Examining access in the South Island High Country

Aoraki Mt Cook

20/06/2017 11:43am

There’s two ways that access can be expanded across New Zealand. The first approach is to take opportunities wherever they arise. The second way is to look strategically at an area, identify what is needed and then seek opportunities to fill that need.

The Commission has been actively engaged in the first approach since it began, but in recent times we have been investigating what the second approach might look like. It isn’t an either/or proposition, as both methods can be utilised.

As a pilot of what a strategic approach to access might look like, the Commission has begun a project to look at access in the South Island High Country – what’s working, what’s not, where the gaps are and what people’s dreams are for public access in 50 or 100 years’ time.

In late May, the Commission’s Canterbury regional field advisor and communications manager met with landholders, recreationalists, tourism operators and central and local government staff in the Mackenzie Country. Over the coming months, this will be followed by discussions in the Queenstown Lakes and Waitaki districts.

In the Mackenzie, locals are feeling the pinch of the confluence of rapidly increasing tourist numbers combined with a small ratepayer base for providing infrastructure. One landholder told the Commission about a popular track on his land which has seen use more than double in the last five years, to more than 70,000 people annually.

Tourists spend money, helping local businesses to thrive, but they also take a toll on the infrastructure, from campgrounds to toilets to roads and more. How local communities organise to ensure they receive the positives while minimising the drawbacks will be a key question in the coming years.

For landholders, recreation and tourism offer the opportunity to diversify their income streams, through things like guided tours, accommodation and more. These new economic opportunities can help to buttress against the lean years of farming, while enabling landholders to share their love for the places they live with guests from near and far.

At the same time, locals have chosen to live in these parts of New Zealand because they too want to experience the outdoors, so ensuring that access is suited to their needs as well as to those of tourists is vital. Access to rivers for fishing, forests for hunting and trails for tramping, cycling and horse-riding is vital.

Later this year, the Commission will publish its report on South Island High Country access, and, together with the key stakeholders across the region, we will plan out the next steps. If you’ve got something you’d like to contribute, please email the Commission’s communications manager Asher Wilson-Goldman at asher.wilson-goldman@walkingaccess.govt.nz.

By Asher Wilson-Goldman, communications manager.

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