Environment – Parkland equity?

This season I’m heading to the mountains in Te Waipounamu, the South Island. We’re heading down in our van, with toys and tools for every occasion. We have our trusty kayak, a paddleboard, bikes, tramping boots, art and craft supplies, and guitars for the inevitable rainy days.

Our (flexible) itinerary is like a list of all the beautiful places and, because a third of the country is in publicly-owned conservation estate, it will also be a national park tour. En route we hope to do some walking among the giant trees and volcanic landscape of the Tongariro National Park. We will probably kayak, camp and tramp at Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes. A visit kayaking Abel Tasman’s golden sands and clear water may be on the cards. In Paparoa National Park, we’ll walk among limestone cliffs and forested rivers. In Westland – Tai Poutini – I have my hopes set on kayaking some remote lakes among the karearea, kotuku and kahikatea. In Aoraki-Mt Cook, we hope to stay in a hut in a glacier’s bed.

Arthur’s Pass is a favourite spot, so weather permitting we’ll be wearing out some shoe leather there. Kahurangi, Mt Aspiring and also Victoria Forest Park are places on our list.

We are very lucky to have freedom to venture into the great outdoors for this extended period of time.

There’s privilege in escaping away and exploring wild places. That privilege is based on freedom from poverty, work and family responsibilities, and the fact that these huge tracts of forest, geological wonders and biodiversity are preserved from destruction. Except they’re not really preserved because the Labour Government has failed to honour promises made while in Opposition to ban mining on conservation land. The areas aren’t really preserved in other ways either – pests are prevalent and the impacts of commercial tourism in some areas is profound. Helicopters and aeroplanes buzz the glacier regions, and packs of organised tours all in a hurry to ‘do the South Island’ in limited time, reduce the balance of nature.

Most of the people you meet in the wilds are white, middle-class tourists like me. The outdoors is most accessible to those who can afford the time and leisure, while poorer communities who already live in areas with less amenity and fewer trees, are not those who have the toys and disposable spending to get out onto the tracks and trails.

Indeed, national parks are constructs that favour some groups over others. You can hunt deer and Tahr, but you can’t carry out cultural harvest of birds. Deer are pests for sure, and many/most native birds are threatened – the introduction of exotic species and the decline of endemics have the same source – western colonial traditions that disturb the balance of nature. So ecological imbalance and parks are created by the same forces that benefit most from them today.