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]
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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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On New Zealand Conservation Estate Fees for Tourists

It’s interesting to see that David Round, a member of the Aoraki Conservation Board, is calling for foreigners to be charged more than NZ Citizens and Residents for use of the Conservation Estate.

From that single article, it’s unclear to me exactly what’s being proposed by Mr Round. The Timaru Herald’s headline suggests charging foreigners more for hut fees. The base complaint is about “enormous non-payment” of hut fees, and of it being very hard to police. Inconsistent with the article’s title, the proposed solution seems to involve something about an “international access pass”, which would not be directly attributed to huts but would be required to “enter larger parts of the conservation estate”.

Charging higher amounts for tourists is a topic which comes up recurringly, but so far has not gained any traction. There are a variety of relevant factors, both to do with practicality and law.

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Trip: Blackwater, Twin Peak, Butchers Creek, South Ohau

This weekend should be spent mostly in rivers, and it’s helpful that the upcoming forecast is actually accommodating. A very small amount of rain forecast from the east, some wind high up, but otherwise sunshine to burn. This is my first opportunity to get out since about October last year, and I’m looking forward to it.

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Phillip, Fiona, Andy and Alistair ready to leave.

After a brief stop for dinner at Levin, we drop Harry and his guy at the bridge next to the Makaretu Stream. Starting tomorrow morning, those two intend to walk up the Makaretu before dropping into the East Waitewaewae and coming out Sunday evening at Otaki Forks. The rest of us continue to the end of Poads Road, where we meet another trampey club group (organised by Mike G) whose plan will be to walk half way up Gable End, and then follow an unofficial track direct from about .912 down to South Ohau Hut. Our own intention is to follow the Blackwater Stream up to its headwaters, hit the track at the top, then drop into Butchers Creek and the South Ohau. This evening, though, we’ll all walk in for about an hour towards a great ad-hoc campsite at Blackwater Junction.

Dates: 31st January – 2nd February, 2014.
Location: Tararua Forest Park, Poads Road.
People: Alistair, Fiona, Phillip, Andy and me.
Huts visited: South Ohau Hut (1 night).
Intended route: Poads Road to Blackwater Junction (Friday night), up Blackwater Stream and navigate up to point between Waiopehu (.1094) and Twin Peak (.1097). Across to Butcher Saddle, then down Butchers Creek into the South Ohau Hut for Saturday night. Out via Blackwater Junction to Poads Road on Sunday.
Actual route: Bailed out of Butchers Creek and straight up to near .810, then down Yeates Track.
Also see: Phillip 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.

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Farm land between Poads Road
and Tararua Forest Park.

The five of us get away before the others, walking from about 8.30pm. After a routine stroll, eventually by torch-light, we arrive at Blackwater Junction at about 9.40pm and are setting up flies in the trees just beyond the bridge over Blackwater Stream. Fiona takes the billy and a few water bottles slightly further, to fill them up from the South Ohau.s Some time before the other group wanders up and finds their own campsite. Andy’s on the other side of my tent fly. Phillip and Fiona have the another one, and Alistair’s just laying out his sleeping bag under the trees, not seeing a need for shelter this evening.

Blackwater Junction is a great place for camping, and there are heaps of great clear, flat places in the trees very close to the track which passes through.Unfortunately this doesn’t translate well to the quality of my sleep tonight. That Levin takeaway dinner hasn’t gone down well, and despite the flat-ness of most of these campsites, somehow I’ve found one where my mattress is on a sideways slope. Andy, who’s sharing the fly, seems to fare much better as long as I’m not waking him.

I might have risen with the bellbirds had I not already been awake. Alistair’s up not long after 6am on Saturday, strolls past the front of the fly (I say “hello” because I’ve been awake most of the night anyway), and gets started on boiling the billy. After lying for a while longer, trying to decide if it’s worth looking for any more sleep, I finally give up, unzip my sleeping bag, crawl out of the liner, rummage through my back to find breakfast, and go out to search for hot water. Andy’s doing the same.
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Daywalk: A Short Rimutaka Jaunt

This write-up will be far too long compared with the few hours that I spent on actually walking it, but whatever. :P With a spare day, I thought I might drive around to Catchpool Valley, where I haven’t been for some time. Several years ago and shortly before I’d left for Melbourne and since returned, I’d been thinking it’d be neat to get up Mt Matthews. I never got around to it at the time, and while there was also no way that would happen this day (for several reasons), I thought I could use my time to remind myself of what the Orongorongos are like.

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The flooded Orongorongo River.

Weather was a factor, having already had a day or two of torrential rain. Several further heavy downpours, due to be heaviest up until about 1pm, caused me to look for excuses to delay leaving home. Nevertheless I couldn’t delay for long enough to arrive any later than about 11.30am, and it was then that I arrived at the Catchpool Valley parking area.

Dates: 5th January, 2014.
Location: Rimutaka Forest Park, Catchpool Valley.
People: Just me.
Huts visited: Turere Lodge (0 nights), plus misc other private huts.
Route: Up Butcher Track, along Cattle Ridge, then stomping around the Orongorongo a little. Big Bend track to Turere Lodge and back, then back to Catchpool carpark.
[Photos]
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My main goal was to head up Butcher Track and check out Cattle Ridge, which I’ve not really been to in the past. (If I have, I don’t remember it.) The only part of Cattle Ridge that I’ve previously traversed is the small section at the Orongorongo River end, where Browns Track climbs up one side, crosses the top, and drops down the other. The secondary part of my intentions was that I’d possibly stomp around the Orongorongo River for a look, expecting it to be in flood. The third part of my plan would be to return to the carpark, either via Mt McKerrow, or directly, depending on timing.

Being 11.30am, there was still quite a lot of rain and few people around. A couple of joggers hovered around the large carpark, but I didn’t see where they went. Wherever it was, they didn’t follow me.
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