The public is being invited to comment on draft provisions in a partial review of the Kahurangi National Park Management Plan, including proposals to trial mountain biking on the Heaphy Track during the five-month winter visitor season and year-round on two other tracks.
People have until Friday 4 September to make submissions on proposed new provisions in the draft partially-reviewed Kahurangi National Park Management Plan which has been released today. Submissions can only be made on the five matters being reviewed which relate to mountain biking, aircraft, hunting and guided horse trekking access, and consideration of private or commercial accommodation on the Heaphy Track. They are matters that have arisen due to changes in circumstances or policy since the current park management plan came into effect in 2001.
The management plan guides and directs the Department of Conservation’s management of the national park. When the partial review provisions are finalised and approved, they will be incorporated into the existing Kahurangi National Park Management Plan and will be effective for the life of the plan.
DOC’s Nelson/Marlborough Conservator Neil Clifton said the draft partially-reviewed management plan contained proposals to trial mountain biking on the Heaphy Track from 1 May to 1 October each year and year-round on the Flora Saddle to Barron Flat and Kill Devil tracks.
“Numbers of people walking the Heaphy Track drop considerably in the May to October off-peak winter visitor season when the mountain biking trial on the track is proposed to run. Around 80 per cent of those walking the track do so in the October to April summer visitor season.
“The Flora Saddle to Barron Flat and Kill Devil tracks generally have low levels of use by trampers. On the track from Flora Saddle to Upper Junction, walker numbers are higher, especially in summer, but the track is wide there enabling walkers and cyclists to pass each other safely.
“Given the shared use of these tracks, mountain bikers and walkers would need to show consideration for each other. Mountain bikers would be expected to maintain safe travelling speeds, to be aware of other users of the track, and to adhere to a nationally-recognised mountain bikers’ code of conduct.
“It is proposed that mountain bikers could ride in either direction on all three tracks. No more than six riders would be allowed in a group.
“Monitoring would take place to determine whether social and physical effects of the mountain biking are acceptable and if it should be allowed to continue. The monitoring would include assessing its impacts on the environment and any impacts on other people’s use and enjoyment of the tracks. Monitoring would also look at mountain bikers’ compliance with the code of conduct and other requirements.
“The draft plan contains provision to at any stage discontinue the mountain biking trial on any of the three tracks if monitoring during the trial shows the impacts of mountain biking are significant and/or unacceptable. Otherwise the trials would continue until the Kahurangi National Park Management Plan is fully reviewed.
“The mountain biking provisions in the draft reviewed management plan, along with other draft review provisions, are only proposals and the public have opportunity to comment on them through submissions. Hearings will also be held at which submitters can speak to their submissions.
“Public submissions will be taken into account in revising the draft reviewed plan for consideration by the Nelson/Marlborough Conservation Board and then the New Zealand Conservation Authority which may make further modifications to it. Final approval of the reviewed plan lies with the conservation authority which would also seek comments on it from the Minister of Conservation.”
Mr Clifton said the draft partially-reviewed plan also contained proposals for managing aircraft landings in the park which were mainly for recreational activities including fishing, hunting, rafting, caving, and also for some commercial activities such as filming. All aircraft require a concession to land or take off from national parks and conservation areas.
“The draft plan provisions relating to aircraft access classify areas of the park into four landing zone types – frequent, restricted, remote, and Tasman Wilderness Area. A limit is proposed on the frequency of landings in each zone for recreational activities such as tramping, hunting and fishing taking into account factors such as natural and recreational values and the current level of landings occurring in each zone.
“Additional allowance is proposed for landings in the “frequent” and “restricted” zones associated with activities such as filming, rafting, kayaking, and caving which generally are one-off concessions that can involve several landings in a trip.
“The proposals are intended to enable a reasonable amount of aircraft use in the park to facilitate recreational and commercial activities while keeping aircraft disturbance to other users of the park at a tolerable level. They are also aimed at retaining the essential character of the park as remote, undeveloped and as a place of natural quiet.”
The review also considered whether private or commercial accommodation should be allowed on the Heaphy Track and it is proposed it should not be allowed.
“The current capacity of DOC huts and campsites appears to be meeting the demand for overnight accommodation on the track,” said Mr Clifton. “Also, the department’s online booking system enables management of numbers staying overnight in huts and at campsites to avoid overcrowding.”
“Additional accommodation would detract from the remote and undeveloped experience visitors can expect on the Heaphy Track.”
Copies of the draft partially-reviewed Kahurangi National Park Management Plan and submission forms can be obtained from DOC offices or visitor centres in Nelson, Motueka, St Arnaud, Takaka, Westport, Karamea, and Hokitika.
Heaphy Track visitor numbers
On average, approximately 4500 people walk the Heaphy Track each year.
It is proposed mountain biking would not be allowed between dusk and dawn on the Heaphy Track. This is for the protection of the area’s wildlife and their habitat, including nocturnal giant Powelliphanta snails and great spotted kiwi/roa.
Consideration was also given as to whether mountain biking should be allowed on the Lake Sylvester Track. The popular and well-used track was not considered suitable for mountain biking particularly given its use by families, school groups and people gaining outdoors experience. Additionally, steeper sections of the track might be ridden downhill at high speed creating a hazard for walkers.
Under General Policy for National Parks in place when the current Kahurangi National Park Management Plan came into effect in 2001, mountain bikes were categorised as vehicles which were prohibited in national parks except on formed roads. In 2005 new General Policy for National Parks came in which now allows mountain biking in national parks on routes specified in national park management plans.
It is proposed most of the park is zoned “restricted” landings and that the number of aircraft landings permitted in this zone for recreational activities such as tramping, fishing or hunting is limited to a maximum total of 520 aircraft landings a year and no more than 145 a month.
The Karamea Bend and Roaring Lion locations are proposed to be classified as a “frequent” landings zone reflecting the higher use in summer months of helicopters to fly people in to fish in these famous trout fishing areas. It is proposed to set a limit of a maximum total 265 aircraft landings a year for recreational activities and no more than 90 a month in this zone.
The draft reviewed plan proposes not allowing any aircraft landings in areas zoned “remote” to protect unique wilderness qualities and biodiversity values. Areas in the remote zone include the north-western coastline, the Heaphy Track, north of Mt Owen, around the Crow River and around the Cobb Valley and Mt Arthur Tableland.
It is proposed no aircraft landings would be allowed in the Tasman Wilderness Area other than for commercial recovery of deer or chamois under a wild animal control concession, search and rescue and conservation management purposes.
It is proposed to reduce the period in which commercial helicopter deer hunting is prohibited in the Tasman Wilderness Area due to higher numbers of deer being seen in the area and heavy deer browse of palatable species. It is proposed the commercial hunting exclusion period would change from 1 December to 31 March, plus Easter, to 22 December to 5 January, plus Easter.
It is also proposed that for public safety reasons the Cobb Valley Flats and Mt Arthur Tableland areas would be closed to hunting in the summer months from 22 December to 9 February.
A 500 metre hunting exclusion area either side of the Heaphy and Wangapeka tracks is also proposed which is consistent with similar hunting exclusion corridors in Nelson Lakes and Abel Tasman national parks.
Horse trekking access
In recent years there has been an issue of safety for horse and riders on guided horse treks in using the narrow and winding Wharariki Road to access Puponga Farm Park. It is proposed in the draft reviewed plan to allow concessionaire guided horse trekking on a specified route across a small part of the national park land and adjacent conservation land to access the farm park. The route follows the remains of an old stock route and tracks used for coal mining.