. 

Newsroom reports the environmental organisation believes the plan breaches the National Parks Act, which requires introduced animals to be exterminated. DOC’s tahr plan states it will avoid shooting bull tahr, which are prized by hunters, but conservation groups argue the exemption will result in further environmental damage. It comes after tahr numbers were estimated at 34,000, more than three times the required level.

Wild West station for sale

A 364ha station bordering Whanganui National Park has been put on the market, which includes a replica town straight out of a Western movie.

Stuff reports the town cost about $8m to build and has 10 period buildings, including a licensed saloon and a courthouse and can accommodate 22 people. Nestled on the edge of the national park and surrounded by native bush, it could be the perfect place for a wealthy tramper (it’s listed for $11.7m) with a Western obsession.

New national park in Australia

New South Wales has purchased a 1534km2 station in the Outback to create a new national park. RNZ reports the property is home to 25 threatened species and aboriginal artefacts and tools.

Hut to hut in the Dolomites

The New York Times has published an incredible feature from a photojournalist who went on a 10-day hike through the Dolomites in Italy. The 120km track includes 30 rifugios (enormous Italian huts) and weaves between incredible rocky spires the region is renowned for – one for the bucket list in a post-Covid world.