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New park proposed for West Coast

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

Federated Mountain Clubs is campaigning for a ‘Wild Rivers Park’ on the West Coast, calling for greater protection of more than 5000km2 of conservation land.

The park would encompass two large tracts of land on either side of Westland Tai Poutini National Park, stretching from Mt Aspiring National Park to the south and Arthur’s Pass National Park to the north. The land includes 517km of tramping tracks and 84 DOC huts, along with 75 glaciers, 122 peaks over 2000m and 3330km of waterways. 

The land is predominantly Stewardship Land with a relatively low level of legal protection. FMC says the park would help protect the land from mining and hydro schemes which have been proposed in the area. It’s not clear whether the park would have the same level of protection as a national park.

The idea forms part of FMC’s ‘KiwiShare’ campaign promotion to get political parties to support policies that help backcountry recreation. Other policies include giving Kiwis first dibs on hut bookings, more funding for kauri dieback research and more money for DOC.

Busy week for search and rescue 

Search and rescue personnel were busy over the past week, with four operations across the country.

A 17-year-old hunter was rescued from Aorangi Forest Park after he became separated from his friend and was injured falling down a bank, Stuff reports. After spending a night in an emergency sleeping sack, the injured man found his friend, who had stayed at Washpool Hut, the next day. But the pair became separated again on their walk out to the Pinnacles car park and he had to spend another night in the bush. Fortunately, he was able to call for help using his cellphone and search and rescue volunteers reached him at about 1am and he was helped to walk out.

A couple were also rescued from a stream on Mt Te Aroha after failing to return from a canyoning trip. Bay of Plenty newspaper Sun Live reports the couple became lost but had left trip intentions with friends and a search was launched at 7pm. They were found about 10pm.

A pig hunter feared missing in Northland walked out of the bush on his own and was reported ‘safe and well’ on Thursday, the Northern Advocate reports. His hunting partner raised the alarm after they became separated the previous night and a search operation was launched that afternoon. However, the man walked out near Whananaki at about 6.15pm.

And a tramper was flown from a hut near Lake Ohau after becoming injured and unable to walk out. The Otago Daily Times reports the man was picked up from Maitland Hut and flown to Dunedin Hospital with moderate injuries.

Meanwhile, the life of a stalwart of Fiordland is being celebrated. Helicopter pilot Bill Black MBE, who flew over 500 search and rescue operations in the region, died in Invercargill last week, aged 76. DOC director-general Lou Sanson said he was a brilliant pilot and a pioneer in deer recovery.

“He possessed the ability to roll a durry or pack a pipe while flying the helicopter with his knees,” Sanson said. “Based out of Te Anau, Bill is credited, at one stage in his career, with the most helicopter hours as a pilot in the world.”

New focus for Walking Access Commission

Improving cycling access and minimising environmental damage from public access are among the new priorities for the Walking Access Commission.

Primary Industries Minister Damien O’Connor, has set three priorities for the commission and, curiously, none of them relate to improving walking access. The new priorities are:

  1. Unlocking the potential of Māori heritage and history
  2. Minimising the environmental impacts of public access to the outdoors
  3. Incorporating cycling access alongside walking access negotiations and development.

The commission has played a crucial role in negotiating public access over private land, and in gaining public access through conditions on land bought by foreign buyers. 

It comes after the commission received a boost in the recent budget, its funding doubling to $3.6m.

New Westport trail

Work has started on a new 55km trail between Westport and Charleston on the West Coast. The walking and cycle trail mostly follows the coast around Cape Foulwind and through gold rush heritage sites and is expected to open in 2022. Work on the first section – 5.8km between Westport and Carters Beach – started last month and the project is expected to employ 30 people.

Dog blamed for kiwi death

A dog is suspected of killing five kiwi in Northland, the latest in a long string of kiwi deaths in the region.

The Northland Age reports the kiwi were killed in the Okaihau area over the past fortnight. A dog has been caught and DOC is conducting DNA tests to see if it is responsible for the attacks. It comes after six kiwi were killed by dogs in 2018 and eight in 2015. But the worst incident occurred in 1987 when a single dog killed an estimated 500 kiwi in Waitangi Forest in six weeks.