A very worrying stat emerged from a chat I had with the Federated Mountain Clubs: that 30 per cent of access points to public conservation land are not legally binding. In fairness, it was an ‘I was told this once by a bloke from DOC’ kind of stat, but one that if anywhere near close to reality, will make every tramper twitch with angst.
While ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ with private landowners may have opened access to a whole host of land that would otherwise be next to impossible to reach, it’s more than a tad worrying these could be removed at the whim of the owner.
Having spoken to landowners around the north-western corner of the Ruahines, this concern is not unfounded. Some were of the opinion that trampers cause them far more strife than it’s worth. They spoke of spooked stock and loss of earnings. The 24-hour access we used to enjoy through these properties has gone and may never return, based on how angry some of these guys were.
So how do we prevent this from happening elsewhere? Trampers have a responsibility to ensure minimal impact and this is something the majority of us know already (typically, it’s the few rather than the many who cause problems). But maybe we could do more; a bottle of wine every now and then as a token of thanks would certainly not go amiss.
But DOC, local councils and the Walking Access Commission have a role too. The more of these access points formalised, the better.
In the case of the Ruahines, DOC had a chance to buy a piece of land in front of the popular Kawhatau Base. This would have secured this fabulous access point for thousands of trampers. But the department chose not to buy it, and now road access to this resource is shut off, seemingly for good.
Why didn’t DOC buy it? We don’t know. Despite repeated requests for comment, DOC’s spokesman refused to talk about the matter. Good one DOC. Nice to see an open Government department letting the public know how it came to a decision that destroyed a fine tramping resource.
Unless informal access is formalised, there’s a realistic chance it could be blocked at any time. We need to keep our eyes peeled; we can’t rely on others to fight on our behalf.