It’s been good news that in September 2008, the Walking Access Commission  was established (thanks to the Walking Access Act ) with the role of facilitating walking access within New Zealand. Some key commitments of this commission are to help negotiate walking access where there is none, to help resolve disputes, to work on an acceptable code of conduct, and to provide useful information for recreational walkers about where they can actually go. WIth respect to the last commitment, as has been noted recently in the NZ Tramper forums , the commission has recently put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the development of a system that, if it works as intended, will make it much easier for members of the public to access information about specifically where in New Zealand there is public right of access.
An underlying problem in New Zealand walking recreation is being aware of the places where public right of access is available. With some areas it’s obvious, such as national parks, but with others it isn’t. Land Information New Zealand , which produces the most commonly used 1:50000 maps of the entire country, would seem to be the most obvious authority on the subject, but LINZ has never been given a clear directive, nor the funding (presumably), to produce and maintain accessible maps of where public rights of access exist. LINZ even prints a disclaimer on all of their maps which states “The representation on this map of a road or track does not necessarily indicate public right of access”.
Without adequate maps, discovering what is publicly accessible land can be a mission. Gaining permission is often necessary to access public lands, such as when needing to walk over privately own farms. Sometimes simply figuring out if land is public or private, and then locating the appropriate person to ask for permission, can be challenging and time consuming, and disproportionate to whatever recreational activity a person might be hoping for. With the effort required, some people don’t bother to seek permission when they should, often leading to more problems and bad feelings.
Land-owners, especially those with operational farms, often their own legitimate concerns and sometimes motivations to deny access, especially if they’ve experienced people in the past who have caused problems through ignorance or otherwise. For instance, it’s a common complaint that recreational walkers might damage the land, leave farm gates open or closed when they shouldn’t be, spook animals, make annoying noise at 2am, and so on. The Walking Access Commission can play a helpful role by negotiating on everyone’s behalf, by resolving conflicts, and where appropriate by encouraging and providing enough information to allow people to contact land-owners themselves and to act respectfully as appropriate.
The Request For Proposals for the new system (PDF link ), which lists the requirements, makes interesting reading with regard to what the commission wants. It outlines a system that should be able to graphically represent regions, roads and strips in a 1:50,000 scale to match and overlay maps that already exist, store relevant contact information and links for areas of land, and help the commission track various meta-data about particular pieces of land, such as historical issues and complaints and resolutions.
The RFP indicates a hopeful schedule of a signed agreement by July 2009, and a ready system a year later. With any luck if an agreement is reached with a suitable provider, then perhaps by mid to late 2010 we could all be better informed about where it’s legal to walk in New Zealand.