Stewardship Land: New Zealand’s To-Be-Filed Tray

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NZ’s “to be filed” tray, for the past 27 years.
[Map adapted from PCE Report with permission.]

You can read what you will from the Minister of Conservation’s recent statements. For me, one of the important topics he’s referred to is Stewardship Land.

Why is this important? Because right now, roughly one third of all conservation land, about 10% of the whole of New Zealand, is in limbo.

Stewardship Land is the to be filed tray of conservation land. Much of it is land that was handed to DOC during its formation in 1987, without already being a National Park, Forest Park or Reserve. The rest was obtained afterwards. The intent was always for it to be assessed and either given an appropriate legal designation or perhaps disposed of. Some is definitely well suited for National Parks or Conservation Parks, or various types of Reserves, and is often already being used as if it is. Some might be best disposed of and put to other uses, but 27 years later it’s still waiting for something to be done with it. Nobody’s ever prioritised the research and paperwork for deciding what it should be.

Stewardship Land is loosely protected, but only loosely. For management, DOC is required only to manage it “so that its natural and historic resources are protected“. In practice, much Stewardship Land is still managed according to what’s informally known of its actual value, even if this value has never been formalised in law. DOC will coordinate pest control if needed and as resources permit, and also maintain recreational tracks and huts if appropriate.

The diminished legal status, however, means diminished protection. Even if some land’s conservation value is very high, whether for environmental reasons or recreation reasons, the lack of status restricts criteria on which DOC and the Minister can consider applications for concessions. This is because the land’s not on record as being protected for any specific reason. Furthermore, as long as certain criteria are met, Stewardship Land can be sold or traded for other land. The trading clause was designed with the specific intent of enabling minor adjustments of land boundaries, but this intent was never written in law. Significant controversial land trades, which have nothing to do with shoring up land boundaries, have already occurred.

Recently, the Snowdon Forest monorail project (finally denied) was mostly about Stewardship Land. Meridian Energy’s desire to dam and flood the Mokihinui River catchment (eventually abandoned) was largely about Stewardship Land. Bathurst Resources’ application to open-cast mine the Denniston Plateau (permission granted) was also about Stewardship Land. The trading of the Crystal Basin for a private land block on Banks Peninsula, to enable a private company to develop a ski-field, was about Stewardship Land.
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Comparing two recent weather-related incidents

Out of everything that’s occurred in recent weeks, I’ve found a couple of incidents interesting to compare.

With the first incident, in mid-July, a group of 14 year-old school girls and two instructors were trapped by flooded rivers in the Kaimai Range. They contacted Police and informed them of the situation. Knowing they were well equipped with food and camping gear, Police decided the group were adequately equipped to camp and remain in place. As a precaution, SAR teams entered the bush to help the group identify the easiest way out. The group was well equipped for at least one more night if they’d needed to be.

“This was an example of a very well prepared group with all of the safety equipment you could ask for, making a very good call to ask for help,” senior sergeant Rupert Friend of the Waikato District Command Centre said.

“The girls were never in any real danger, but it was right not to try and push on when confronted by rising water.”

With the second incident, in early August, two women attempted a daywalk in the Tararua Range. They intended to walk between the Holdsworth entrance, via Totara Flats, and out to the Waiohine Gorge road-end. Weather was great when they left and they hadn’t thought to consider the forecast. Conditions worsened considerably, they were slowed by flooded track conditions, and they eventually found themselves trapped by a slip in failing light. The alarm was raised when they didn’t arrive at the collection point, and they were located by a LandSAR team early next morning having waited in torrential rain under survival blankets.

“We looked like drowned rats,” O’Connor said.

French said that, in colder weather, the incident could have been much more serious, but no-one gave the pair too much grief. “There was a bit of polite banter.”

If they hadn’t been trapped at a slip, they very possibly would have been trapped between un-bridged and flooded side-creeks over the track they were following.
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Signs of the Times

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Mid King Biv in the Tararua Range.

On Tuesday a request went out asking for people to point out “loopy rules and regulations”. I ignored it at first, with the politics involved, but soon after Federated Mountain Clubs asked via its Facebook page if this could be applied to some of DoC’s practices with signs in the back-country, especially safety signs.

I’ve written about the saturation of the back-country with safety signs previously, especially when writing about the Cave Creek Accident of 1995. 14 people died and 4 were seriously injured when a poorly constructed viewing platform collapsed. Many contributing factors were identified, but an underlying theme was that the 8 year old Department of Conservation had never been structured into a coherently functioning entity in many critical respects. This had contributed to design, approval and construction of the completely inadequate viewing platform by people who very possibly weren’t qualified to know that they didn’t know enough about what they were doing, or who had reason to assume that someone other than themselves was in charge. One consequence of the accident and follow-up investigations was a complete shake-up of DOC. In many ways, the outcome of the inquiry has helped to shape the modern back-country experience in New Zealand. An aspect of this shape which was noticed by users of the back-country in the years which followed was the sudden proliferation of signs.

The above photo demonstrates one of the more extreme cases of this standardisation. Mid King Biv in the Tararua Range is a 2 person shelter, in which it’s impossible to stand up. There’s a single door, which includes a giant FIRE EXIT sign. DOC’s other standard hut signs are also present. The standard DANGER sign warns about proper ventilation when cooking with gas, and another standard sign strongly warns naive visitors that the provided water is probably fine but visitors can choose to treat it if they want to. To rub it in, the “provided” water at Mid King Biv has nothing to do with the hut, and comes from a natural alpine stream nearby.

DOC’s standard Environmental Care Code sign is also present, but the limited space in the biv for posting signs seems to have resulted in the FIRE EXIT sign being attached directly over the top of it.
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The Walking Access Awards of 2014

If you haven’t heard, the Walking Access Commission (WAC) is requesting nominations for its 2014 Walking Access Awards. If you have any ideas for individuals, organisations or other entities to nominate, head over here and follow the instructions. Nominations close on 18th July.

The Walking Access Commission was formed with the Walking Access Act of 2008. Its main role is to provide leadership and coordination for negotiating (for example) access across private land and, where possible, aiming to facilitate trusting relationships between people on both sides. One of the coolest and easiest-to-appreciate things which has come out of the Walking Access Commission so far, however, has been the Walking Access Mapping System, also known as the WAMS.

In its early days, the WAC asked recreationalists what the most useful things were that it could do to help people access public spaces. A popular response was that it was very difficult to find out where we’re actually allowed to go, especially in the midst of private land that often surrounds the conservation estate. If you didn’t already know for some reason that there was meant to be public access in a certain place, it wouldn’t always be obvious to try and find out. In 2009, the responses caused the Walking Access Commission to commission creation of the WAMS as one of its first tasks.
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The Price of Great Walks

Last month an incident occurred, out of season, on the Milford Track. I’ll reflect on a few things before getting to it.

In New Zealand we have an enshrined legal right to enter most parts of the Conservation Estate. (I wrote more about how this works, over here.) By design in law, it’s difficult for people to be fenced out for their protection. In exchange visitors are considered responsible for their own safety. After all, one person’s dangerous place could be another adequately skilled person’s source of adventure.

Great Walks, however, don’t always fit nicely into this framework. Similar concepts have existed previously, but the modern idea of “Great Walks” began with the Department of Conservation’s effort towards its mandate of fostering recreation. The idea has been to consolidate and market several of the most iconic tramping trips, and make them relatively accessible for a large number of people of varying abilities.

Over time they’ve become intensively used. By the latter end of the 1990s, booking systems were being introduced to control overcrowding. A booking system can’t restrict anyone’s entry to the land, but tactical limitations of facility use (especially huts), combined with bylaws to disallow camping in certain areas, now makes it impractical to walk some Great Walks without booking ahead.

The Milford Track is one such Great Walk. In the booking season, between November and May, it becomes a beautifully iconic conveyor belt of tourists. The speed at which you might want to walk it doesn’t matter, because “the track takes 4 days to walk“. This is thanks to the requirement of booking all three huts at once for sequential nights, with these huts being the only legal place to stay. If this doesn’t work for you, you could either search for a way to camp further than 500 metres from the line of the track (difficult with the geography), or run the entire track without stopping.
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States of the air out there

This is one of the views available from the top of Mount Kaukau. It’s not my favourite view from here, but it’s still quite good.

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Panoramically, Newlands is mid-way to the foreground on the left. Lower Hutt is behind it, and identifiable here because it’s on fire. Panning across the harbour is Matiu Somes Island, one of our predator free scientific and historic reserves. The Kaukau transmitter, without which many of us could not experience the convenience of 24-hour shopping broadcasts directly into our homes, hovers above suburbs like Ngaio and Khandallah. Neither is visible here.

Further along is Wellington’s CBD. The Tinakori Hill is in the foreground, with part of the town belt along the top and suburbs like Wadestown and Wilton on this side of it. Wadestown, as I understand things, is one of many suburbs which had its street grid drawn up on a flat piece of paper in merry old England of the 1800s. This shows in how amusing it can be to walk through. Beyond the end of this photo would be Karori, including deepest darkest Karori, but I didn’t swing the camera that far.

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Sometimes the scene from the top of Mount Kaukau, this time seen from the other side, will look similar to this. From not far away there will be a faint outline of the transmitter, if even that, surrounded by its ever-diminishing orchestra of pine trees which become fewer and more bent-over after every storm. It’s also not my favourite view from here, but it’s still quite good.

Fewer people visit the top at these times, but even last Saturday with rain equal to some of the heaviest I’ve experienced anywhere, I met a sizeable handful of drowning people. They might have been up for a run, being walked by their dogs, or simply out walking themselves. After a few occasions, you start to pick out familiar faces.

Mount Kaukau is also one of the places where the MetService measures wind speed. The peak is exposed to the edge of all the air being channeled through the Cook Straight. From time to time we’ll see exclamations like these.

The Met Service measures the wind from right at the very top of the transmitter, and its facilities were originally installed to provide wind information for aircraft at an elevation of 2000 feet. This doesn’t seem to prevent the measurements sometimes being used to label Wellington in popular media as a very windy place, even if nobody actually lives on the top floor of the Mount Kaukau transmitter.
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Trip: Tararua Southern Main Range

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Saturday morning.

I’ve been looking forward to this trip for some time. The basic plan will be to follow the Tararua Main Range between Bridge Peak and Shoulder Knob, via the Tararua Peaks, looping from Otaki Forks, and for me it includes some red line. We’re hoping to be at Kime Hut tonight, but we can stop at Field if it works out that way.

After a stop at Waikanae (where I grab some fish & chips for tea), our tramping club van-load arrives at the Otaki Forks overnight car-park shortly before 8pm, after which I’m the first to hop down to the Waiotauru River as I’m keen to fill up on some water for the walk up the hill. I take my time and slowly random people show up and walk across the bridge. Not wanting to lose track of those in my own group, I wait until I’ve seen everyone.

Dates: 21st – 23rd March, 2014.
Location: Tararua Forest Park, Otaki Forks.
People: Alistair, Shay, Andy and me.
Huts visited: Field Hut (1 night), Maungahuka Hut (0 nights), Anderson Memorial hut (1 night), Waitewaewae Hut (0 nights).
Route: Field on Friday night. Then over Tararua Peaks to Maungahuka and Andersons Memorial Hut on Saturday. Then back to Otaki Forks via Waitewaewae on Sunday.
Also see: Alistair also wrote a report for the WTMC newsletter.
[Photos]
[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.

Shay emerges from the darkness, very suddenly, and races past me, and suddenly I’m playing catch-up, thinking that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to wait. In the dusk it’s already unclear who’s who, and with several groups of people all seeming to be walking up to Field, besides just the other group from our club, all I think I’m sure of is that everyone with me is somewhere in front.
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Limited access to the East Taupo Lands Block in the Kaimanawas

It’s great to see in the March 2014 (#195) Federated Mountain Clubs Bulletin that FMC has managed to negotiate some limited access, at least for FMC affiliates, to the East Taupo Lands Block that’s located in the middle of the Kaimanawa Range.

Some years ago, I wrote about some frustrations with the property line divisions in the Kaimanawas. For the uninitiated, the range has a size-able block of private land cut out of the middle of it, which effectively divides the east of the park from the west. I appreciate that the private land and how it’s operated is a consequence of more complex issues, but the straight-line boundaries between that and the Kaimanawa Forest Park which surrounds it are a combination of straight-edged squares and triangles that pay little attention to the mountainous geography. They create a buffer zone of public land in some places where it;s less practical than it could otherwise be to access that public land without crossing borders of private land.

For example, as can be seen on the Walking Access Mapping System, there’s ridge south of Waipakihi Hut, which looks as if it could be very nice to explore towards spot-height .1660, but the route is blocked by the metaphoric brick wall of a 200 metre stretch of private land. It exists thanks to the lazily plotted corner of a triangle that happens to just reach over the top of that ridge.

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Waipakihi Hut, backgrounded by its border with the East Taupo Land Block.

At the time I wrote my earlier rant, Air Charter Taupo was then leasing the block of land to use for premium hunting and fishing access. On the side, the company allowed for a restricted system of permits for trampers to cross the block from one side of the park to the other, along a specific route, as long as a permit was paid for and as long as no overnight camping occurred. This access was unfortunately lost when Air Charter Taupo lost its lease in 2011. Once that happened, the East Taupo Lands Trust, which controls the land on behalf of its owners, decided not to retain the access permit system for trampers and instead focus solely on the premium hunting and fishing.

The latest news, however, is that Federated Mountain Clubs has been negotiating with Helisika (current leasee of the block) and has been able to arrange for its affiliated club members and individual supporters to have access.

Overall, this is an excellent outcome under the circumstances, and I appreciate the commitment from those involved in both FMC and Helisika.
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The Downs and Ups and Downs of Kime Hut

I’m unsure what to make of the latest happenings surrounding Kime Hut. This Saturday the TTC had been planning to host its own “opening ceremony” at the hut. If you haven’t heard, however, the TTC has been forced to abandon that ceremony because the hut is about to be locked. This comes nine months after the hut was all-but-completed, and nine months after people began using it unofficially, but the hut was never officially opened.

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Kime Hut III, in October 2013.
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The reason? Kime Hut 3 hasn’t yet obtained its Building Certificate from the Kapiti Coast District Council. DOC has finally decided that it can’t legally allow people to use the hut until the Building Certificate has been issued, to the extent of needing to lock the door to keep people out.

Kime Hut is one of the more important huts in the Tararuas, both historically and also for its function. Since the hut’s inception it’s been used as an ad-hoc ski lodge, a stop-over point for many people walking the Southern Crossing and the Main Range, and also as a refrigerator. The exposure and cold of that region of the Tararuas means it’s not always the nicest place to spend a night, but on so many nights, and days, it’s far better to have a reliable hut with an inside that protects from chilling gale-force winds than it is to be stuck outside.

[Update 8-Mar-2014: After quite a big outcry, DOC has now said it will not lock the door of Kime Hut.]

More than a few people have also died in the vicinity through exposure to the elements, or come close to it. The most recent deaths occurred in the winter of 2009. Many more people have doubtless avoided a likely death by having the hut there as a refuge when plans went bad.
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Searching for accounts of attempts on the Schormann-Kaitoke (SK) traverse of the Tararuas

Very briefly, I’d like to help propagate a request from my local club (Tongue & Meats), who are looking for the stories of anyone who’s attempted an SK in the last few years.

The SK is named for Schormanns-Kaitoke, which represents a traverse between the northern and southern ends of the Tararuas. The Shormanns entrance is no longer accessible, so the normal northern point is now considered to be Putara Road.

In 1997, the Wellington Tramping and Mountaineering Club first published a collection of accounts of SK attempts. The latest of these collections is getting out of date, though, and it’s time for a new, sixth edition.

Several major variants for the SK exist, but the traditional route is via the Main Range. Going back to the early 1960s there’s been an ongoing challenge within tramping clubs and related communities to complete SK traverses within a weekend. The true believers set themselves a task of completing a full day of work on Friday, as per usual, before they’re allowed to leave to attempt it. :)
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