Treasuring our mountains, as well as our waterways

Mountains for web

14/10/2016 11:36am

Access matters. New board member Robin McNeill discusses the value of the New Zealand Walking Access Commission and the need to value access to our mountains as well as our waterways.

I am delighted to have been appointed to the board of the New Zealand Walking Access Commission. The Commission has an incredibly important, if somewhat understated role.

It seems to me that at all levels the Commission is in very sound heart; former chief executive Mark Neeson did a great job in its establishment and I have every confidence that his successor Eric Pyle will securely position the Commission to become even more useful. I could not be joining the board at a better time.

In the early 1990s, when I began writing the first of my editions of the Moir’s Guide South, which is the definitive guide for the tramping tracks and routes south of the Routeburn Track, it became clear to me that route and track descriptions in the backcountry are in fact pretty simple to record. Indeed, in an environment where only its degradation takes place in time scales faster than the passing of centuries, I could generally rely on route descriptions to remain valid from one edition to the next.

Researching and recording what happens at road ends and how to get into the backcountry, on the other hand, was quite a different matter. Here, I found that roads could stretch a bit further, or shrink between guidebook revisions, depending on roading budgets, local council work, farm ownership changes and Department of Conservation efforts.

I also discovered that it wasn’t always easy to find out who to contact to obtain permission for trampers and hunters to cross farm land. Worse, there were some parts of the country where it was completely unclear to me as to who owned what: was that bit of bush I was planning to cross part of public conservation land, or was it private, in which case did I need to ask permission to cross it? And if I did need permission, from whom?

Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if there was a way to make all this information easily available to the public? I had to wait for the internet as we know it to get invented and the advent of the New Zealand Walking Access Commission. I was more than pleased that the Commission made the Walking Access Mapping System (WAMS) a top priority and that I was asked to join the WAMS technical advisory group to help design and provide guidance for the development of its first two versions. As good as it is, I know that there is a lot of potential built into WAMS that can make it even more useful for everyone. This is something I am keen to see eventuate.

In my spare time, I am the immediate past president of Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand (better known as FMC) and so it is not surprising that my interests in access lie more towards getting into the backcountry than to rivers and lakes.

For reasons I don’t understand, access to beaches is overall much more treasured by New Zealanders than access to mountains: I am sure that some of our nearly land-locked mountains would have much better access by now had they been coastlines instead of snowy peaks.

I’d like to see better access to some of these places, but I am also well aware that dealing with land ownership, land rights and land history anywhere in the world, let alone New Zealand, is always complex—if nothing else, my ten years on the Southland Conservation Board reinforced that view.

I like to think that living in Southland, where everyone is a farmer, is related to a farmer, or is friends with farmers means that many would feel the same as I do. Sometimes a simple solution presents itself, but I have learnt that if much more is required than opening up communication channels between parties, then one can be sure that some hard work is required. I’m up for that and so is the Commission.

« Back