Lake Wanaka
Photo by Stephen Day

A week in Wānaka

Walking Access Commission Communications Advisor Stephen Day spent three days in Wānaka with teachers from LEARNZ as they took hundreds of children on a virtual field trip to explore the outdoors. Here’s his photo diary from the adventure.

Tuesday 18 February

Wānaka is a surreal spot for North Islanders like me. Everything is on steroids – the hills are too big, the water is too blue, the grass is too yellow…

Pied shag on the water from the Upper Clutha River Trail

I’m spending the next three days with LEARNZ, a company that makes virtual field trips for school classes. This field trip was jointly funded by us, Federated Farmers and QEII National Trust. It is about exploring the outdoors, being safe and treating the land and the people who care for it with respect. About 1500 school children will be involved. Each day some of the school classes join a video conference where they ask questions of experts for about 40 minutes. They also get exercises to do, a short diary to read and they get to watch a series of videos. Teachers use the field trip as a platform for the classes to continue to discuss and explore issues about exploring the outdoors.

To prove how outrageous Wānaka is we start our journey visiting Search and Rescue helicopter pilot Bill Day. Off we soar - first over the lake and down the Matukituki Valley, before nipping around the front of Mt Aspiring, down Albert Burn and back to Lake Wānaka.  We’re seeing parts of the motu that only experienced trampers would be able to delve into - huge inaccessible beech forests and towering walls of rock and ice. But we also see popular walks - like Blue Pools and Roys Peak, which thousands of people enjoy every week.

Bill Day interviewed beside his helicopter

Bill’s keen to impress on us the importance of Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) in landscape like this, saying:

They take the search out of search and rescue

You can hire them from many outdoor adventure stores around New Zealand and normally they cost about $10-$15 per day. Mountain Safety Council has a list of stores that hire them on its website.

Chris Arbuckle used to do contract work for the Commission. These days he runs his own environmental consultancy, Aspiring Environmental. Chris clearly loves his work and his hometown. He’s itching to get on the bike and show us around, but first he has to stand in front of the camera and tell us a bit about what we are going to see. The bit of the Outlet Track that he shows us is also part of Te Araroa.  Te Araroa goes along the busy footpath outside my work in Wellington and it also runs a block or so away from my house. So it’s a funny feeling to see it here, so far from home, and in such vastly different landscape.

Lake Wanaka Outlet Track

Then it’s time for my first appearance in front of the camera. I’m whakamā and it takes a couple takes before I look straight down the lens rather than shyly look at my feet. I’ll get more chances in a couple of days’ time.

Wednesday 19 February 2020

I’ve heard a lot about Randall Aspinall and his family during my time at the Walking Access Commission.  When we first started discussing this field trip his was the natural farm to showcase – it has QEIINT covenants on his land protecting rare species like the Hector’s Tree Daisy, it has public access into Mt Aspiring National Park, he has tens of thousands of people walking across his property every year. And then there are the views. 

Farm ute on Matukituki Valley

The problem is that he’s just so damn helpful and accommodating that we resisted asking him initially because we don’t want him to be the only person we ever go to when we showcase farms and private land with amazing public access. Nonetheless, here we are, bouncing along in his farm truck down the Matukituki Valley with half a dozen sheepdogs bounding happily along beside us, and tourists regularly stepping aside to let us past. The timing is tight today because the LEARNZ team need to make the journey back down the valley and find some internet to edit the footage they shot in the evening. If it can be done in one take all the better.

So, first Randall Aspinall tells why his family is committed to sharing his property with other people, both kiwis and the many international tourists who come to the valley. Then Rob Wardle from QEIINT talks about the covenants on Randall’s property and what the Trust is doing to protect and restore New Zealand native species. Paul Hellebrekers from the Matukituki Charitable Trust talks next about his pest-trapping work in the valley.

The filming finishes early and I’ve got time to explore.  So I whisk off in the other direction to Albert Town to check out the Upper Clutha River Trail.  It’s a beautiful, sunny, summer day but there are only three other people on the trail with me – mountain bikers who I guess are doing a much bigger loop than I am. For all the talk of Wānaka struggling with tourism pressures there are still plenty of amazing spots for people to explore, with no fear of standing in a queue:

Thursday 20 February

Today’s my big day – we’re talking about the Walking Access Commission’s issues – respecting the land, respecting people who look after the land and respecting yourself by being safe on the land. And of course, the importance of good public access to the outdoors. After we do the morning video conference (during which I am quizzed by students about public access, mining rights and 1080!) it’s off to Roys Peak.

Roys Peak is a metaphor for lots of the issues we deal with at the Commission. It is a Department of Conservation walk but it crosses private farmland. It has spectacular views, but its Instagram popularity means it attracts vast numbers of people, some of whom are not prepared for a long hard climb in alpine conditions. Last year 80,000 people visited the walk, but the carpark only holds about 100 cars at a time.

Carpark from Roys Peak

We traipse a short way up the walk, stopping occasionally to film short clips that explore some of these issues. Ironically, these 15 minutes of walking are the only tramping I have done over the three days. Setting up cameras and organising interviews takes a lot of time for a few minutes of good video:

And to finish, here's one of my favourite photos from that last day.  I was trying to get a photo of Mt Aspiring from across the lake, but instead ended up focusing on something much closer.

Shag on lake Wānaka

You can see the whole Virtual Field Trip on the LEARNZ webpage

Page last updated: Feb 27, 2020, 10:19 AM