Celebrating our access culture


03/12/2014 11:28am

In this column New Zealand Walking Access Commission Board Member Maggie Bayfield celebrates some of our access champions, and provides a timely reminder to be thankful for the free access we have to many beautiful places in New Zealand.

As we start thinking of summer holidays and adventures, it is a timely reminder to be thankful for the free access we have to many beautiful places in New Zealand. From the time Queen Victoria determined there should be a Queen’s Chain along many of our rivers and much of our coast, New Zealand has enjoyed a culture of access to the outdoors.

The New Zealand Walking Access Commission recently recognised several champions of access who have contributed hugely to maintaining and enhancing that culture of being able to get to our special places – John Acland, John Aspinall and Te Araroa Trust.

John Acland has been involved at national and local levels in ensuring the public have free, certain and enduring access to the outdoors for many years. John chaired the first panel, appointed in 2005, to investigate the issue of loss of access with changing land use and populations. John, a high country farmer and access advocate, led the debate and also chaired the New Zealand Walking Access Commission from its inception until 2011. His passion and determination to achieve sensible and practical outcomes for everyone has achieved a way forward in what has been, at times, a heated issue.

The Commission has established a tertiary scholarship in John Aspinall’s name to recognise the contribution of John and his family to access. John was a panel member and then board member for three years before his death in 2011. Not only was he a strong voice in the formative years of the Commission but he also led by example. Farming at Mt Aspiring Station, John’s family has allowed free access across the farm for visitors to the national park. And it’s not just a few people – last year 70,000 people passed through the Aspinall’s property. This wonderful generosity is being continued by his son who now runs the farm.

Te Araroa Trust has achieved the mammoth task of creating a national walking trail, which spans the length of the country. The Trust was formed in 1994 to pick up the idea of a long trail first mooted in 1975. The trail, opened in December 2011, has involved an enormous effort in scoping the trail and talking to and working with landholders. Although largely complete, work still continues on improving various parts of the trail.

As well as a culture of getting into the outdoors, New Zealand also has a strong culture of private property rights. If you are out and about over summer please make sure you know you are on public land or have the permission of the landholder to be there. Respect and goodwill by all parties are important ingredients in ensuring we maintain valuable access to our treasured places.

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