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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The Tararua on TV

Even if you’re not into hunting, the latest episode of NZ Hunter Adventures (Ep 9, Series 3) is probably of wider interest.

It’s viewable online on Choice TV’s website for the next 3 weeks, free registration required.

The episode features an expedition into the Tararua Range, with Derrick Field of the Ex NZ Forest Service group, which in modern times has taken over the maintenance of several of the range’s back-country huts. It’s definitely worth a watch if you’ve interest in the history of the range.


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Floyd Pond: A New Tararua Lake

There’s an interesting report on Stuff this evening about a landslide in the upper Tauherenikau catchment of the Tararua, which has created a new lake in the catchment surrounded by the Dress Circle and Alpha. The new lake was reported by Floyd, Joe Nawalaniec, Franz Hubmann and Paul McCredie, so kudos to them.

There’s a suggestion that the landslide might have been caused by the mag 7.8 earthquake in November, although as yet this is unconfirmed. The same earthquake created many new lakes in the south island, but this would be the first reported in the north.

Its stated location is lat -40.968234, long 175.296307 lat -40.969645 long 175.295829, which converts to a grid ref of around 5462230 5462074 (northing) and 1793222 1793179 (easting) when expressed in NZTM. With Topo50 maps that translates to BP33 932 621 (on BP33 Featherston).

The group is informally naming it Floyd Pond, after the dog. It’ll most likely now become a new destination for some of the more adventurous and skilled visitors to the range.

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DOC’s Comments on Funding

Lou Sanson, Director-General of DOC, was on TV3/Newshub this evening. He was talking about the possibility of charging for entry to certain National Parks. The angle of the report from Samantha Hayes was that New Zealand should charge more for stuff because everyone else does.

Numbers of tourists have been straining DOC’s ability to cope with managing their effects on the lands it manages, and so this has been a recurring topic in the last while. I’ve written about it in both December and March of 2016, and there’s been plenty of ongoing debate since.

A couple of things in this item really didn’t sit well with me.
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Protecting Paradise, by Dave Hansford (my thoughts)

Before I launch into this, I’ll insert a word for one of the best presentations I’ve ever seen on how the world’s going, and the impact we’ve had on it.

Less than a week before his death in May 2001, Douglas Adams gave a brilliant talk at the University of California titled “Parrots, the Universe and Everything“. He conveys many of his experiences and insights on extinction, mostly derived from his time producing the BBC’s Last Chance to See radio series in 1989. Adams’ 2001 talk is helpfully preserved online by Ted (link above) and I highly recommend it. He’s an excellent and humorous speaker yet his points are serious and well made. If you’ve limited time, jump to 26 minutes for his amusing experiences with the Kakapo, which he declares as a favourite of all the animals he saw.

Now, onto this largely unrelated book…


The full title of the book is Protecting Paradise: 1080 And The Fight To Save New Zealand’s Wildlife. It’s authored by Dave Hansford, published by Potton & Burton, and was released in October 2016. The publisher’s website seems to claim 250 pages, but the main text of the printed edition actually finishes on page 265. This is followed by 2 pages of acknowledgments, 6 pages of appendix, 31 pages of references and a 14 page index. That’s around 318 pages total. The 265 pages of regular text is divided into 22 chapters, averaging around 11 to 12 pages each. The book retails for $34.95, but it’s often possible to get discounts if you shop around, or check if the local library has it.

265 pages might sound daunting at first, but it well written. Chapters are well structured without being too long. Editing is of high quality. It’s easy to read. It’s not necessary to have a scientific background.

If this review isn’t enough, you’ll find an alternative review at SciBlogs, plus the author’s been interviewed by Jamie Morton of the NZ Herald and by Wallace Chapman on RadioNZ.


Protecting Paradise has been touted as a book about use of the 1080 toxin in New Zealand. 1080 is primarily used by the Department of Conservation for controlling rats, possums and stoats on the conservation estate, and by OSPRI (formerly the Animal Health Board) for controlling bovine tuberculosis, which largely spreads through possums. Right from the front cover it’s clearly framed as a 1080 book, yet it’d be a disservice to the author’s efforts to suggest it’s only about 1080, because the book is not a just raw explanation of 1080 and what it does. Rather, Dave Hansford has produced a comprehensive guide to the history, present and future of pest impact and pest control in New Zealand, including its social impacts.

It’s mildly ironic that a large component of conservation in New Zealand is about killing things. Explaining 1080’s role and workings in pest control is well covered, but it’s appropriate that the Protecting Paradise narrative goes well beyond this. The author’s spent large parts of the book examining what is increasingly becoming a social and ethical issue in New Zealand. Alongside the objective analysis, he’s spoken to a wide range of people to draw a picture of how pests, pest control and 1080 affects them, and what it means to them.

Lane read my mind, fixed me with a level stare: ‘Would you drink that water, knowing it had 1080 in it?’ I said that I wouldn’t, and I meant it. I don’t share his blanket antagonism to 1080, but most of us might empathise with his experience. We all carry the caution gene. What’s more, we like to think that we carry a sense of natural justice: there’s something understandably disturbing about a Government dropping poison from the air—against the express wishes of some—around our homes and across our treasured spaces. That’s powerful, almost Orwellian, imagery, and it’s a potent anathema.

—page 76.

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