Ribbons across the land
By Eric Pyle, Chief Executive
Over the past few months the Commission has been exploring access-related issues in the Mackenzie, Waitaki and Queenstown Lakes districts. It is clear that the demand for and provision of access is changing in response to tourism pressures.
The tradition of asking for access is now no longer practical or feasible in some areas. This aspect of access culture does not work for some landholders who may receive hundreds ort even thousands of phone calls each year. Asking for access is particularly complicated for tourists – both foreign and domestic.
In the high use areas of New Zealand it is clear that people wanting access and those granting it need systems – clearly defined access routes, clear rules about behaviour, and the ability to temporarily restrict access for fire risk, lambing etc.
People want more than just defined access, they also need good facilities. Car parking, toilets, signage and more. Where there is good access to the outdoors, particularly close to population centres, this access is heavily used. Heavy use requires good facilities.
In some of our tourist areas our access infrastructure is now in deficit after being in surplus for many decades. New Zealand is playing catch up. New access opportunities are needed together with the infrastructure needed to support this access. Infrastructure associated with existing access needs upgrading in some areas.
Catching up does not mean catching up with the here and now. With significant annual growth in numbers, “catching up” means getting ahead of the curve for the next few years. Otherwise the infrastructure provided will be behind the eight ball even before it is finished. This forward thinking is a big ask for all the agencies involved.
We are also seeing a changing access situation near our urban areas. Increasingly, people want shorter walks and rides that they can do with their family. The trails need to be clearly defined and have good infrastructure. Urban outdoor users don’t want to have to ask for access – an added complication in a busy life.
Statistics on the use of our tracks and trails close to urban areas are hard to come by, but the data we have shows the massive use of the urban outdoors. Recent numbers show that more people walk the Southern Walkway in Wellington than walk the Tongariro Crossing each year.
It seems that in many of our urban environments there is a shortage of good access. This shortage seems to be a combination of increasing urban populations and the fact that there has not been a strong focus on creating access in peri-urban areas for some decades.
Councils are increasingly focused on access. Auckland Council is developing a comprehensive programme of Paths (formerly known as Greenways) plans. In Wellington the councils are coming together to develop a regional access strategy.
In both our urban and tourist areas the style of access that people want is remarkably similar. Clearly defined, well-marked tracks and trails with good facilities and good information about these. Ribbons of access across the landscape enabling journeys across the land - enabling people to connect with their environment; te mauri o te hikoi.
Photo: Southern walkway | Wellington by Rodney_F (CC BY-NC 2.0).