Access to our natural heritage celebrated at parliamentary awards ceremony
Six of New Zealand’s champions of public access were recognised on Tuesday for their achievements in enhancing public access and offering new opportunities for New Zealanders to experience our great outdoors. The six were presented with awards at a parliamentary ceremony hosted by Associate Minister for Primary Industries Louise Upston.
The awards are an annual event organised by the New Zealand Walking Access Commission, and Commission chief executive Eric Pyle said the award winners’ efforts were representative of a growing grassroots movement developing trails and facilitating public access across our country.
“Thousands of New Zealanders have taken part in activities over the past year to help improve public access to our outdoors,” Mr Pyle said.
“From campaigners who helped us all buy a beach to add to our national park, to a volunteer trust opening a walking track that will be used by 60,000 in its first year, these six deserve particular recognition for their achievements.”
The 2017 Walking Access Champion award winners are:
- Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange, who gifted 53,000 hectares in Central Otago, and Russell Hamilton, his local manager, who is creating a track network for public use.
- Rod Eatwell, the largest private landowner on the Queen Charlotte Track, who at age 88 still maintains the track and has extended it to a lookout on his land.
- Duane Major and Adam Gard’ner, who led the public campaign that saw more than 40,000 people donate to buy a beach in Awaroa Inlet and add it to Abel Tasman National Park.
- Te Araroa Wellington Trust, a volunteer group that established the Paekakariki-Pukerua Bay escarpment track, which will be walked by more than 60,000 people in its first year.
- Nelson Tasman Cycle Trails Trust, who are building trails for cyclists around their region, including working on a 175km Great Taste Trail loop track.
- Whareroa Guardians Community Trust, who have worked tirelessly since 2007 to build tracks, plant natives and trap predators in a farm reserve on the Kāpiti Coast.
“We hope these awards serve to inspire all New Zealanders about what is possible when we work together to make the best of our special and wild places,” Mr Pyle said.
Their stories: Walking Access Champion award recipients
Russell Hamilton and Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange
Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange gifted 53,000 hectares of land in Central Otago for protection of access in perpetuity under a QEII National Trust covenant. Along with his local manager, Mr Hamilton, Mr Lange is creating a track network that exceeds Overseas Investment Office obligations.
Well in advance of formal easements being in place, tracks and routes were already marked and signposted across Glencoe and Coronet Peak Stations, and the local community and tourists visiting the area have been active in using and helping contribute to the maintenance of these tracks.
Visitors to the Arrowtown area have a wide range of walks ranging from less than an hour to multi-day trips that link with neighbouring conservation land. Further mountain bike tracks are proposed that will further enhance the opportunities available.
This award is given in recognition of their positive and proactive approach to access and conservation in New Zealand by a foreign landowner and local manager.
At 88 years of age, Mr Eatwell, the largest private landowner on the Queen Charlotte Track, still works continually to maintain his section of the track. He is also currently taking steps to ensure public access across the track remains enduring.
In the early 1980s, when opening up tramping tracks was popular, the Commissioner of Crown Lands proposed the idea of a track along the Kenepuru Ridge to landowner Rod Eatwell. Two old bridle tracks had been reopened in the Queen Charlotte Sound, and joining them up to form a walkway was a Lands & Survey Department priority. Mr Eatwell was right behind the project. With his slasher, wheelbarrow and shovel he opened a ridge section on his land. Inspired by Rod’s efforts, other landowners joined in. In 1991 when the ‘joined up’ Queen Charlotte Track was officially opened, Rod was there to cut the cake.
He has created a path up to Eatwell's Lookout off the main track that provides unparalleled 360deg views across the Marlborough Sounds and his handmade series of quirky signs add something special to each track visitor's experience.
His own words show why he is a more than worthy Walking Access Champion: “If people do something for people that they love and enjoy, and if I can keep the minds of young people wholesome and loving the outdoors, that's an embellishment for society”
Duane Major and Adam Gard’ner
2016 started with a campaign for public access that captured the hearts and minds of thousands of New Zealanders. After a Christmas dinner discussion, friends Duane Major and Adam Gard’ner launched a Givealittle crowdfunding effort that saw more than 40,000 people, mostly New Zealanders, donate more than $2 million dollars towards buying seven hectares of beach in Awaroa Inlet.
Following the purchase, the beach was donated to the Department of Conservation, where it now forms part of the Abel Tasman National Park, forever held in public hands for the enjoyment of all. The Department of Conservation will lead a restoration project, protecting the sand dunes and clearing weeds to restore habitat for coastal birds.
The high profile of the campaign to buy Awaroa Inlet raised awareness of the Queen’s Chain and the value New Zealanders place on free and ready access to our beautiful outdoor spaces. Mr Major and Mr Gard’ner’s effort have not only ensured public ownership of a stunning beach, but helped thousands of New Zealanders to recognise the importance of enduring access.
Te Araroa Wellington Trust
The Wellington branch of Te Araroa Trust has been nominated for its work creating the popular Paekakariki-Pukerua Bay Escarpment Track on the Kāpiti Coast, which opened in April 2016. Many plaudits have been given for its quality and the outstanding views and experience on offer. Estimates are that some 60,000 people will walk this track in its first year.
This track was complex to arrange, involving negotiations with private landholders, Kiwirail, and NZTA – meaning arrangements needed to be made to fit with farm, rail and traffic considerations. The all-volunteer trust can be rightly proud of their achievement, which now forms a link in the national Te Araroa Trail, enhancing access to the outdoors for New Zealanders and overseas visitors.
As well as the recreational and public health benefits of the track, a significant and positive impact has also been felt by Paekakariki businesses, where cafes, the bar and the local store have all seen a rise in patronage of walkers seeking refreshment at the end of their journey.
Nelson Tasman Cycle Trails Trust
The Nelson Tasman Cycle Trust has worked for the past seven years to improve public access to the region’s outdoors. The two Great Rides under the auspices of the Trust – the 38km Dun Mountain Trail and the 100km Great Taste Trail – provide certain and enduring access for cycling, walking and commuting, sometimes to areas not previously accessible.
With more than 500 volunteers contributing to the Trust’s work, ably led by Ms Gillian Wratt and her team of trustees, the Trust has links throughout the Nelson Tasman area to a wide range of cyclists, community groups and others. Local secondary school students have contributed by helping to build bridges and cattle stops, and prisoners undertaking periodic detention have helped clear an area of bush to make room for a track.
The Trust is working on lengthening the Great Taste Trail, currently more than 100km long, into a full 175km loop track. Already the Trail is growing in popularity, with 208,000 riders in 2015, a 10% increase on the year before. Much of this growth came from domestic tourism, with international tourist numbers also growing.
The Trust’s work is also contributing to regional economic development, with trails following routes that include local food and wine producers, artists, and horticultural production. Increasing domestic and international tourism means more money flowing into the Nelson Tasman economy.
Whareroa Guardians Community Trust
The Whareroa Guardians Community Trust works tirelessly to enhance public access on a significant section of land on the Kāpiti Coast, between Queen Elizabeth Park and the Akatarawa Forest Park. Since 2007 more than 50,000 plants have been planted by a small but active group of volunteers, and since public access was opened in 2011 the Whareroa Farm Reserve has been enjoyed by many.
In the last year, a series of new public trails were opened, which are already proving popular. They have also been responsible for trapping over 3,000 predators since 2013, leading to an increase in native birds, and promoting access culture through heritage walks.
These trails include the 1.5km Catchment View Track, providing access to a historic water intake used by US Marines during the Second World War. Other paths provide walking, cycling and horse riding access across the park, including to the 720m high Mount Wainui.
The Trust continues to work on a range of projects across the farm, including restoration of native forest and wetland areas, in accordance with a plan jointly established with the Department of Conservation.