Comparing accounts of accidents

I’ve only been reluctantly following the recent winter incident on the Routeburn track, where a man slipped and fell, eventually dying. His partner stayed with him in freezing temperatures for several days as he died, then made her way slowly through deep snow to the isolated Lake Mackenzie Hut. She eventually broke into the nearby warden’s hut where she waited for a further 24 days before concerned friends on Facebook triggered a search with the help of local consular staff to liaise with New Zealand Police. Wilderness Magazine summarises the accident well.


I’m not reluctantly following because I don’t care about the accident. It’s more that I’m reluctant to follow the coverage because so much of it is awful. At times it’s seemed more fascinated with the light-hearted “survivor” trivia of a person lasting alone for a month than of recognising and respecting that one person died, and another suffered a serious traumatic event. She then had to cope with it for a month before receiving any help, and having finally been rescued was very quickly subjected to a press conference that several media outlets advertised and live-streamed, in a language she doesn’t understand, and which she really didn’t need to be at.

Stuff’s video example (see screenshot) is the one I’ve so far found most troubling to watch. I won’t bother embedding the video here, but I just hope it’s enough to note that the title image is symptomatic of the presentation that follows. To me it simply seems that the video’s makers and publishers have taken a terrible tragedy for multiple people, and dressed it up as if it’s simply a cheap reality TV entertainment show.
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Why can some huts be locked from the inside?

Yesterday, Federated Mountain Clubs published an informal facebook post. It noted an experience at Blue Range Hut, in the Tararuas, where the overnight inhabitants had locked the door from the inside.

Most of the discussion under that post has been about whether it was poor form for the people who arrived first to lock out late arrivals. General consensus, which I agree with, is that it’s very poor form if it’s done with intention to keep others out.

More significantly, though, it’s had me wondering about why any public back-country hut can have its door locked from the inside. What’s the legitimate purpose, if any, of allowing those inside to lock others out?
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Taranaki exploration ideas

The two ends of what
used to be the Pyramid Route.

In the past I’ve dropped a few references to the various tracks around Egmont National Park which have been ‘closed’ (in official terms) in relatively recent times. Reasons have generally ranged between erosion and lack of maintenance.

Here are a couple of recently-posted trip reports (not mine) on, covering a couple of them.

Note that these are not (any longer) officially maintained tracks of the Department of Conservation. You really do need to take sensible precautions and have the appropriate skills if you wish to investigate. Especially the Pyramid Route. The first of these, in particular, is most definitely not a beginner experience. If you stumble on orange triangles on either of these routes it’ll be purely coincidental.

I just appreciate seeing information about them.

I should add that it’s also a slightly contentious point to talk about this. DOC in Taranaki has had issues with people unofficially retaining old tracks.
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A Fortunate Outcome at Kapakapanui

2013-10-28 13.55.25
Looking towards the inner Tararuas
from near Kapakapanui Peak.

Late last month, two women had a very fortunate outcome in the vicinity of Kapakapanui.

In the past, I’ve written multiple trip reports describing the very accessible loop walk which the women were attempting. Here is the region on a map.

The pair, an international student from the USA and her visiting mother, set out on Tuesday 26th April, intending to complete the commonly walked loop route which, under normal circumstances, is very accessible to anyone reasonable fit. They never checked out of their motel on Wednesday 27th April, but it wasn’t until they failed to return their rental car by 11am on Friday 29th April that Police were called.

Police quickly located the car at the base of the Kapakapanui Track entrance to Tararua Forest Park, at the end of Ngatiawa Road east of Waikanae. By now, statistics were already not in their favour, but exactly how long they’d been missing was unclear and weather had been unmemorable during recent days.

A Search and Rescue operation was initiated immediately. Several other trampers were located who’d seen the pair on the track on Tuesday, providing a time-frame for how long they’d been missing, but exact intentions remained unknown. Early on Saturday 30th April, four LandSAR teams entered the area. At roughly 1pm that day, the two women were spotted by a helicopter. They’d spent 4 nights outdoors, with the daughter in particular by now being extremely dehydrated, starving, and possibly within a few hours of death.
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Daywalk: The Complete Paekakariki Escarpment Track


Saturday 9th April 2016 was the official opening day of the Paekakariki Escarpment Track—a new connecting track between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki, above the railway line along the coast. Intense interest meant that organisers had to restrict entry for the initial day, but it’s now fully open to the public.

Date: 10th April, 2016
Location: Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay.
People: Just me.
Route: Walk south from Paekakariki to steps under the SH1 road bridge, onto the Paekakariki Escarpment Track, then follow it to Pukerua Bay.
[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.

I never felt the desire to follow a narrow, steep track with squillions of other people on Saturday 9th April… or 400 as it turned out. I did, however, spontaneously decide to jump on a train on Sunday the 10th of April, to go and check it out.

For me, this track is a welcome addition to the network of walking options in the Wellington region. It naturally connects together two locations (Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki) which, until now, really had no practical on-foot connection short of walking alongside State Highway 1. I’ve walked that stretch several times. It’s not very exciting.
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The Walking Access Mapping System Goes Mobile

I’ve recurringly written about the Walking Access Mapping System since it was put online by the Walking Access Commission. The system collates masses of data from local and central goverment. It’s very helpful when trying to figure out places which are legal to walk, especially when physical features don’t always make the divisions between public and private land clear, nor the location of legal roads and access ways.


Earlier today, the Walking Access Commission announced that there’s finally a mobile edition of the WAMS. The announcement doesn’t seem to have received much attention, but I think it’s a valuable extension.

Until now, the WAMS has been a fairly clunky, Flash-heavy website that’s not entirely easy to use on a mobile device. Exporting information for other devices hasn’t been a trivial thing. For example, it’s generally necessary to manually trace lines and waypoints over the top of the WAMS maps, prior to exporting those lines.

Hopefully features like the ability to export data will improve over time. Meanwhile, the mobile edition of the WAMS means that it should not even be necessary to export info in many cases. If you’re in a place with mobile coverage, and want to find out which legal access ways are nearby, it’s potentially more a case of pulling out a smartphone, visiting, and seeing what’s around. (Try if your mobile browser is not auto-detected.)

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Overseas tourists and park access fees

It’s difficult to comment on recent calls for tourists to pay a larger share of maintenance of the conservation estate without detail of what’s being proposed. So far nothing’s been formally proposed.

This is a recurring topic. The most recent iteration seems to have begun with a Listener article about Te Araroa. One tangent included the following paragraph. It’s derived from an interview with DOC’s CEO, Lou Sanson, when discussing the impact of international tourists on the New Zealand conservation estate:

He hints at the possibility of a differential pricing system being introduced for backcountry huts to help protect Kiwis’ access. “We are moving to the stage where we have to look at this, because it may be quite unsustainable if you put another million people on top of it,” Sanson says.

Fairfax’s Stuff website picked up the story a few weeks later, headlining “DOC may charge overseas visitors to enter national parks“. Three days after, the Dominion Post (also Fairfax) carried an editorial titled “Yes to a fee for tourist trampers“. Then, Fairfax also published “Fewer Kiwis doing Department of Conservation Great Walks“. (The actual numbers quoted at the end of that article seems to show more New Zealanders walking Great Walks, despite dropping in some and increasing in others.) Following this came “Conservation boards say Department of Conservation is facing crisis“. Next, with the recent public purchase of Awaroa Beach comes “Should we tax tourists to it?“.

It seems fair to say that Fairfax, which controls a significant portion of New Zealand’s print media, has definitely adopted a theme, complete with a point of view. It’s triggered significant discussion in social media and elsewhere about whether international tourists, and particularly those who make use of New Zealand’s conservation estate, should somehow be made to pay more towards its maintenance.

I’m not diametrically opposed to the concept of using tourism-sourced income to subsidise the conservation estate (particularly the part of it which is affected by tourism), but implementation is everything. There are many problems with implementation.
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Charting DOC expenditure

Lately there’s been much discussion about New Zealand’s Department of Conservation not being well enough resourced to manage the rapidly increasing number of international tourists interested in parts of the conservation estate. Most recently, Stuff reports on concerns being expressed by Conservation Boards about a looming crisis “with tourists placing increased pressure on already stretched resources”.

I might write more about it soon, but meanwhile here’s some data I’ve compiled from the last 13 years of DOC Annual Reports. It shows the division between recreation spending, natural heritage spending, and everything else. The combined total each year is funded from a combination of Crown Revenue (provided directly by the government) and Other Revenue.

DOC Expenditure Chart

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Preserving Outdoor Access

Radio New Zealand’s Insight programme has looked at public access rights and the conflict over paper roads in New Zealand. The 28 minute audio programme can be found at the end of the linked page.

Paper Roads are legal rights of way, effectively public land, but some aren’t practically navigable as roads. Some also go through private property, and have sometimes been treated as inconvenient or non-existant by owners of surrounding land.

Conflict between property owners and people who want access through their land via these rights of way has been a festering issue in recent years. Several years ago, the Walking Access Commission was created, with a general role of liaising between the sides. I wrote about this in 2009.

From its beginnings, one of the early problems the Commission identified that recreationalists were having was not actually knowing where they had public access rights to go. An early success stories therefore, in my view, has been the Walking Access Mapping System. That system collates together information held by LINZ and countless local councils, and makes it clear where legal public access actually exists throughout New Zealand.

The Insight episode tracks down people on both sides of the issue, and it’s worth a listen for its presentation of the problems being faced.

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Groups Staying Together

Stuff recently posted a story titled “Friends leave woman behind in bush — search and rescue called“. It refers to an incident in the Wairere Falls area near Matamata, suggesting that a group of friends selfishly left someone behind because she was too slow, resulting in both a SAR call-out, and prompting a particularly nasty comment thread below the article. More recently there’s been another odd-sounding case, of a group leaving a sick person behind having activated a PLB.

I’ll state outright that I don’t consider it acceptable to consciously, or through negligence, leave someone behind because they can’t keep up, unless that person is complicit with splitting the group, remains well looked after, that both resulting new groups remain fully self-sufficient, and that each knows the other’s intentions. Being in a group means having a mutual responsibility to each other. Particularly if there’s enough of an emergency to set off a PLB, I’m struggling to rationalise splitting a group at all, unless the reason relates to the emergency, such as having part of the group attempt to walk out and get help independently.

For various reasons I think the full context of the first event probably hasn’t been represented in the report, and the second case I’m struggling to justify from provided info, though a later report suggests they might have misunderstood certain things. I’m wary of judging people’s decisions under often-stressful circumstances based on terse media reports and I don’t care to dwell on either, but resulting discussion has veered towards tramping clubs and groups generally, and group safety techniques. It’s caused me to consider my own view of tramping in groups.

It’s generally accepted tramping lore, at least within the club scene as it’s evolved through the decades, that groups should stay together when tramping, though there’s also some subjective inconsistency in what “staying together” actually means.

When “staying together” how far apart is it acceptable to be? Must each person to be two-steps behind the person in front? Must everyone always be able to see each other? Should the slowest person always be at the front? Must there always be a person designated to always stay behind everyone else, also known as tail-end Charlie? Are there circumstances by which it’s acceptable for a group to split?

I’ve met people with very strict, non-negotiable rules, and could collect a diverse range of answers to all of the above questions. I think my own response to all of these group mechanisms would be that it usually depends on circumstance.
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