Share Te Muri with walking Aucklanders or their cars
It’s been timed for low tide that day, at 12.22 pm.
Because, despite the Auckland Regional Authority’s citizens advisory group 29 years ago embracing the concept of developing Te Muri for walking access only, there’s still no all-tide access across the estuary from Mahurangi West.
Some, of course, do not want all-tide access, nor any development that would see one additional person visiting their special place. Others, particularly those who heroically headed off the regional authority’s plans to build a concrete road bridge across Te Muri Estuary and to provide parking for 2000 cars behind the beach, knew that improved walking access was the only long-term alternative to the area being opened up by that much more disruptive option.
Fast-forward to 2010. On the eve of the regional amalgamation, the 407-hectare Schischka farm was the last regional park purchase by the regional council. While proponents of regional parks rejoiced at the acquisition, those who had seen-off the road access plans in 1987 knew, even before reading past the headlines, with $15 million having been invested to take pressure off Wenderholm and Sullivans Bay, Te Muri was not going to be allowed to continue to receive so few visitors that it might as well still be in private ownership. It brought into sharp relief that the only long-term hope for keeping Te Muri car-free was if the long-mooted Mahurangi Coastal Trail was belatedly developed, and that it proved to provide sufficient access to result in the new regional parkland being appreciably used.
So rather than delight at the development, those who understood the implications felt a chill when reading that:
In the mainstream media coverage of the purchase, no mention was made of the hard-fought campaign of 1987, much less the potential of a Mahurangi Coastal Trail to provide reasonable access for those willing to invest a little effort to reach ‘Auckland’s New Chums.’
Of the 88 submissions that were made during the first phase of consultation via the Mahurangi Magazine, and in the current, formal phase, and the 77 hardcopy submissions that were made at the Mahurangi Regatta alone, all favour the Mahurangi Coastal Trail concept. Only two of the total of 140 phase-one submissions called for car access. While it might not particularly harm the case against car access to also oppose greater foot access, the experience both 29 years ago and this time around is that council officers and politicians simply categorise such views as nimbyism, particularly with the region’s population projected to increase by one million over the next 30 years. That, and the present lack of any policy or appetite for maintaining the rate of regional park acquisitions achieved during the last 50 years, it is indefensible to do nothing to allow more Aucklanders to enjoy regional parkland purchased for their enjoyment. But, aside from the right of reasonable access to Auckland Regional Parks, walking the coastline is a primeval human instinct, and if New Zealanders had an ounce of respect for the whenua they would be able to traverse the entire coastal margin of their motu unchallenged. Instead, billions are spent on infrastructure for more and more climate-disrupting motor vehicles. At present those able to enjoy Te Muri typically access via car from Mahurangi West, or by petrol-powered boat from Wenderholm and boat ramps farther afield, or by kayak—the latter two modes generally also following a car trip. Public transport and walking, with their myriad, well documented health benefits are at the bottom of the heap. For a fifth of the estimated cost of upgrading Hungry Creek Road and the Schischka farm road, the entire Mahurangi Coastal Trail could be developed, complete with the low-key Judge Arnold Turner Footbridge and opening span, which would allow even the venerable and busty Jane Gifford to venture up the Pūhoi River.
Those who fancy they can beat into submission the three appointed commissioners whose job it will be to consider the current round of input—with the position that it shouldn’t be made easier for folk to access Te Muri—would do well to reflect that without the community’s proposal for developing Te Muri for walking access only, access for these last 29 years would have been by road bridge across Te Muri Estuary into a 2000-car parking area behind the beach. The walking access was never improved because regional parks management of the day wanted to prove that few people would visit Te Muri without road access. Mahurangi Action, at almost every opportunity, continued to advocate for improved foot access knowing that, without it, the regional council’s preoccupation with road access would never go away—at least, so long as the private car reigns supreme.
Ultimately, it is unconscionable that only the car-owning classes that can access Te Muri. The poor and the deliberately carless should be able to get off the bus at Waiwera and walk as far as they care to into the greater 900-hectare Mahurangi regional park estate. Many regional parks are too far-flung to be accessed, in the near future, by public transport, but Mahurangi, Te Muri and Wenderholm are ripe for connection. Meantime, those who with every justification consider that the wellbeing of Te Muri’s dotterels, oystercatchers and shearwaters should have supremacy over human access should note that Mahurangi Action’s proposed route for the coastal trail avoids the particularly sensitive area—the sandspit—altogether, and would significantly reduce anthropogenic disturbance below that which is currently occurring, as people blithely paddle or wade across the estuary, and file past or through that vulnerable, crucial breeding area.
Something to think about when walking in to Auckland Council’s ‘walk-in open day’ on the draft management plan variation, on Saturday 20 February.