Hiker fears track upgrades may diminish connection to nature

Pavement-style walking tracks in remote areas are wrecking an important connection to nature for walkers, says the head of an Auckland community newspaper.

The Waitākere Ranges at Karekare Beach. Photo: 123rf

Devonport Flagstaff editor Rob Drent wrote an opinion piece in the latest New Zealand Wilderness magazine, questioning the Auckland council‘s decision to gravel an access path to a hill above Karekare Beach on the city‘s West Coast.

He said it was part of a major upgrade of Comans Track – which was re-opened after other tracks were closed throughout the Waitākere Ranges, in the wake of the .

In April 2018, the council resolved to of the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park, with some exceptions, to respond to the on-going spread and impacts of kauri dieback.

It aimed to re-open the tracks once they were brought to kauri safe standards.

The council then sought to find out which tracks people wanted prioritised for opening, and whether there were any additional tracks which should be included or removed.

Comans Track featured well down the list, with only 3 percent of submitters wanting it prioritised in the council‘s future work programme.

Mr Drent, who lived on Auckland‘s North Shore but owned a property on the city‘s West Coast, said the track above Karekare Beach was special for its wilderness.

“It‘s a picture-perfect West Coast beach 40 minutes from the centre of Auckland, which is well loved by locals and Aucklanders because of that – there‘s nothing there, there‘s no shops or commercialism.”

Mr Drent said the tracks in the Waitākere Ranges were ideal for getting out of the city and into the wilderness.

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“Things are just becoming a bit … well, for want of a better word, institutionalised.”

Mr Drent said that while track upgrades could diminish the connection to nature, he agreed it could also improve access for people who might not otherwise venture out to these areas.

“It‘s a valid point, but it‘s about where you draw the line.”

Mr Drent said cutting steps into a wilderness track was one example of how nature was being imposed on.

“I don‘t particularly like steps. They‘re a physical change to the natural environment and it means I‘m not looking around at the trees, the bush and the birds – I‘m watching my next step.

“In some cases it‘s like going up a multi-storey building, and it‘s not what I‘m out in nature for.”

He did not believe there was anything especially difficult about Comans Track in the first place.

“If you look on the Karekare locals‘ Facebook site, there‘s a lot of comments from locals about this,” Mr Drent said.

“A lot are saying that for a natural experience in Auckland now, we‘re having to travel hours and hours because the Waitākeres are essentially closed and the tracks are being made into ‘super highways‘.

“It takes a lot away from Aucklanders‘ ability to get out into nature.”

The council‘s Track Reopening Work Programme for the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park included the list of tracks prioritised for re-opening between 2019-2024.

The council said its decisions were based on “strong feedback” from the public consultation process regarding the need for more recreational access.

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