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Third Angel

Description: Wiz Fineron on Angel of Pain, Castle Hill.

Prize: Fiordland by Andris Apse – Thanks to Potton and Burton

Posted: 18/07/17

Posted By: Kester Brown

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Fiordland aircraft impact study in need of a research programme

Photo: The Ngapunatoru Plateau. By Derek Grzlewski

NZAC is calling on the Department of Conservation to come clean on its decision to allow an 8-fold increase in aircraft landings in a remote part of Fiordland National Park on the grounds of it being a ‘trial’. Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) and NZAC recently issued the following statement on this issue:

FMC and the New Zealand Alpine Club (the largest member club of FMC) state that they remain deeply disappointed in the Department of Conservation’s performance and communication over the so-called ‘trial’ of increased landings on the Ngapunatoru Ice Plateau, in the Darran Mountains, near Mt Tutuko and Milford Sound. Two recent Official Information Act requests, along with previous communication and other requests have confirmed the following:

  • The set of rules for Fiordland – the current Fiordland National Park Management Plan – authorises up to 10 landings on the Ngapunatoru Plateau per day.
  • Because the aircraft provisions of the management plan have never been enacted by the Department of Conservation, there are between 20-30 landings per day on the Plateau at the height of summer.
  • As part of the so-called trial, DOC has increased the number of allowable landings to 80 per day, distributed amongst 8 existing operators. This ‘trial’ is for 2/3 years.
  • This trial was approved and authorised behind closed-doors, without fair public process. FMC believes that this decision was unlawful and unfair, and will ask the Ombudsman to investigate.
  • Further discussions with the Department of Conservation have revealed a chain of miscommunication and ‘siloed’ decision-making. A reason cited for the trial and the closed-door decision was the need for a fast decision. However, at the time of writing, it is still not even clear if the concessions to authorise the new level of landings have even been approved, some eight months on.
  • Furthermore, there is no clear research programme that meets any reasonable definition of “research”. GPS monitoring is now a mandatory requirement of the concessions, after hard questioning from FMC earlier revealed that it wasn’t, but there are no other aspects to the programme that constitute ‘research’, such as determining base-line conditions or peer review.
  • An Ombudsman ruling would give an independent report of the fairness and lawfulness of DOC’s actions. In a previous ruling, the Ombudsman described a similar DOC decision-making processes as “nonsense on stilts”. FMC and NZAC believe that this is similar nonsense.

In the interests of transparency, NZAC is asking DOC to make the following information available to all stakeholders immediately:

– the scope and purpose of the trial

– the measurements that will be taken, at which locations, and by whom

– details of the methods to be used

– the expected application of the results, especially in relation to the management of National Parks

– an analysis of how the recently permitted increases in landings on Ngapunatoro Plateau are being used to inform the trial

– progress with an integrated policy on air access in National Parks


The Ngapunatoru Plateau is located in the Darrans Remote Setting in the plan. The current plan states that that this Setting will be managed primarily for the remote climbing opportunities it provides and to protect its remote rock climbing and alpine climbing opportunities, quiet atmosphere and wilderness characteristics.

Post your perspective on the Aircraft Access in National Parks forum here.

–NZAC Recreational Access Committee

Posted: 25/11/16

Posted By: Kester Brown

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Land use and land cover change explored in Sagarmatha (Mt Everest) National Park, Nepal.

A recent publication by NZAC member Rodney Garrard (based at the University of Bern) and coauthors explores such diverse topics like climate change, local resource use, resource conservation, and mountain tourism development in the Mt Everest region from 1992 – 2011.

Rodney outlines: “climate change is one of several factors that have triggered land use and land cover change in the region. In our paper we differentiate the nature of these factors according to their origin (global to local) and whether they have long-term or short-term effects on the sustainability of the National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site”.

The research involved significant on-the-ground analysis of the areas dynamic environmental conditions, and importantly a detailed understanding of the local residents concerns and observations. This kind of information is critical if we are to improve management of such areas that aid local conservation and development.

The link to the paper can be found in the Mountain Research and Development Journal 36 (3): 299-310. doi:


Posted: 18/11/16

Posted By: Kester Brown

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A fresh look at the sustainability of air access in Westland and Aoraki Mount Cook national parks

By Shane Orchard

This year marks the start of a review process for two of our iconic parks. The result will be new National Park management plans for Westland Tai Poutini and Aoraki Mount Cook national parks. Air access and climate change are two of the big issues to tackle.

Park access is a constantly shifting challenge, especially in alpine areas. Both Westland Tai Poutini and Aoraki Mount Cook national parks have extremely dynamic natural processes as a result of high winds, rainfall, temperature extremes, glacier movement and fault lines. The management plans have a ten-year lifespan and it’s not surprising that the landscape has changed a lot in that time. In addition, we now know more about climate change. Future proofing against the likely effects of climate change over the next ten years is part of the management challenge.

Currently the parks are well served by road access to key destinations, and boats provide access on some lakes and waterways. There are many short walks suitable for short-stay visitors, and backcountry travellers are well served by an impressive track and hut network in more remote areas. The challenge is keeping those types of services available and sustainable in the face of environmental extremes. There are obvious cost considerations, especially in the glacial valleys where erosion and rockfall cause frequent maintenance concerns. Less obvious are incremental changes to the landscape on a very large scale. Loss of glacial ice is one of the key changes. Others include changing riverbeds, moraine walls and active rockfall areas—all of which may change the character of the mountains themselves.

Those dynamics make it difficult to decide what infrastructure to put where, and how long it will last. It’s also worth noting that maintaining or creating recreational access is not the primary management objective for national parks.

Primary objectives for management in both parks

Objective 1

To preserve in their natural state, as far as possible, the landscapes, indigenous ecosystems and natural features of [the National Park].

Objective 2

To preserve the character of [the National Park] as a natural area of exceptional beauty, geological significance and biological diversity and for the benefit, use and enjoyment of the general public to the extent that this is compatible with Objective 1.

Objective 3

To give effect to the principles of the Tiriti o Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi to the extent that the provisions of the National Parks Act 1980 are clearly not inconsistent with them.

Considering these priorities, proposals that would increase the impacts of recreation are generally not a good idea. Instead, objectives for access in national parks focus on fostering public use consistent with ‘the preservation and protection of the park’s landscapes, natural features, biological processes and plant and animal life’. Those objectives must also account for visitor safety, prescribed visitor management settings, and minimisation of conflict between visitor groups.

The last point above is a key one, as visitors can have adverse effects on each other as well as on the natural environment. That means that air access, as a way to avoid dangerous rivers, eroding slopes and the like, is no panacea for national park access issues. It has its own impacts on many user groups. Debates on air access have been around for a long time and there are no easy answers. Typically, there’s a status quo for a while, and then there’s a review and new arrangements are made. When this happens, it is important to look at the reference state or ‘baseline’ we are supposed to be managing for, to ensure that values aren’t slowly degraded over time.

The DOC visitor management settings go some way towards resolving these issues by providing a framework for designating what happens where. The settings make a lot of sense, especially if everyone is happy with where they apply. Even so, tough decisions come in at least two forms: Should the designated visitor settings be changed? And what level of impact is acceptable within any one of the areas so defined?

Examples of DOC visitor management settings and target visitor groups
See for more detail.

Visitor management setting                                               Target visitor group

Remote Experience

Remoteness seekers

Backcountry with Facilities

Backcountry comfort seekers, Backcountry adventurers

Frontcountry with Facilities

Day visitors, overnighters

Highways, Roadside Opportunities & Visitor Service Nodes

Short stop travellers, day visitors, overnighters

Intense interest sites

Short stop travellers, day visitors

These aspects are especially relevant to air access considerations that will play out over the next few months as there will be changes to the current arrangements in the two parks. The impacts, both positive and negative, need to be well considered prior to decisions being made. Importantly, these impacts relate to more than landing sites and frequency. They relate to flight plans and the effects of the aircraft using them. Both have negative impacts and yet are desirable forms of access for some user groups.

Ultimately, the arrangements for the next ten years will be up to us. DOC will be looking for solutions consistent with the priorities for national parks that best cater for access needs. There will be no unified view and hearing different perspectives can only help the process. If you have a view or might be affected by changes then get involved. Look carefully at the proposed changes, as some are difficult to spot. Open days and public meetings facilitated by DOC and others will help. Above all else make sure you make a submission on the draft plan. There will certainly be changes to access arrangements in these plans and you can be a part of deciding what sustainable air access looks like in our national parks. This is an important opportunity and the results will affect how we all experience the amazing mountains of New Zealand.


Posted: 13/10/16

Posted By: Kester Brown

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Paparoa National Park Management Plan Review

The 24-year-old Paparoa National Park Management Plan is currently being reviewed. Over the past few months DOC has been undertaking the review in consultation with treaty partners Ngāi Tahu and local Rūnanga Ngāti Waewae, the West Coast Tai Poutini Conservation Board, and the wider community. The review process is now getting close to completion with submissions having closed on the draft plan (available here). 

In the draft plan there were considerable issues raised concerning the treatment of climbing and recreation in the park more generally. However there were also several possible avenues by which these could be addressed. In response several NZAC members were active in the pre-draft consultation stage and the formal submissions stage. In addition, submissions were prepared by the NZAC Recreation Access Committee (RAC) and Executive Committee, the NZAC Canterbury Westland Section, and several other NGOs with interests in the New Zealand outdoors, including NZRA and FMC.

A copy of the NZAC RAC and Executive Committee submission is available here: NZAC Paparoa NPMP Submission

In the final stages of the review process DOC is conducting an analysis of submissions and preparing a revised draft plan that will be forwarded to the Conservation Board for their consideration. The Conservation Board then makes recommendations to the New Zealand Conservation Authority who will ultimately approve a final plan. Keep an eye out for the outcome near the end of the year as the plan will undoubtedly contain new management arrangements for climbing in the park. These are timely and the focus of the current review process is to ensure that climbing is enabled and managed in a sustainable way, consistent with the wider objectives for national parks.

–Shane Orchard

Posted: 19/09/16

Posted By: Kester Brown

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Notice for climbers about Hanging Rock, South Canterbury.

There has been a significant outcrop collapse at the east end of the outcrop row on Gould’s property at Hanging Rock. Advice from geologists is that the rock fall has not yet finished, and may have rendered other nearby outcrops dangerous as well. The climbing areas known as ‘East End’ and ‘Jungleland’ are now very unsafe for climbing, or accessing at all – including walking below or above the outcrops in the area.

Posted: 08/09/16

Posted By: Kester Brown

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Sustainable Summits Conference 2016 Podcasts

Podcasts featuring highlights from each of the three days of the Sustainable Summits Conference. Special thanks to Carla Braun-Elwert who has done an outstanding job in producing these.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Posted: 07/09/16

Posted By: Kester Brown

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NZAC Photographic Competition 2016

Only 2 days left to get your entries in to the NZAC Photographic Competition 2016!
The competition closes midnight Sunday 4 September. There are some great prizes to be won from our wonderful sponsors Scarpa, Marmot and Alpine Recreation.
Head on over to to submit your entries.

Posted: 02/09/16

Posted By: Kester Brown

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