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Initial impressions: public access in New Zealand
In this column new New Zealand Walking Access Commission chief executive Eric Pyle shares his first impressions of the state of access in New Zealand, including some of the challenges and opportunities we face.
New Zealanders are as passionate about access as they were 100 years ago. The recent crowdfunding initiative to purchase a section of Awaroa Beach in Abel Tasman National Park for public enjoyment demonstrated that point. This public sentiment and love of the outdoors links back to the early European arrivals, who wanted New Zealanders to have equal access to the rivers, lakes and coasts. The early European settlers wanted a change from the structured and limited access they had grown up with in many parts of the UK and Europe.
After being in the chief executive role just a couple of weeks and part time at that I had the pleasure of attending a hui in Te Kaha with chairman John Forbes, board member Peter Brown and kaumatua Peho Tamiana. We discussed a possible trail, being explored by the Tairawhiti District Health Board and the iwi in the area, which would potentially stretch from Opotiki, along the coast and over the beautiful Raukumara Range, all the way to Gisborne.
The visit to the East Cape highlighted the diversity of access issues across Aotearoa. Access is often inextricably linked with economic development and opportunities increasing access stimulates local economic activity, while decreasing it causes the area's economy to suffer.
And there seems to be a real appetite for outdoor recreation activities across New Zealand. Some 8,000 people cycled the Motu Trails between Opotiki and Matawai in its first year of operation. That is twice as many as the 4,000 who were anticipated to ride the trail in that same time period, and it's making an important contribution to the East Cape economy.
But with access comes issues to manage. As the sign from Opape in the photo accompanying this column shows, access is a two-way street. Abuse it and it can be lost. This illustrates the importance of the Commission's work on encouraging responsible access.
I'm impressed with what the New Zealand Walking Access Commission has achieved in its seven years of existence. I pay tribute to the work of the former chief executive Mark Neeson, staff and Board, who took an idea and made it a reality. It is no easy task to set up an organisation from scratch, and to do so in a space that at the time was fiercely contested. That the â€œaccess spaceâ€