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January 2021 Issue
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We don’t know how lucky we are

The Whirinaki Waterfall Loop Track offers an excellent taste of the prehistoric podocarp forest. Photo: Matthew Cattin

How lucky are we to be Kiwis? In a year that kept so many indoors, Aotearoa sure dodged a bullet or two in 2020. Reflecting on the difficult year, I was thrilled to count more than 40 days spent tramping, including three Great Walks and 13 new huts bagged. I’m sure to some of our more intrepid readers, 40 days is a disappointing effort, but for me it’s a record – and all achieved despite lockdowns, full-time work, and living in suburban Mt Wellington.

I don’t think we appreciate how lucky we are, and thru-hiking filmmaker Elina Osborne agrees. In December, she set out to walk Te Araroa Trail, meeting the locals, sharing huts and staying with trail angels. She says she was walking for her friends overseas, whose thru-hike plans were cancelled by Covid.

Despite our good fortunes, Kiwis can be irritatingly lax with the pandemic. The contact tracer app has proven vitally effective in keeping on top of community transmissions, and although it takes just seconds to scan a QR code when entering a shop, so many waltz right in. It’s the same mentality faced by those protecting Auckland’s kauri.

I interviewed some of the key players at Auckland Council, and boy do they have a tough job on their hands. They’re doing fantastic work opening tracks this summer and striking a balance between conservation and recreation, yet a selfish minority flaunt the rules, walk off track and skip the boot cleaning stations.

Some don’t believe in the science, and some choose to ignore it lest it impact their freedom, and if this all sounds eerily similar to the pandemic, it is, but with one major difference: while most people will recover from Covid, every kauri infected by the dieback pathogen will die.

The idea of losing kauri is haunting, but it also serves as a reminder to get out and appreciate what we have while it’s still there – you never know what’s around the corner. Take Whirinaki Forest, it’s one of our nine top hiking destinations for 2021. The prehistoric podocarp forest is perhaps the best in Aotearoa, but if not for the efforts of conservationists, it would have been lost to logging in the ‘70s. A national treasure gone. The glorious arches of Oparara could disappear in a tectonic tantrum at any time, and the same goes for Waitomo.

With tourists gone and the highways empty, there has never been a better time than now to check out our backyard – just don’t leave it too late.