The Waitakere Ranges will be closed next month, but 34 tracks will be kept open after Auckland Council finally decided the fate of the forest.
Eight tracks will also close in the Hunua Ranges, taking effect on May 1.
A further 10 tracks could be reopened in Waitakere if they are found to be up to standard. Council staff said reopening a multi-day walk and coastal trails in the next 12 months would also be a top priority.
After months of deliberation, the council’s Environment and Community Committee met on Tuesday April 10 to decide how best to safeguard the Waitakere Ranges from kaui dieback disease.
In February, the committee voted to consult on the proposed track closures. Since then, feedback found a significant portion of the public were split between supporting and opposing the move. But council staff said it was a biosecurity issue that had to be managed, and recommended the closures go ahead and the council supported the recommendations.
Out of over 800 pieces of feedback, 24 per cent of submitters supported the closures while 25 per cent thought the proposal didn’t go far enough. Conversely, 43 per cent of respondents felt there were too many closures proposed and that the impact on the community would be too severe.
Submitters living in the Waitakere region were significantly more likely to say there were not enough closures proposed, while submitters living outside of the area tended to think the opposite.
The tracks that will remain open include the Huia and Waitakere dam walks and Pararaha Valley Track from Karekare Beach. A further 10 tracks could remain open if they can be upgraded before May. This includes popular walks such as the Kitekite Track to Kitekite Falls near Piha and the Omanawanui Track from Whatipu.
The criteria for a track to be open was if it was outside of the forest, away from kauri or the track was at a standard where “a person can arrive with clean footwear and gear, walk that track in any weather conditions and not have soil on their shoes”.
The move is expected to cost $1.1m in the 2017/18 financial year, including $440,000 to patrol and enforce (patrols are expected to cost $2.2m a year). Future funding will depend on how much is allocated in council’s long-term plan, which was currently being developed. The draft plan included funding for over 150km of track upgrades, with 100km within the Waitakere Ranges and 300 new hygiene stations.
The council was also working with the Ministry for Primary Industries to implement a Controlled Area Notice for the Hunua and Waitakere ranges, which would require any person entering the area to ensure their footwear and gear was free from visible soil and make it mandatory to use any hygiene station.