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Positive news for New Zealand walking access rights

It’s been good news that in September 2008, the Walking Access Commission [1] was established (thanks to the Walking Access Act [2]) 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 [3], 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 [4], 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 [5]), 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.

3 Comments (Open | Close)

3 Comments To "Positive news for New Zealand walking access rights"

#1 Comment By Richie On 10 June, 2009 @ 10:35 pm

Hi Mike, I do worry about this a little. As you may recall, the impetus for this was concerns about NZers being denied access to our land because decades old gentlemans agreements etc were disappearing as ownership transferred and a new generation of people took possesison of rural land. There were particular concerns from hunters and fishers that they were being denied access to our land while fee-paying tourists were allowed in. A proxy for the kind of private hunting that is a hallmark of other countries but not NZ.

So the government launched some work into this, then the Feds kicked up a misinformation campaign (remember the ribbons on fences?) claiming the then government was advocating a right-to-roam (no one was).

Anyway, we ended up with a taskforce, submissions, a piece of legislation, a crown entity monitored by MAF (their mission: advancing primary production) not DoC with its recreation mandate.

And now, an info resource that puts in one place stuff that is known already. A useful exercise yes, but not exactly targeted at the policy problem. A long way from what some of us had in mind when submiting.

“Baby steps” I tell myself….

#2 Comment By Mike McGavin On 12 June, 2009 @ 10:48 pm

Hi Richie.

Fair enough to be in mixed minds about it, I guess, and thanks for summarising the situation far more usefully than I’d have been able to. ( [12] for anyone who reads this and is wondering.) It’s a shame about the campaign, but I don’t s’pose it wouldn’t be the first time that something like this has happened. I guess it’s in the past now and it’ll be hard to undo.

Considering some of the opinions in the farmers lobbies, I do hope the WAC could be a useful influence. It crossed my mind again yesterday reading [13] where a couple of farmers in the Wairarapa were reported to be fed up with arrogant tourist operators messing up their farm and annoying them throughout the night to get over the farm to glow worm caves. You’d hope that something like the Walking Access Commission could actually step in to help mediate this kind of thing, although I guess it didn’t work that way in this case.

Anyway I am definitely looking forward to the collated resource that it looks like they’re trying to build. DOC land boundaries are at lot of useful boundaries to start off with, and it seems as if people posting in [3] are even making efforts to render the DOC data usefully. Personally though I’m really interested in simply being able to have a single resource to quickly look up whatever area I’m near. I’d love to simply have a map available of wherever in the country that I’m going near that will collate data from hundreds of sources and tell me the exact places I can enter legally, and (even better) tell me who to contact for permission if I need it. From the RFP, it sounds as if this is exactly the type of thing they’re trying to compile and provide. I guess that’s why I’m feeling optimistic.

#3 Comment By Mike McGavin On 12 June, 2009 @ 10:53 pm

Oh, just a quick note on the private hunting thing. We do have some of it, especially in the Kaimanawas ( [14].). But yeah, I really hope we do everything we can to avoid shutting off more large blocks of land!