I’ve just returned from a night at the Holdsworth Lodge in the Tararua Forest Park, near Masterton. The park and the hut we stayed in are administered by the Department of Conservation.
New Zealand’s forest parks differ from national parks. There are 19 forest parks whose primary purpose, in most cases, is to protect the catchments of forested mountain ranges throughout the country. They generally provide a less restricted range of recreational activities than national parks and reserves.
There are 13 national parks. The rationale for them in earlier days (late 19th and early 20th centuries) was scenic preservation, tourism and recreation (often in the form of hunting). Deer were released in Tongariro National Park and wapiti in Fiordland to provide sport for hunters and goats were allowed to roam the slopes of Mt Taranaki (Mt Egmont). The damage these animals caused to native plants was a continuing problem. From about 1914 to 1920, heather and lupins were sown to ‘beautify’ Tongariro National Park. This horrified scientists such as Leonard Cockayne, who thought parks should be sanctuaries for native plants and animals.
This is not in a national park, but these lupins were also introduced into this area of the South Island and are now a tourist attraction when they’re in flower.
As a recent NZ Geographic article begins: “In early summer, photographers jostle for space on the roadside to capture a calendar shot across Lake Tekapo to snow-covered Mt Cook, through a dazzling blaze of lupins”. Lupins are not native to New Zealand or to this area. In the late 1940s, Connie Scott, of Godley Peaks Station, near Tekapo, scattered lupin seeds along the roadside. She bought about £100 worth from the local stock and station agent, hiding the bill from her husband for many months, hoping simply to make the world more beautiful. Now they are seen as good sheep feed. However, “The planting of Russell Lupins as sheep feed in the Canterbury high country is triggering a clash between farming and conservation values.”
Back to national parks: from the mid-1960s there was more stress on protecting New Zealand’s diverse ecosystems, and less on preserving places of scenic beauty. After 1990 the public’s right of access to national parks was to be balanced with the need to protect plants, animals and natural features. Restrictions were placed on facilities such as buildings, roads and signs, and on vehicle, boat and aircraft traffic. Maori views also became more significant. Under the Ngāi Tūhoe Treaty of Waitangi settlement in 2014, Urewera National Park was disestablished and administration of the land passed to the Te Urewera Board. However, Te Urewera remained open to the public and the Department of Conservation continued to manage tracks and facilities. National parks are important for New Zealand’s tourism industry. Tracks are often maintained to a high standard – especially those that have been designated ‘Great Walks’.
However, they are sometimes ‘victims of their own success’, with too many visitors. This is a common complaint on the one-day walk across the ‘Tongariro Alpine Crossing’. An article in a recent edition of the NZ Listener also pointed out the problems of the ‘growing popularity of backcountry tracks’. Some of those problems are crowded walks and huts, pollution of lakes and rivers (“Despite posters in the hut explaining that Niwa scientists had proved the water in the lake [Blue Lake] to be the clearest in the world… and signs pleading for visitors not to swim or wash in it, one tramper was spotted carting a bucket of washed clothing back to the hut”); and people evading paying for use of tracks or huts.
A few years ago I walked the Heaphy Track (one of those ‘great walks’) in the Kahurangi National Park. The beds in the huts have to be booked in advance so you know you will have a place to sleep! I didn’t feel it was too crowded; however, we walked it in early December – it is probably busier in January. Some photos from the Heaphy Track, including two of the newer huts.
Within the Tararua Forest Park, more intensive pest control is being undertaken in the most popular parts of the forest.
In 1987, DoC (Department of Conservation) took over management of forest parks. As a consequence, the park’s former ‘multiple-use’ policy was replaced with a greater emphasis upon conservation of natural and historic heritage. Much of the vast network of huts and tracks in Tararua Forest Park was in acute need of maintenance. The extensive network of back-country huts and routes established during the 1960s were of limited interest to park visitors who only wanted day trips to the front periphery of the park. The need for better road-end picnic facilities, and short walks was recognised, as well as the need for upgrading huts along some of the more popular tracks.
A comprehensive ‘Recreational Opportunities Review’ of the track, hut, and bridge network of Tararua Forest Park carried out during 2004-2005 concluded that some low-usage huts and tracks should be phased out, primarily to restore a remote core to the Tararua Range. Other tracks and huts will be progressively upgraded to acceptable standards.
The relatively short-walk forest tracks were popular the two days I was there – with families, teenagers, dog-walkers, and groups of adults like ours. I was particularly pleased to see so many families and children on the walks as I think it is one of the better ways of developing an appreciation for diverse ecosystems.
 New Zealand Department of Statistics Yearbook 2000: http://www2.stats.govt.nz/domino/external/web/nzstories.nsf/0/8762285833e21a18cc256b1e007c496f?OpenDocument; and
Nancy Swarbrick. ‘National parks – National parks – the beginnings’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 2-Jul-15 URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/national-parks/page-1
 Penny Wardle, New Zealand Geographic, Issue 137 January – February 2016 URL: https://www.nzgeographic.co.nz/archives/issue-137/lupins
 Nancy Swarbrick. ‘National parks – Māori, conservation, ecology: the 1960s onward’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 29-Jun-15 URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/national-parks/page-3
 Rebecca Macfie, ‘Te Araroa Treasure’, Listener, Jan 30 2016, available online: http://www.listener.co.nz/current-affairs/social-trends/treasure-trail/