Dedicated to democratic climate-action mobilisation and the Mahurangi
author CiminoFrom day one, preserving the sense of splendid isolation that is Te Muri, was the mission of the Mahurangi Coastal Trail.
Since its 1973 purchase as regional parkland, Mahurangi West locals had had the run of Te Muri, or at least of the coastal margin of Te Muri that was compulsorily acquired. Access—as it is, nearly half a century on—was by walking down a farm track and wading Te Muri Estuary. This fifteen-minute walk and wade was all it took to still the mind and induce a delicious sense of isolation. When a whistleblowerNo, the author cannot claim credit; but it was his nearest neighbour, at the time! learnt that planning was underway to cross Te Muri Estuary with a concrete road bridge, to provide parking for 4000 cars behind the beach, the community revolted.
The saga of how the community headed off the road, bridge, and parking plan has been reiterated repeatedly in the Mahurangi Magazine, but the salient, proximate point is that it was a regional parks management plan process that embraced the community’s alternative vision for Te Muri, as a walking-access-only regional park. Today, Friday 10 December marks the release of the draft 10-year regional parks management plan, and the beginning of the final, 12-week consultation period, prior to formal hearings in May 2022. Although, with help from the community, the second formal proposal for road access, this time via Hungry Creek Road, was seen off in 2017, there is arguably even more to play for now, than in 1987.
It is fair to say that, in 1987, the imperative that every action must equally, desperately, be a climate-action-mobilisation action, was decades in the future. It was a year before Dr James Hansen delivered his Congressional testimony on greenhouse-gas emissions, and 24 years before his 2011 Tāmaki Makaurau address, which briefly stunned its audience with his insistence that nuclear power is an indispensable component of any plausible global response to the imperative to slash emissions. Be that as it may, the new regional parks management plan must be climate-emergency fit for purpose. Fortunately for the prospects for finally realising the Mahurangi Coastal Trail, providing public transport access to 1000 contiguous hectares of regional parkland—contiguous, once linked by the trail—is the epitome of picking low-hanging fruit. The draft plan, however, has very different ideas:
Vehicle access into Te Muri will not be possible until the State Highway 1 intersection with Hungry Creek Road has been upgraded. Additional investment is also required to upgrade Hungry Creek Road to allow for two-way traffic. Once this is completed, the council intends to provide an arrival area at the western end of the park that would include a car park, toilets and visitor facilities.
While many who cherish the isolation and freedom from vehicles, which confining them to near the western boundary confirms, will be more than happy with this proposed policy, it would torpedo a unique opportunity that the Mahurangi Coastal Trail would otherwise facilitate. Once the ferry service across the Pūhoi River is operating, an almost 16-kilometre, scenic-ridge-road and river loop is created, which could be in use from the day the coastal trail opened. The Wenderholm – Te Muri – Pūhoi loop, however, relies upon Hungry Creek Road being as safe to walk as it is today, on account of the infinitesimal number of vehicles that use it. If the road is upgraded, at the cost of tens of millions, the experience for walkers, cyclists and horse riders would be miserable. One of Auckland’s more obvious great walks would be sunk.
By itself, the Wenderholm – Te Muri – Pūhoi great-walk loop more than justifies revisiting the pre-climate emergency compulsion to prioritise private-light-vehicle access. But another, possibly even more uniquely compelling opportunity would be drowned at birth, should Hungry Creek Road be upgraded to generate thousands of vehicle movements, on any given weekend or holiday. Since its opening a decade ago this month, the official route of Te Araroa, the national walkway, between Pūhoi and Wenderholm, is via the Pūhoi River. In practice, from its 2011 inception, the vast majority of walkers have braved the uncomfortable shoulder of the highway, rather than hire the readily available kayaks. There are multiple reasons that the official, river, route is distained, including it being distinctly tide-dependant, and that, early in the epic walk, many walkers are keenly husbanding their discretionary spending, and their time.
Few Aucklanders are familiar with the name Te Araroa, and much fewer have knowingly walked so much as a section of it. Plenty will have unknowingly walked urban sections, but Wenderholm – Pūhoi is the first, sublime, non-urban section, north of the metropolis. Commencing from within the greater 1000-hectare Mahurangi regional park, it would be impossible to devise a more magnificent entrée to New Zealand’s 3000-kilometre long walkliterally, in te reo Māori: araroa = walk long. After a decade in use, end-to-end Te Araroa use has only just exceeded 1200. The covid-19 pandemic is demonstrating some of changes that the climate emergency will increasingly require. A more obvious one is replacing air travel with the utilisation of public open space—the genuine guilt-free option. If walking it became the rite-of-passage aspiration of all young people born in Aotearoa, as it utterly deserves to be, up to 60 000 of those walking Te Araroa of a year would be New Zealanders. This is the gift that Te Muri and the greater Mahurangi regional parks can bestow.
Providing for a Mahurangi Coastal Trail, and all that it would unlock, is a very small part of what the Auckland Regional Parks Management Plan must address. The plan is responsible for the enlightened management of a 41 000-hectare regional parks network, and more than 225 kilometres of sea-level-rise challenged coastline, visited, even before the pandemic, by 6 million people per year. The proposed Mahurangi Coastal Trail, however, presents a disproportionately outsized regional parks opportunity, not least of all to signal a significantly overdue break from the pattern of private-light-vehicle dependency. Citizens can be excused for imagining that there is no private-light-vehicle problem, given rapidly increasing ev availability—courtesy of mainstream media’s ev-cheerleading and absence of curiosity as to how the world really works. Council planners, however, are charged with producing policy that is based on robustly developed knowledge. The fundamental flaw in predicating urban transport on private light vehicles is lack of road space. evs, it is increasingly being acknowledged, are fuelling congestion, while not measurably contributing to the imperative to slash global greenhouse-gas emissions. Joined-up Te Muri thinking, aside from catalysing a world-class coastal trail, a great walk, and boosting the national walkway, would demonstrate one non-private-light-vehicle-centric regional park.
Mahurangi West locals enjoyed freedom of access to Te Muri, 34 years ago, long before the park was officially opened. When these lucky locals suddenly realised that the sanctity of this rare, peri-urban place, free of the singular intrusiveness of the private light vehicle, was about to be violated and lost forever, they acted. Some regional council officers read the response as nimbyism, and that may well have been the motivation of one or two. However, the great majority utterly accepted that, having been acquired for regional parkland purposes, the provision of practicable access for the region’s people was both necessary and reasonable. The community was confident, that, if all-tide walking access was provided—as opposed to a road and parking for thousands—the region’s people would be eternally appreciative that the sense of splendid isolation of Te Muri had somehow, miraculously, been preserved.
Te Muri adherents can support sharing their special place with hundreds of Aucklanders, or share Te Muri with thousands of Aucklanders, and thousands of their private light vehicles—was Auckland Transport to ever fund the major upgrading of Hungry Creek Road, and was Auckland Council to ever fund the western visitor centre outlined in the draft plan. The deadline for submissions is midnight, Friday 4 March 2022.
Previous trials The year Te Muri was compulsorily acquired under the Public Works ActPublic Works Act 1928, subsequently replaced by the Public Works Act 1981, 1973, was the year of the first oil crisis, which so graphically highlighted civilisation’s utter dependency on fossil fuels. The conclusion embodied in the following statement, under the chapter Sustainable access, must be challenged:
Previous trials of public transport to some regional parks have shown that this is unlikely to attract large numbers of regular users.
Previous trials, prior to the climate emergency, the covid-19 pandemic, and the failure of cop 26, cannot adequately inform what can now be achieved with public transport. Winning existing park visitors over from private-light-vehicle access is one thing. But offering all-tide access to the gem that is Te Muri, via a high-quality hourly service, and the opportunity dine at Waiwera and soak in newly recreated hot mineral pools, on the way home…
Disclosure The author of this article is the secretary of both Mahurangi Action Incorporated and the Mahurangi Coastal Trail Trust, and has voted Māori, more than once. The article published here, however, is that of the editorially independent, independently funded Mahurangi Magazine.
Draft Auckland Regional Parks Management Plan