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By Kevin Ross, regional field advisor for Taranaki and Manawatū-Whanganui
Having recently retired from a district council desk job, getting to enjoy the outdoors was a major part of my retirement plans. I had just achieved a lifetime dream last year, walking the Inca Trail in Peru with my daughter and her fiancée. It was an amazing experience. I had earlier joined the local tramping club as a way to get fit and to explore some of the walking opportunities offered in my local area.
Then along came the opportunity to work in the industry itself, as a regional field advisor for the Walking Access Commission. Working to maintain and to improve access opportunities to our stunning environment is something that appeals greatly to me.
The Commission's draft vision of "healthier people, better connected communities and quality outdoor experiences for all" pretty much sums up how many New Zealanders view the world. The Commission's projects outlined in the strategic plan also resonated with me. Improved access to the Ruahines is something the local tramping club have had on their agenda for some time, and working with iwi is something I had found challenging, but immensely rewarding, in my previous job.
Since commencing work with the Commission, I have had the pleasure of walking three of the Walkways we are required to report on. The shortened Whitecliffs Walkway loop alternative north of New Plymouth, is simply stunning. Not only are the views of the sea and cliffs spectacular (plus a glimpse of Mount Taranaki) but the walk has a wealth of history and it's fair share of long term controversy. The Te Horo tunnel, if able to be accessed, would provide a standout feature for those taking the walk.
The Stony River (Hangatahua) Walkway in Okato, has spectacular views of Mount Taranaki and is a pleasant walk along waterways and across typical Taranaki dairy land. Yep, there were plenty of hungry cows to negotiate and some not so friendly bulls that were keen to get too close for comfort.
The third Walkway I completed was the Beehive Creek Walkway, located close to Pohangina, which runs along a creek for most of its length and then crosses into farmland. The farmland track was again intensively stocked with break fed cows. This Walkway involved some 30 stream crossings, ideal for a dawdling summer stroll with children paddling their way upstream. Perhaps not such a good mid winter plan, however!
I was interested to note that all three of these walks have issues that need to be addressed if public access is to be maintained. Some of the issues may take money to resolve, but most are about conflict between landholders and other New Zealanders (and our overseas visitors), who wish to have access to some of our taonga. Having reasonable opportunities available to access our generally pristine environment is often taken as a right in New Zealand. Perhaps if we regarded it more as a privilege, everyone would be more responsible when taking their dog for a walk through a paddock of sheep?
That area of real or potential conflict is where we as regional field advisors are required to negotiate, state the obvious, mediate, wave arms and generally charm our way to a resolution! Well, that's the theory, but being a raw newbie I've solved nothing yet. I'm trying to learn how to lodge a case, how to hyperlink, what an OIO request is, find out where Lepperton and Whangapeki actually are, why I've been locked out of my WAC account again, how to download fitbits and learn what is Collector for ArcGIS. Thank goodness for the other helpful Commission staff!
I can see life will not be boring, and I'm certainly looking forward to getting a better understanding of all the cases in the Taranaki, Whanganui and Manawatū areas, and being able to actually make progress on them.