Protecting our access heritage

In this column New Zealand Walking Access Commission chief executive Eric Pyle discusses New Zealand's access culture and heritage, and some of the challenges we face when trying to protect this for future generations.

We're lucky to live in a country that has so much spectacular scenery. My tramping upbringing left me with an abiding appreciation of what New Zealand has to offer. We spent many of our holidays exploring different parts of the country. Outdoor access is a big part of what it means to be a New Zealander, and integral to our sense of identity.

In the few months I've held the position of chief executive for the New Zealand Walking Access Commission, I've had the privilege of hearing many stories about access from a variety of people and organisations, from farmers and local government to recreational groups. In May, I was in Blenheim to hear local iwi, officials and landholders talk about some of the challenges they face. Such discussions are central to the work we do, which is all about improving walking access around New Zealand.

From the Coromandel to Canterbury, when we're talking to landholders and other affected parties, we hear the same concerns. Landholders for example worry allowing access onto their land will impact on their privacy and their land. These concerns are understandable. We need to listen and to be responsive. But the benefits of granting access for local communities must also be outlined. Negotiating access is a two-way street. Our role at the Commission is to help ensure communication flows both ways and everyone has a say.

With a growing population, as well as increased migration and tourism, access has become more relevant than ever. We need to ensure locals and visitors from out-of-town know about the tracks and trails they can use, which is where the Walking Access Mapping System comes in. We need to ensure that the infrastructure is there to cope with the numbers of people using these walkways; and we need to keep working on improving access.

We also need to keep communicating. And successful communication relies on the relationships we build.

Over the next months and years, we'll build on existing partnerships and create new ones. We'll continue to promote outdoor access. Our message is that we want people to enjoy the outdoors, but they must also be respectful of landholders and the environment because easy access to the outdoors is something we want to preserve for future generations. We will continue to promote access, while stressing that it comes with responsibility. We must not take what we have for granted.

Page last updated: Sep 8, 2020, 3:46 PM