Earlier this year, I received a string of letters from readers sharing dismay at their experience of the Lake Waikaremoana Track. Unreliable water taxis and shuttle services, huts and tracks in disrepair. In short, not the ‘Great Walk’ experience they were expecting.
Even before these letters began arriving in my inbox, Wilderness had been trying to talk to Tūhoe to get an update on when a closed section of track on the walk, which had been damaged by a landslip, would be reopened. It was a frustrating and ultimately fruitless exercise as no-one at Tūhoe was able or willing to comment.
For those unaware of the current state of play in Te Urewera, DOC no longer manages Te Urewera or the Lake Waikaremoana Track. That role has fallen to Tūhoe after the Te Urewera Act 2014 handed the area back to the iwi. Under the Act, Te Urewera National Park became a legal entity with the ‘rights, powers, duties and liabilities of a legal person’. As a result, the 212,673ha park was removed from the national parks network, and from Crown ownership, and a board was formed to act ‘on behalf of Te Urewera’.
Three years later, a new management plan unlike any other park plan in New Zealand was introduced. Te Kawa o Te Urewera is based ‘not on rules, but on traditions, beliefs and relationships’. As a result, activities in the park will be guided by values, led by the principle of what is best for Te Urewera, and focused on preserving the natural features, cultural heritage and providing public use and enjoyment.
Tūhoe leader Tamati Kruger summed the plan up succinctly: “Te Kawa o Te Urewera is about people management for the benefit of the land.”
In this context, I can understand why Tūhoe did not rush to repair tracks or replace closed shuttle and taxi services. And while we couldn’t get answers to our questions at the time, we set the wheels in motion for our writer Jacqui Gibson to sit down with Tūhoe representatives in late August to find out what’s been going on.
Now, 10 months after we first approached Tuhoe, we finally have some answers in relation to the future of the track and why so many walkers last year felt less than satisfied by their experience of walking around Lake Waikaremoana. You can read Jacqui’s story.
I support Tūhoe’s goal in regards to how visitors interact with Te Urewera and the management plan Te Kawa o Te Urewera – it is a beautiful concept. The past few years have been, as tribal leader Tamati Kruger says, a chance for Tūhoe to reconnect with their land. If they can improve their communication, then we can all hope fewer visitors will have reason to complain.