The agencies responsible for the management of one of the Waikato’s most popular walking trails are urging the public to stay off the track during the Covid-19 Level 4 lockdown.
Date: 27 March 2020
The Hakarimata Summit Trail is managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Waikato District Council (WDC). The track is normally heavily used by walkers and runners, and can be accessed from points near Huntly and Ngaruawahia.
On Tuesday, 24 March, New Zealand country moved to Covid-19 Level 4 and all New Zealanders were asked to stay home to break the virus’ chain. Exercise should be undertaken in residents’ local communities.
DOC asked the public not to venture into the great outdoors, particularly well-used tracks such as the Hakarimata Summit Trail.
However, information gleaned from recent social media posts shows people are ignoring the advice and continuing climb to the Hakarimata summit.
David Speirs, Incident Management Team Lead for DOC in the Waikato, says people continuing to use the track are putting themselves and others at risk. He is encouraging everybody to stick to the lockdown plan and consider the impacts of your actions on the community you live in, including your family.
“We know the Hakarimata track is popular and loved by many Waikato people, but this is not the time to be using it,” Mr Speirs says.
“The track is too narrow for people to keep that two-metre social distance, and the handrail is exactly the sort of surface the Covid-19 virus could sit on, ready to infect the next person touching the rail.
“It’s unacceptable people are clambering over barriers we’ve put in when they’ve been explicitly told not to use the track” Mr Speirs says.
Merv Balloch, WDC Emergency Controller echoed Mr Speirs’ message to the public.
“We are at COVID-19 Level 4 which means you may go for a walk or exercise from your home; this does not include travelling to any other location and you must keep a two-metre distance from people outside your ‘bubble’ (those you are living with) at all times.”
Today (Friday, 27 March) the Hakarimata Summit Track entrance was sealed and signs were put in place reminding the public not to use the track.
DOC is moving to close all huts and campsites and asks no one uses these until further notice.
Date: 24 March 2020
DOC is today moving to close all huts and campsites and asks no one uses these until further notice says DOC Director-General Lou Sanson.
“People should no longer stay at DOC huts and campsites as these are not suitable for use during alert levels 3 and 4. They should also avoid using facilities such as toilets as it will not be possible to service these facilities and hygiene will be compromised,” says Lou Sanson.
“For everyone’s safety, at alert level 4 we strongly recommend that people should not head into the backcountry or remote areas, and we recommend they don’t undertake outdoor activities (such as adventure sports or hunting) that would expose them to higher levels of risk. This is because normal search and rescue operations will not be running, hut wardens will not be in place, communications may be limited, and we do not want to place unnecessary strain on health services.”
The Game Animal Council have also put out advice to hunters to “do the right thing and stay at home”, acknowledging that this comes during the roar.
This does not mean you are confined indoors says Lou Sanson.
“Time spent in nature feeds the soul, keeps us fit and calms the mind. We must all look after ourselves and loved ones during this time.”
“It is ok and recommended you head outdoors in your family or self-isolating units. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, choose a quiet location close to home, keep a safe distance from others and follow all government guidance.”
“While rangers won’t be placing signs at, or checking every hut and campsite, we expect the public to do the right thing for their safety and the safety of others. The majority of DOC rangers will be self-isolating like the rest of us and need to focus on their wellbeing and the wellbeing of those close to them,” says Lou Sanson.
“However, DOC will be monitoring the situation over the coming days and weeks and may respond in specific situations, should safety issues arise in conservation areas.”
Track updates, closures and safety advice are on our website.
If you want to speak to someone about your plans, contact the nearest visitor centre.
A banded rail recently found dazed and confused in the Coromandel has been released back to its home after being cared for by a retired vet nurse from the Kuaotunu Bird Rescue Trust.
It all started when Anne Betty, a local from Little Bay came across a moho pererū/banded rail stumbling around seeming a bit dazed and disoriented at the back of her property one afternoon.
The following morning it was actually bumbling around right by her front porch, so she was able to quickly pick it up and take it inside. Moho pererū are usually quite a shy bird and not easy to catch, they are found sparsely throughout New Zealand, usually in wetlands, mangroves and salt marshes.
After taking the bird inside, Anne got in contact with Annemieke from the Kuaotunu Bird Rescue Trust who is a retired vet nurse. She cares for injured birds in her own time out of passion and the goodness of her amazing heart. Our local Coromandel DOC staff have a good relationship with Annemieke as people sometimes drop injured birds off to our office and they are passed onto her to for care.
As soon as Annemieke got the call, volunteer driver Neville went and picked up the injured bird. Once it arrived Annemieke couldn’t find any external injuries to explain the bird’s behaviour so she placed it in a space where it could be observed. She noticed a slight irregular gait (walking abnormality) as well as the head slightly tilting to the left. It also sometimes tripped over while walking forwards.
Annemieke suspected it could have been hit by a car or some other impact injury so it was treated with anti-inflammatories and pain relief in case of head or spinal bruising/ injury. The current drought could also have caused increased bacterial growth, like avian botulism bacterium, which if birds are exposed they can display similar symptoms. The banded rail was given fluids by crop tube before it was given any medication. This continued twice daily.
On the second day the rail needed more running space so the bird was put into an outside aviary. The bird returned to normal really quickly and was eating and drinking regularly. It was soon nicknamed Speedy Gonzales.
“Speedy’” was taken back to the DOC base a few days later and Ranger Troy released it back to Little Bay. A happy outcome for all, go well Speedy!
If you find sick, injured or dead wildlife you can ring the DOC emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468). Bird rescue centres can also be found around the country. Find out more: birdrescue.org.nz/rescuing-a-bird/
For the safety of visitors, volunteers and staff, DOC is temporarily closing its visitor centres to the public from today, and from tomorrow will be cancelling all hut and campsite bookings
Date: 22 March 2020
For the safety of visitors, volunteers and staff, DOC is temporarily closing its visitor centres to the public from today, and from tomorrow will be cancelling all hut and campsite bookings, says DOC Director-General Lou Sanson.
This cancellation includes all Great Walks bookings for the rest of the season (up to 30 June 2020). People will receive a full refund. Rangers will be visiting tracks and facilities, alerting people about these changes and checking people are complying.
The government has announced New Zealand is now at Alert Level 2 for COVID-19. This means the disease is contained but the risks of community transmission are growing. The Ministry of Health has provided measures for New Zealand to follow in response to the alert level.
“Social distancing is key to preventing the community spread of COVID-19. Given the risk of potential community transmission, we have decided to cancel all accommodation bookings, including Great Walks,” says Lou Sanson.
“We are also temporarily closing our visitor centres to the public for the same reason. Although the doors are closed, our staff are only a phone call or email away and can still help people who want information.”
DOC is monitoring conservation areas and facilities across New Zealand to ensure public safety and adherence to government guidelines. Non-bookable campsites and remote backcountry huts will be closed if New Zealand reaches Alert Level 3. For the time being they are still available.
Users must ensure they maintain minimum separation requirements and follow all personal hygiene guidance. DOC accommodation cannot be used for self-isolation.
“Spending time in nature is great for our mental and physical wellbeing, and we’re still encouraging people to get out there – you just have to follow the latest advice. We recommend finding your own space outside with walks and activities that take less than a day, and avoiding activities that could leave you reliant on hut use.
“While you’re out and about make sure you’re doing your part to keep yourself and others safe. Stay up to date on the latest information, follow guidance on non-essential domestic travel and minimum separation requirements, and take necessary safety and hygiene precautions.”
Visit this website for information including track updates, closures and safety advice.
Mount Somers Track is a very popular 26 km circuit track located in the beautiful Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury. Due to the trail’s proximity to Christchurch and the relative ease of the walk, the 26-bed Woolshed Creek Hut and the 19-bed Pinnacles Hut were often the unwitting destinations of the ‘Weekend Surge’. This is best described as a frenzy of keen-as trampers heading up the hill on a Saturday (as many as 60 people) hoping to secure a bed at the end of their hiking day. To help combat the weekend overcrowding and the resulting frustrations, the two huts were added to DOC’s booking system on 1 October 2019.
Within 8 weeks of the online launch, at the beginning of what the Geraldine based DOC staff consider to be their summer season, bookings were 173% higher than for the same period for the 2018-2019 summer. These projections were validated when the actual figure reporting was released earlier this month, confirming 729 visitors during January, up from 420 visitors in January 2019. This includes an increase in trail-runners, day walkers and hunters utilising the area.
Staff have reported other notable benefits such as less jostling on the track, compliance checking is now much easier and record-keeping is significantly more accurate.
Rebecca (Becs) Crilly, nearing the end of her second summer season as the Lead Hut Warden for the area, echoes these benefits. “Having bookings has taken a lot of stress out of the warden role. We are able to spend more time with trampers, sharing information about the local area and interesting landmarks to visit while they’re walking. Trampers are more engaged with us too, as we’re not perceived as ‘just compliance’ anymore. The interactions are a lot friendlier now”.
Working alongside a second Hut Warden and a bevvy of volunteers, Crilly stated that including the Mt Somers facilities on the booking system had been well overdue and the response from trampers to date had been one of “overwhelming joy”.
“Trampers are now able to pace their walk and enjoy the outdoor experience without the time pressures of needing to get to the hut first. They know they have a guaranteed bed at the end. There is clear signage at both entrance carparks informing people they have to book a bed before they head up, but we won’t ever turn anyone away either. We just make it clear that bookings will always get priority. There hasn’t been any issues so far this season.”
Both the Woolshed Creek carpark and the Sharplin Falls carpark have reception, providing the opportunity for a booking to be placed from a mobile device. And further up the hill, Hut Wardens use their mobile devices to complete online check-ins, confirming exactly who is onsite.
As a direct result of having certainty of visitor numbers, Crilly says she has been able gain some more structure and productivity from her days. She plans to be available at the huts around the times walkers will start arriving and is able to schedule track maintenance activities for the quieter days.
When queried about the downsides of the booking system, Crilly reported very few. Some ‘Back Country Hut Pass’ holders are still learning the huts must be booked first although many are already familiar with the process for claiming their refund. The booking system itself has some quirks too. There is currently no self-cancellation option, meaning folks who aren’t able to make the trip become ‘no-shows’, if they haven’t rung DOC to cancel. Sometimes there is a ‘same-day booking’ glitch when using a mobile phone to book from the entrance carparks, although this is resolved quickly by the wardens at hut check-in. Another feature Crilly is happy to utilise.
“We have noticed a shift in the demographic of people who are walking too. This walk is the perfect introduction to overnight tramping. Families have confirmed accommodation so they can travel with less gear, at a pace that suits them. Woolshed really isn’t the party hut it used to be.”
Following a recent ‘Dads and Lads’ tramp, Andy Osborne agrees with this comment. He and a family friend took their respective sons (aged 7 (just) to 11) for an overnight stay at the Woolshed Creek Hut. “We knew that the hut needed to be booked prior and the system worked well. Everyone who was staying in the hut overnight had also booked, so there were no extras sleeping on the floor.”
Of the experience itself, Osborne said they walked in via Rhyolite Ridge, commenting it was “a bit tough for the boys with packs on” so they cooled off in the waterfall gorge swimming hole about 20 minutes from the hut, before heading back to the hut for the evening. “It was a great experience overall”.
DOC is continuing to improve the booking service it can provide to customers and in April all existing bookable campgrounds and huts, that sit outside the Great Walks, will transition to the new booking service. The new service provides significantly more flexibility for customers, enabling them to make an account and then have full control to book, modify and cancel their own accommodation online. It will also enable Back Country Hut Pass holders to use their passes at time of booking.
From April, bookings at campgrounds and huts for stay-dates from 1 July onwards will be made on the new application, with the existing booking system still being used to make bookings for stay-dates up to 30 June. More information is available from booking.doc.govt.nz
This is the busiest time of year for deer hunting and hunters must strictly adhere to the firearms safety code.
Date: 18 March 2020
This is the busiest time of year for deer hunting. The Department of Conservation is calling for all hunters to strictly adhere to the firearms safety code when hunting on conservation land this season.
A critical factor in several fatal incidents in recent years is hunters failing to properly identify their target.
There are some simple measures a hunter can take to ensure they are 100 % certain of their target says DOC Recreation Supervisor/Senior Ranger, Jim Campbell.
Hunters should wear coloured clothing to contrast with the environment and the animals being hunted.
If in any doubt shift to get a better view or just don’t shoot at all.
If hunting in a party don’t separate and continue to hunt in the same area. Mountain Safety Council recommends that once you lose sight of a person in your hunting party, you unload and do not reload or take any shots until you regain sight of your partner.
Ensure the complete animal is seen and don’t shoot based on individual items such as colour or shape or sound.
Anybody intending to hunt on public conservation land must get a permit first and be familiar with local hunting safety restrictions. A permit can be obtained from the DOC website.
Hunting permit holders are reminded to adhere to the permit conditions and refrain from hunting in the hours of darkness or ‘spotlighting’. This practice is not permitted on conservation land and this is clearly stated on all DOC hunting permits.
“Spotlighting on conservation land poses a serious risk to other people who are using these areas such as campers and walkers and this practice must stop,” says Jim Campbell.
“While most hunters are responsible and follow the firearms safety code, firearms safety must be at the forefront of all hunters’ minds when in pursuit of that trophy or meat for the table.”
Those entering the Mangapurua Valley on a quad or Light Utility Vehicle (LUV) must have a hunting permit even when scoping the area. Be aware this is a multi-use track, expect to encounter cyclists and trampers,” says Jim.
Historically, Manawatu/Wanganui is one of the four highest areas for hunting injuries and search and rescues.
Whanganui DOC Operations Manager, Tahinganui Hina recommends that hunters who have had little experience, attend the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association ‘Hunter National Training Scheme’ (HUNTS), which covers hunting safety as well as other practical outdoor skills.
Information on the firearms safety code can be found at the NZ Mountain Safety Council (MSC) website. Information on safe hunting practices around walks, huts and campgrounds is available on the DOC website. There is also a detailed list of special conditions for specific hunting areas across the country.
Whanganui DOC staff will be checking hunting permit compliance this hunting season and recommend all hunters have their appropriate paperwork available.
Anyone who sees hunting activity at night on conservation land should contact the NZ Police immediately or call the DOC hotline on 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).
Tips for staying safe
Identify your target. Ensure the complete animal is seen – don’t shoot based on individual items such as colour, shape, sound or movement. If in any doubt, shift to get a better view or don’t shoot at all.
Use binoculars to identify your target – the rifle scope should only be used to place the shot.
Know the area you are hunting and share your knowledge with the other members of your party. Before the hunt, have everyone agree on hunting areas with a clearly defined “no fire zone” between areas.
Don’t assume there is no one else nearby.
If carrying a deer carcass or trophy head, cover it in some way so that it is clearly contrasted with the environment.
Be visible; wear clothing that contrasts with the environment and the animals being hunted and have appropriate gear.
Be alert and prepared for changes in conditions. Monitor and assess the weather.
Be familiar and practised with the firearm you will be using.
Remember the hunt is not over until everyone is safely home.
Murray and Judy Bramald didn’t anticipate being conservationists, but after three years of regular visits to work in the Pureora Forest Park, they think they may now fit the criteria.
Date: 18 March 2020
Mr and Mrs Bramald – New Plymouth residents in their early 70s – are the driving force of the Trail Angels, a small but enthusiastic group supporting the Department of Conservation’s work along the Timber Trail, a popular cycling route winding through the central North Island forest park.
The Trail Angels membership currently comprises Mr and Mrs Bramald, their friend Brian Nicol, and occasional members Keith and Judy Larsen. They have been voluntarily working in the park for more than three years, ensuring the track is clear and safe for the hundreds of visitors who enjoy the area annually.
The couple, who are keen quadbike riders, “started off clearing old bits of timber and trees that had fallen across the trail,” Mr Bramald says.
Their other work has included removing trees to improve views from the trail lodge, adding gravel to the popular track, eradicating weeds and most recently, playing a key role repairing a DOC-owned hut damaged in a suspicious fire.
Staff from DOC’s Te Kuiti office provided training and guidance, and from there the relationship has flourished.
“We’ve committed a considerable amount of time to it, with all our training and our commuting, and the changes to our quad bike to meet the health and safety requirements,” Mr Bramald says.
“We stay in the area for up there eight or nine nights at a time. We’re happy to do anything that needs to be done.”
By collaborating with DOC staff on their projects, they’ve been able to reduce heavy manual labour and work more efficiently.
“The DOC people really took us under their wing and taught us about all the health and safety side of things for the Department,” Mr Bramald says.
“The lovely friendships we’ve made with staff from the Department have been outstanding: they’ve treated us with a huge amount of respect, and we like to think we’re friends with them all – and that motivates us.
“We’re really happy with what we do.”
While in the forest, the Bramalds stay connected to DOC staff through a myriad of communication devices – cellphones, satellite phones, GPS, and even a radio telephone.
Kina Campbell, DOC’s Te Kuiti Senior Community Ranger, says the Trail Angels’ contribution allows DOC staff to focus on high-priority work while also providing the Angels with the materials and guidance to carry out their projects.
“The Trail Angels are a great example of a small but committed conservation group making a difference,” she says.
“Because of the commitment, energy and planning they’ve shown, DOC has been able to keep the Timber Trail well maintained and open for the many visitors who enjoy it.
“Collaborating with the community is fundamental to DOC’s work inspiring conservation, and to form friendships like we have with Mr and Mrs Bramald is an added bonus.”
DOC’s long-running Pureora Forest Hunting Competition has been cancelled for 2020.
Date: 17 March 2020
Staff from DOC’s Te Kuiti office, which manages the red deer hunting event, opted to cancel the month-long competition today (Tuesday, March 17) given the rapidly evolving situation with the Covid-19 virus and New Zealand’s response to it.
The competition’s prizegiving, scheduled for 19 April, was expected to have drawn a large crowd of hunters, their families and interested observers, and was considered the main area of concern for DOC staff managing the event and the competition.
Hunters with permits for the Pureora Forest Park can continue to hunting and are urged to take the usual precautions for any hunting forest activities.
A DOC research team has arrived on the remote Antipodes Island to study endangered Antipodean albatrosses for the next six weeks and attach GPS satellite transmitters to them.
Date: 17 March 2020
The Antipodean albatross population has declined by two thirds over the last fifteen years from around 16,000 breeding birds to 6,000. The major threat to these birds is being accidentally caught by longline fishing vessels, mainly on the high seas, outside New Zealand waters.
DOC scientists Kath Walker and Graeme Elliott will attach small GPS transmitters to the albatrosses so the birds can be tracked while they forage at sea. This will enable DOC to better understand where the birds are flying and where they encounter fishing vessels.
The female population is being affected more severely than the males. Oceanic changes are thought to have driven the females to forage further north and east of New Zealand, pushing them into waters where they are at greater risk from international longline fishing fleets.
Graeme says: “Year after year we see the same male albatrosses arriving at the colony and waiting by their nest for their dead partners to return. It’s heart-wrenching to watch.”
Live Ocean, a new marine conservation charity set up by Peter Burling and Blair Tuke partnered with Southern Seabirds Solutions Trust on the project. Live Ocean raised $70,000 to help pay for the satellite trackers which will substantially increase the number of transmitters that Fisheries New Zealand and DOC have provided.
“The data provided by these satellite trackers is the first step in saving this iconic species. Millions of years in evolution and they could be gone in as few as 20 years. Kath and Graeme are absolute legends and we’re looking forward to following both their journey and the albatrosses,” says Peter Burling.
Satellite trackers on albatrosses can pinpoint the exact location (within a few metres) of the bird in near real-time. The birds can be monitored via the albatross tracker app which was developed by DOC and FNZ. Their flight paths can be overlaid with the activity of individual fishing vessels to identify those posing most risk of bycatch.
Kath Walker and Graeme Elliott have been studying these albatrosses for more than two decades and aim to understand the flight paths of these birds so governments, environmental interests and other influencers can work with the fleets most likely to be causing risk to these birds. The urgent need is to reduce deaths of Antipodean albatross by fleets using fishing practices that keep them and other seabirds safe on high seas vessels.
Antipodean albatrosses only breed in New Zealand, on the Antipodean Islands 750km south-east of Dunedin. They have a three-metre wingspan and are known for their exceptional navigational and voyaging ability and spend most of their life at sea.
This albatross is listed as ‘Nationally Critical’ under the New Zealand Threat Classification System, the highest threat classification. The Antipodean albatross is also listed on the highest appendix in the international Convention for Migratory Species and is recognised a population of conservation concern by the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels.
New Zealand is the ‘Seabird capital of the world’; more species of seabirds breed on our mainland and offshore islands than any other country in the world. The diversity of albatrosses NZ has is incredible – 13 varieties, head and shoulders above any other country.
The recent MFE State of our Marine Environment 2019 shows that 90% of our native seabirds are threatened or at risk of extinction.
Longline fishing vessels can avoid catching albatrosses by using hook-shielding devices to prevent birds becoming hooked, or by the combination of setting baited hooks at night when the birds are less active, adding weights near the hook to sink baited hooks quickly, and deploying a bird-scaring line (tori line) above the point where baited hooks land in the water.
Shark scientists are concerned about the number of juvenile ururoa/great white sharks that have been captured by recreational fishers recently, particularly in Northland.
Date: 17 March 2020
DOC says 12 juvenile white shark captures have been recorded since March last year around the upper North Island.
DOC’s shark expert Clinton Duffy says five of the captures were recorded on Ninety Mile beach, with the most recent capture last week.
“The number of juveniles being caught on fishing lines is a concern because these sharks are endangered, and it means they won’t grow to maturity and contribute to the breeding population,” Duffy says.
Recreational fishers using kontiki and ‘torpedoes’ to set longlines off beaches, were responsible for at least seven of the shark fatalities recorded.
“We want fishers to understand that white sharks are protected and should be released in the water immediately. They shouldn’t be hauled up the beach or dragged backwards by their tails because that will cause further injury.”
There are estimated to be only around 750 adult great white sharks in New Zealand and eastern Australian waters (estimate range between 470 to 1,030 adult individuals).
They are vulnerable to a variety of fishing methods, including trawls, set nets and longlines and have even been found drowned in crayfish pots.
In several instances, the sharks were quickly released and probably survived capture. In other cases the carcasses were found discarded on beaches, in some cases, they had been butchered or had their jaws removed, and one carcass was finned before DOC staff were able to recover it.
While it is not illegal to accidentally catch or even kill a great white shark all fishers are required to release it immediately and report the event to DOC or a Fisheries Officer as soon as possible.
It is illegal to retain any part of the shark for food or as a memento or trophy, even if it is dead.
People should report sightings of great white sharks to 0800 DOC HOT (0800 36 42 68) or send a photo to the Sharks Mailbox: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reporting sightings (recent or historical) assists research on the species, particularly understanding when and where they occur in different parts of the country.