A Fortunate Outcome at Kapakapanui

2013-10-28 13.55.25
Looking towards the inner Tararuas
from near Kapakapanui Peak.

Late last month, two women had a very fortunate outcome in the vicinity of Kapakapanui.

In the past, I’ve written multiple trip reports describing the very accessible loop walk which the women were attempting. Here is the region on a map.

The pair, an international student from the USA and her visiting mother, set out on Tuesday 26th April, intending to complete the commonly walked loop route which, under normal circumstances, is very accessible to anyone reasonable fit. They never checked out of their motel on Wednesday 27th April, but it wasn’t until they failed to return their rental car by 11am on Friday 29th April that Police were called.

Police quickly located the car at the base of the Kapakapanui Track entrance to Tararua Forest Park, at the end of Ngatiawa Road east of Waikanae. By now, statistics were already not in their favour, but exactly how long they’d been missing was unclear and weather had been unmemorable during recent days.

A Search and Rescue operation was initiated immediately. Several other trampers were located who’d seen the pair on the track on Tuesday, providing a time-frame for how long they’d been missing, but exact intentions remained unknown. Early on Saturday 30th April, four LandSAR teams entered the area. At roughly 1pm that day, the two women were spotted by a helicopter. They’d spent 4 nights outdoors, with the daughter in particular by now being extremely dehydrated, starving, and possibly within a few hours of death.
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Daywalk: The Complete Paekakariki Escarpment Track


Saturday 9th April 2016 was the official opening day of the Paekakariki Escarpment Track—a new connecting track between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki, above the railway line along the coast. Intense interest meant that organisers had to restrict entry for the initial day, but it’s now fully open to the public.

Date: 10th April, 2016
Location: Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay.
People: Just me.
Route: Walk south from Paekakariki to steps under the SH1 road bridge, onto the Paekakariki Escarpment Track, then follow it to Pukerua Bay.
[Download GPX] [Show map] [Display in new window][LINZ Topographic Map in new window]

This post is a trip report. You can find other trip reports about other places linked from the Trip Reports Page, or by browsing the Trip Reports Category.

I never felt the desire to follow a narrow, steep track with squillions of other people on Saturday 9th April… or 400 as it turned out. I did, however, spontaneously decide to jump on a train on Sunday the 10th of April, to go and check it out.

For me, this track is a welcome addition to the network of walking options in the Wellington region. It naturally connects together two locations (Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki) which, until now, really had no practical on-foot connection short of walking alongside State Highway 1. I’ve walked that stretch several times. It’s not very exciting.
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The Walking Access Mapping System Goes Mobile

I’ve recurringly written about the Walking Access Mapping System since it was put online by the Walking Access Commission. The system collates masses of data from local and central goverment. It’s very helpful when trying to figure out places which are legal to walk, especially when physical features don’t always make the divisions between public and private land clear, nor the location of legal roads and access ways.


Earlier today, the Walking Access Commission announced that there’s finally a mobile edition of the WAMS. The announcement doesn’t seem to have received much attention, but I think it’s a valuable extension.

Until now, the WAMS has been a fairly clunky, Flash-heavy website that’s not entirely easy to use on a mobile device. Exporting information for other devices hasn’t been a trivial thing. For example, it’s generally necessary to manually trace lines and waypoints over the top of the WAMS maps, prior to exporting those lines.

Hopefully features like the ability to export data will improve over time. Meanwhile, the mobile edition of the WAMS means that it should not even be necessary to export info in many cases. If you’re in a place with mobile coverage, and want to find out which legal access ways are nearby, it’s potentially more a case of pulling out a smartphone, visiting http://www.wams.org.nz/, and seeing what’s around. (Try http://wams.org.nz/wams_mobile/ if your mobile browser is not auto-detected.)

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Overseas tourists and park access fees

It’s difficult to comment on recent calls for tourists to pay a larger share of maintenance of the conservation estate without detail of what’s being proposed. So far nothing’s been formally proposed.

This is a recurring topic. The most recent iteration seems to have begun with a Listener article about Te Araroa. One tangent included the following paragraph. It’s derived from an interview with DOC’s CEO, Lou Sanson, when discussing the impact of international tourists on the New Zealand conservation estate:

He hints at the possibility of a differential pricing system being introduced for backcountry huts to help protect Kiwis’ access. “We are moving to the stage where we have to look at this, because it may be quite unsustainable if you put another million people on top of it,” Sanson says.

Fairfax’s Stuff website picked up the story a few weeks later, headlining “DOC may charge overseas visitors to enter national parks“. Three days after, the Dominion Post (also Fairfax) carried an editorial titled “Yes to a fee for tourist trampers“. Then, Fairfax also published “Fewer Kiwis doing Department of Conservation Great Walks“. (The actual numbers quoted at the end of that article seems to show more New Zealanders walking Great Walks, despite dropping in some and increasing in others.) Following this came “Conservation boards say Department of Conservation is facing crisis“. Next, with the recent public purchase of Awaroa Beach comes “Should we tax tourists to it?“.

It seems fair to say that Fairfax, which controls a significant portion of New Zealand’s print media, has definitely adopted a theme, complete with a point of view. It’s triggered significant discussion in social media and elsewhere about whether international tourists, and particularly those who make use of New Zealand’s conservation estate, should somehow be made to pay more towards its maintenance.

I’m not diametrically opposed to the concept of using tourism-sourced income to subsidise the conservation estate (particularly the part of it which is affected by tourism), but implementation is everything. There are many problems with implementation.
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Charting DOC expenditure

Lately there’s been much discussion about New Zealand’s Department of Conservation not being well enough resourced to manage the rapidly increasing number of international tourists interested in parts of the conservation estate. Most recently, Stuff reports on concerns being expressed by Conservation Boards about a looming crisis “with tourists placing increased pressure on already stretched resources”.

I might write more about it soon, but meanwhile here’s some data I’ve compiled from the last 13 years of DOC Annual Reports. It shows the division between recreation spending, natural heritage spending, and everything else. The combined total each year is funded from a combination of Crown Revenue (provided directly by the government) and Other Revenue.

DOC Expenditure Chart

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Preserving Outdoor Access

Radio New Zealand’s Insight programme has looked at public access rights and the conflict over paper roads in New Zealand. The 28 minute audio programme can be found at the end of the linked page.

Paper Roads are legal rights of way, effectively public land, but some aren’t practically navigable as roads. Some also go through private property, and have sometimes been treated as inconvenient or non-existant by owners of surrounding land.

Conflict between property owners and people who want access through their land via these rights of way has been a festering issue in recent years. Several years ago, the Walking Access Commission was created, with a general role of liaising between the sides. I wrote about this in 2009.

From its beginnings, one of the early problems the Commission identified that recreationalists were having was not actually knowing where they had public access rights to go. An early success stories therefore, in my view, has been the Walking Access Mapping System. That system collates together information held by LINZ and countless local councils, and makes it clear where legal public access actually exists throughout New Zealand.

The Insight episode tracks down people on both sides of the issue, and it’s worth a listen for its presentation of the problems being faced.

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Groups Staying Together

Stuff recently posted a story titled “Friends leave woman behind in bush — search and rescue called“. It refers to an incident in the Wairere Falls area near Matamata, suggesting that a group of friends selfishly left someone behind because she was too slow, resulting in both a SAR call-out, and prompting a particularly nasty comment thread below the article. More recently there’s been another odd-sounding case, of a group leaving a sick person behind having activated a PLB.

I’ll state outright that I don’t consider it acceptable to consciously, or through negligence, leave someone behind because they can’t keep up, unless that person is complicit with splitting the group, remains well looked after, that both resulting new groups remain fully self-sufficient, and that each knows the other’s intentions. Being in a group means having a mutual responsibility to each other. Particularly if there’s enough of an emergency to set off a PLB, I’m struggling to rationalise splitting a group at all, unless the reason relates to the emergency, such as having part of the group attempt to walk out and get help independently.

For various reasons I think the full context of the first event probably hasn’t been represented in the report, and the second case I’m struggling to justify from provided info, though a later report suggests they might have misunderstood certain things. I’m wary of judging people’s decisions under often-stressful circumstances based on terse media reports and I don’t care to dwell on either, but resulting discussion has veered towards tramping clubs and groups generally, and group safety techniques. It’s caused me to consider my own view of tramping in groups.

It’s generally accepted tramping lore, at least within the club scene as it’s evolved through the decades, that groups should stay together when tramping, though there’s also some subjective inconsistency in what “staying together” actually means.

When “staying together” how far apart is it acceptable to be? Must each person to be two-steps behind the person in front? Must everyone always be able to see each other? Should the slowest person always be at the front? Must there always be a person designated to always stay behind everyone else, also known as tail-end Charlie? Are there circumstances by which it’s acceptable for a group to split?

I’ve met people with very strict, non-negotiable rules, and could collect a diverse range of answers to all of the above questions. I think my own response to all of these group mechanisms would be that it usually depends on circumstance.
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Otaki Gorge Road Closed, Also for Foot Access

Just quickly, for now at least, it looks as if Otaki Gorge Road has been closed. Not just for vehicles due to the usual slip, but also to foot access. At this time, it also appears to be indefinite.

Alternatively, here’s the announcement from the Kapiti Coast District Council. The latest status of the road can be checked here.

The reason? New cracks found above when clearing the road from an earlier slip. It won’t be until next year before more detailed survey work can be carried out to determine the scale of the problem.

This sounds potentially serious and hopefully it doesn’t result in long term blocking of access to Otaki Forks from outside the Tararuas. That entrance is, by a substantial margin, the most major entrance and exit point on the western side of the range.

[Edit 23-Dec-2015, 5.50pm: Further information from Radio New Zealand Checkpoint.]

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Mountain Biking Between Holdsworth Road and Atiwhakatu Hut

The Tararuas hit the news a few days ago, not for the most flattering reasons.

The Tararua, Rimutaka and Aorangi Huts Committee, which forms the representation of local tramping and recreation clubs in DOC’s consideration of local park management issues, has expressed concern that DOC issued a permit for a “one-off” mountain bike ride event between Holdsworth Road and Atiwhakatu Hut.

The event is the Huri Huri 2016 Wairarapa Bike Festival, with this particular ride to take place on Thursday 21st January. Here’s the promotional Youtube video (also embedded in that page), which I’ll presume they also had DOC’s permission to produce because it clearly shows mountain bikes being ridden in that region. The event is being billed as a “one off”, but it seems reasonable to expect that if DOC’s seen fit to permit the activity once, it could easily do so again whether for this festival or not.

The complaint of the Huts Committee isn’t without merit. Under normal circumstances, it’s illegal to enter a Conservation Park (Tararua Forest Park included) with a vehicle unless it’s in a place that’s been designated for that type of use. This rule is embodied in Regulation 19 of the State Forest Parks and Forest Recreation Regulations 1979 (which are deemed as valid for modern Conservation Parks under section 65(5) of the Conservation Act).

DOC can grant permission, of course, but it’s always meant to be adhering to the local management plans and strategies in place for the parks, which have been developed in accordance with consultation of park users and everyone who takes an interest.
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That Paparoa National Park Great Walk

In September I wrote about precedents around Great Walks seeming to become skewed. This morning I think that’s finally happened. Nick Smith has announced that a new Great Walk will be created in Paparoa National Park, to commemorate the 29 people killed in the Pike River Mine accident of 2010.

I do not for a moment wish to belittle the obvious tragedy for the people who died in the Pike River explosion, their families and their friends. But purely as justification for a Great Walk, I really don’t understand this at all. If there’s to be a new track, then why a Great Walk instead of a regular track?

In 1992, DOC itself justified the Great Walks concept as being “to manage impacts on New Zealand’s most highly used tracks” [FMC Bulletin 111, Oct ’92, page 18]. This was stated at a time when all of New Zealand’s current Great Walks were either in place, or planned. 23 years later, the newly-planned Paparoa Great Walk is not highly used. Therefore what has changed, why has it changed, and can we expect the same new principles to be applied for a new batch of Great Walks?

In recent years, Great Walks have become a major brand. Tourists seek out the Great Walks because they’re great walks. The only rationale I can detect in this is to latch on to that brand and attract tourists to a local area, and in fact Nick Smith’s raw press release stresses that “it will bring tourism and economic development to the West Coast”.

Smith’s press release also mentions a couple of other things (protecting the area, ensuring access to the resting place of 29 miners), but neither of those other two actually require a Great Walk. They could be achieved with a simple track combined with applying protection already available under existing law. Therefore those claims are really just government spin.

If generating local tourism and boosting a local economy is the real reason for creating a new Great Walk, we should be asking some serious questions around what impact it will have on future decisions, because this decision seems very politicised.
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