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Taranaki Crossing funding under scrutiny

Mt Taranaki viewed from the Pouakai Range. Photo: DOC

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Questions are being asked about the multi-million dollar track upgrades planned in Taranaki as little work has been completed more than three years into the project.

RNZ reports that $23m has been budgeted for work on upgrades in and around the national park, but so far little has been done and DOC has refused to release details of the spending – an OIA request by a local iwi took six months and was heavily redacted. 

In 2017, the government announced a $3.4m upgrade to the Pouakai Crossing, but RNZ reports the first part of the upgrade was only just completed – a new 850m boardwalk on the Mangorei Track. In 2018, a further $13.3m was announced to extend the track to Oakura Beach, but details of this work was also being questioned.

It comes as the Crown and iwi are in the final stages of negotiations over a treaty settlement for Taranaki Maunga. The Taranaki Daily News reports the agreement will include an apology and cultural redress, but not any commercial or financial compensation. Previous announcements have said the mountain will now be known as Taranaki Mounga, rather than the dual Mt Taranaki/Mt Egmont and the name of the national park changing to Te Papakura o Taranaki. 

Into the Wild bus moved 

The iconic bus from Into the Wild, one of the most well-read outdoors books of all time, has been removed after a number of hikers have been rescued and two have died attempting to visit it.

Christopher McCandless hiked to the bus in a remote forest in Alaska in 1992 and later died in the bus after becoming trapped by a rising river. McCandless’s life and death was the subject of Jon Krakauer’s 1996 best seller Into the Wild, which was made into a film in 2007. The bus has since become a pilgrimage for those seeking to live an unmaterialistic life in the wilderness.

The New York Times reports the bus was removed this month by government officials in a bid to stop people making a pilgrimage to the site. There have been 17 search and rescue operations, including two deaths, on the route. The bus was helicoptered out and is being kept at an undisclosed location and may be displayed in future.

DOC hints at campsite season pass

DOC has said it is considering launching a national season’s pass for campsites this summer. 

While hut passes have long been a way for regular trampers to save money, campers have had to pay full price while rates have steadily increased.

But Stuff reports the department is investigating the costs of introducing a season pass for this summer.

It’s come as there has been renewed criticism of freedom camping, with some calling for greater restrictions to be in place before international tourists return. A Kinloch business owner has suggested making DOC campsites free in a bid to contain the mess associated with freedom campers.

DOC already sells discount campsite passes, but they are restricted to rental campervans and members of the NZ Motorcaravan Association.

According to DOC’s annual report, in 2018/19 it made $8m in revenue from campsites, up from $5.2m in 2014/15, while revenue from huts was $2.3m, up from $1.7m in 2014/15.

DOC wants out of Taupō reserve

The future of a Lake Taupō track is up in the air as DOC has sought to end its lease on the land, citing budget cuts. The Waikato Times reports DOC has leased Whakamoenga Point Lakeshore Reserve from Taupō District Council for $63,000 a year, but it now wants out of the agreement as it was ‘no longer part of its core business’. 

However, the council is also reluctant to take over the lease, which expires at the end of July, and is planning to consult the public on what to do. The reserve includes the 3km Rangatira Point Track, which attracts thousands of walkers each year, and has Māori rock carvings and evidence of human habitation from the 14th century.

Nelson trampers oppose track closures

Trampers in Nelson are calling on the local council to stop closing tracks when there is a high fire risk. 

RNZ reports that the local branch of Federated Mountain Clubs believed the reserves were closed unnecessarily last summer and it wanted Nelson City Council to change its approach. The council closed 14 reserves in January and February, while DOC closed more than half a dozen reserves, including much of Mt Richmond Forest Park. The council said the closures were to keep people safe and reserves were closed based on advice from Fire and Emergency. 

Mallory Everest debate continues

Did Mallory and Irvine beat Hillary and Tenzing to the summit of Everest? It’s a question that’s still debated nearly a century after George Mallory and Andrew Irvine went missing while attempting to climb the world’s highest peak. 

The Wire has published an excellent three-part summary on Mallory’s experience on the mountain, including his role in the first European party to explore the mountain in 1921, a detailed account of the pair’s ill-fated 1924 summit attempt, and the discovery of Mallory’s body in 1999.