An interesting case of concessions in parks

The Taranaki Daily News has an interesting story about happenings in Egmont National Park. One of the guides there is concerned about fitness groups and personal trainers arranging summit walks up the mountain, allegedly illegally if they don’t have concessions and are effectively acting as guides.

At least one of the accused guides has responded by saying she stresses that she’s not guiding, and the walk is open to anybody.

Much of the article focuses on the safety aspects of guiding on the mountain without necessarily having the type of experience and background that a concession holder might be required to have. That’s a fair enough point because it’s the main concern the guide has. I do, however, find the legal side of this to be at least as interesting.

The part of the law in question isn’t strictly about safety, and guiding has nothing directly to do with it. It’s about commercial activities in parks, and whether a concession is required from the Department of Conservation.
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Good insight on river safety

Earlier today Toni Burgess (aka AntNZ) posted an excellent article about river safety in New Zealand. I’ve written about river safety on this blog in the past, yet Toni’s article, which also draws on expertise from Heather Grady of Outdoor Training NZ, really manages to put some of the less intuitive aspects in perspective.

For example, on braided rivers:

…a recent Te Araroa group took the decision to cross the Rangitata River, it took them 2 hours and this river is known to be in full flood with no channels showing within an hour. So essentially you could be half way across the river, finding yourself on a shrinking island of shifting river bed.

If you spend any time around rivers, or suspect you might in the future, it’s a highly worthwhile read.

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The Commodification of Wild Places

Tourism and commercial enterprise have been part of New Zealand’s outdoors for at least the last century. The Milford Track spent much of its history as a relatively high grade tourist attraction. For a time it was largely exclusive, and that only changed after an act of civil disobedience which asserted the public right to explore a National Park. Closer to my own home, the popularly known Southern Crossing route across the Tararua Range had its modern beginnings with an intent to attract tourists to the region by creating a tramping route, and providing huts for accommodation.

DOC’s mandate recognises this. Section 6 of the Conservation Act, which defines DOC’s responsibilities, states that DOC should foster the use of natural and historic resources for recreation, as long as it’s consistent with other requirements, and allow their use for tourism.

The distinction between recreation and tourism has become more important recently, though.
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Daywalk: Dobson Loop and Lower Marchant Ridge


Thursday and Friday were remarkably sunny days. This made the browsing of the surface pressure and rain forecast maps more annoying: they showed rain approaching for the weekend. Not that I mind walking through wind and rain, but it can complicate plans, and my free time’s been limited lately. I had a day of free time, nevertheless, and with that free time I resolved to visit the Kaitoke end of the Tararuas. Saturday looked like the better day.

I’d not been there for a while. The most recent occasion was whilst walking out from a moonlight Southern Crossing. Earlier than that I’d been for a walk around the Dobson loop. This time I thought I’d try something similar, but would try to leave earlier and get a bit further than I had previously.

Date: 7th October, 2017
Location: Tararua Forest Park, Kaitoke Road End.
Route: Start at Kaitoke, walk to Smith Creek Shelter (via Puffer Saddle), then check out the Tauherenikau. Back to Smith Creek Shelter, up to spot-height 656, hover around Marchant Ridge for a while, then back to Kaitoke via the main Southern Crossing track.
[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.

It rained. Not torrential. Just steady. The forecast had it getting worse later in the day.

The base of the track from the current car-park.

DOC has created a better car-park since I last visited. Previously the Kaitoke road-end was an isolated dead-end, and subject to repeated vandalism. The new car-park is directly outside the gate of the YMCA campground. I’m unclear on whether it gets much vandalism, but it doesn’t feel as isolated. It’s behind a gate, but not a locked gate.

There’s always been an informal track from the campground up to the main Marchant Ridge track. With its replacement car-park, DOC has connected into it and formalised it.
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A fuller narrative of the Taranaki alpine tragedy

In 2013 I wrote briefly about the (then) recent alpine tragedy on Taranaki.

A very detailed, and interactive, report about that event has now been published by Stuff.

The article is sourced from multiple in-depth interviews with people directly involved. It covers both the accident and the rescue operation, and its narrative flows from the beginnings of decisions which combined to cause things to unravel into a disastrous situation, through the attempts to plan and deploy rescuers, and eventually to the eventual musings and hindsight of what people wished had happened differently.
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Pest Control and Social Licence

Lately I’ve had some issues with getting out tramping, mostly with life having been usurped by a couple of bundles of life experience. I expect the hiatus will end in time.

Last Thursday 28th September, however, I went to a Royal Society hosted expert panel discussion on the topic of gene editing and potential applications for New Zealand’s predator free 2050 goals. The resulting discussion isn’t up yet, but was being recorded by Radio NZ. It will be available sooner or later.

It was a fab discussion to attend. It inevitably steered towards the realisation that getting a social licence from NZ’s population is very important if the predator free goals are to be met. Enough people who live in New Zealand need to be comfortable with what’s done, why it’s done and how it’s done, or it’ll never happen.
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Election Year 2017

This year’s been full of political promises around conservation, recreation and tourism. From time to time, over the last few years, I’ve written on DOC funding and spending issues. eg. on tourists and park access fees, on spending versus funding, and on some of DOC’s own comments about its funding.

I’ve found these discussions tiring, at least in general media, because they tend to be very politically charged when I’d rather be out tramping. The discussions are mostly repetitive, and buried in hypotheticals without detail.

This changed with the government’s recent declaration that it would charge foreign tourists between 50% and 100% more for hut bookings on Great Walks. There doesn’t seem to have been any obvious consultation to reach this point, other than perhaps monitoring of the ambiguous rage in the social media, or something like that. There was probably always something coming, but it came out of the blue.

Other parties are suggesting border levies to get more money from tourists and spend it on conservation, or (in the case of the Green Party) a general doubling of DOC’s funding. The public discussion is largely about finding scraps of money for conservation (optimally from someone else) and then throwing it in an approximate direction of conservation in the expectation that something magical might happen, which to me seems to generally be a distraction from discussing some or all of the problems that need solving around the conservation estate.

Anyway, it’s election year.

For people who can vote in New Zealand, Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) has compiled a helpful list of political party responses to questions posed by FMC, regarding their respective conservation policies. The linked page contains summaries of positions, as prepared by FMC. The end of the list has a reference to a PDF with the full responses. If you’re looking for a comparison between party policies then it’s a helpful place to start.

Alongside this, the NZ Science Media Centre has also quizzed political parties on a variety of issues.

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The absurdity of Ruataniwha

I’ve not previously written here about the Ruataniwha Dam situation. Today’s decision in the Supreme Court, however, is highly significant. It’s not just significant for the Ruahine Range, but for the future of all Conservation Parks and Forest Parks in New Zealand.

Gareth and Craig walk up part of the Makaroro River that’s proposed for flooding,
29th March 2013.

As background, Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company (HBRIC, owned by Hawke’s Bay Regional Council) wanted to build an irrigation dam to support more intensive farming in the district. The only practical plan included flooding 22 hectares of Ruahine Forest Park, next to the Makaroro River. For this to happen, the Minister of Conservation and DOC arranged to swap the land in question for some alternative land that could be added to Ruahine Forest Park.

The decision agitated many people for many reasons, but the most relevant legal point is that the Conservation Act only allows Stewardship Land to be traded away. It doesn’t allow for the trading of Specially Protected Areas. To circumvent this, DOC first down-graded the status of the land to Stewardship Land so it could be lawfully traded, but the law’s unclear about whether it’s legal to downgrade Specially Protected Areas for this reason.
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Media fanning the flames of regulation

Details are still thin, but it’s sad to learn of another death on Mt Taranaki. Not much detail has yet been released, except that an accident appears to have occurred somewhere in the vicinity of Ambury Bluff and Humphries Castle on the north-eastern side of the mountain [approximate map]. The conditions were winter conditions, but until more official details emerge I don’t think it’s fair to speculate too much.

The article, from the Taranaki Daily News, is interesting for other reasons, though. It appears to be planting an idea for some kind of regulation, even though there’s no evidence presented that anyone’s actually asked for it.
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FMC’s new magazine website

Federated Mountain Clubs has, over the last short while, been quietly introducing its new Wilderlife website (think “wilder life”) .

It’s a magazine-style website which, so far at least, revives much of the really good content that was previously only seen in the FMC Bulletin (now renamed ‘Backcountry’). It also has space for contributions. Wilderlife is definitely worth a look just for its magazine content, but the site goes deeper than this.

For one thing, the site includes an online, and free, edition of Safety In The Mountains. Safety In The Mountains is FMC’s flag-ship and straight-to-the-point handbook of good and practical advice for how to get around whilst remaining safe when outdoors. The content was thoroughly revised in 2012 (my review is here). FMC’s emphasis with the booklet has always been to keep it as affordable and available as possible. The online edition remains current and full of worthwhile advice. Maybe FMC’s movements in this area have been encouraged by the Mountain Safety Council’s recent shift away from training and towards more basic safety messaging, combined with research.

Wilderlife’s Magazine area is already reviving older FMC Bulletin Backcountry Accident reports. Whilst a grim topic, these reports have highly valuable information for learning about how and why accidents occur and how to avoid them.

It’s definitely worth browsing. I hope Wilderlife continues growing and becomes a comprehensive resource.

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