Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Value of Nature

Untouched beauty - for now

I saw an interesting ad recently - New Zealand's Ministry of Tourism is looking for someone who can devise a methodology for determining the value of natural resources (ie. keeping our national parks pristine etc.) to the country.

This comes at an interesting time. The government is currently doing a "stocktake" of mineral resources on crown land, including national parks. They say they're just interested in knowing what lurks below the surface, but anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see that they're thinking of allowing more mining, fossil fuel exploration and so on as a way to boost the economy. They've even admitted that they'd think about moving the boundaries of special status areas (where no mining or forestry is currently permitted) if there was reason to do so.

Obviously the government thinks that New Zealand is sitting (perhaps literally) on a gold mine of unused minerals that could be mined and exported. They claim that using moder methods this would cause "minimal disruption" to the natural beauty and ecosystems.

So to counter this (although they haven't officially said this is the reason for their project) the Ministry of Tourism is trying to put a value on leaving nature as it is - so that future tourists will continue to come to New Zealand for its natural beauty and untouched wilderness - one of our major drawcards currently. If it's worth more in its current state, it may influence any decisions to allow people to dig it up.

I will be waiting to see how this all plays out. I hope there will be a willingness to resist the quick bucks and preserve the economic, environmental, and lifestyle value of New Zealand's amazing natural landscapes.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hopelessly Devoted to Your Gear?

A girl and her pack - a love story?

Recently I was reading an issue of New Zealand Wilderness magazine, and came across an article which mentioned a postgraduate student trying to determine whether Kiwis are emotionally attached to their tramping gear.

To me, the answer was a no-brainer. Of course we are!

I expect that any non-tramper would question why. After all, we're just talking about practical "stuff". But I also expect a number of those same people are a little too fond of their cars, or their i-phones, or whatever they spend their time with.

As humans, we tend to create stronger bonds with one another when we've been through something challenging or life-changing together. The more challenging or life-changing, the stronger the bond is likely to be. This is why war buddies are often life-long friends. They've been to hell and back together, and the bond is about as strong as it gets!

This is one of my selling points for tramping as a couple. You face challenges together while tramping, and come out with a stronger bond at the other end of it. Many of the couples I surveyed while writing Sex in a Tent confirmed that this one of the best things about their outdoor adventures together.

So if this works between people, why not (to a lesser degree) between a person and his or her gear? My backpack has been there with me through a lot. I've thought about shopping for a nice, new one - maybe with some more hi-tech features, or lower weight - but I've grown rather fond of mine.

It was lent to me by my Aunt Judy for my first multi-day jaunt into the wilderness some six years ago. When I told her how well it had worked for me, she let me keep it since her backpacking days were pretty much behind her. It moved with me to New Zealand, and has been on every tramp I've been on since.

Perhaps that's an extreme example, since most gear is not a family heirloom. But even things like hiking boots are difficult for me to throw away when the time comes. They've walked the miles, and it's sad to see them go.

I'm not sure how far this extends. I guess it depends on your personal experiences. If your life once depended on your camping knife, or your headlamp, or some other item that might otherwise seem pretty impersonal, you could find it hard to part with.

Of course this is the sort of thinking that drives retailers and manufacturers nuts. They would prefer we got quickly tired of our gear and excited about the latest marvel of technology they're selling. Instead, some of us wander into the shops lamenting how they "don't make 'em like they used to".

I do have a pair of boots that are at the end of their usefulness. By the time summer is over, I will have to bid them a fond farewell. They've served me well, and I will lament their passing.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Paying for Rescue

Photo: New Zealand Land Search & Rescue

Recently in New Zealand, an empty kayak was seen floating down a very swollen river on the South Island. Search & Rescue was alerted, a helicopter dispatched to scan the river, and two kayakers rescued from the riverbank.

After the rescue, the two were asked to pay for the $4000 rescue, because conditions were very dangerous and they should have known better than to try to run the river while it was in flood. The kayakers claim they were OK and the rescue was unnecessary and unrequested, so they don't feel they should have to pay for it.

It raises an interesting issue which comes up in the press now and then here. Should people who get themselves into trouble in the wilderness because they are unprepared or unskilled have to pay back the cost of their rescue? Or is this a public service that should never cost the end user money? And who gets to decide whether their situation was due to incompetence or circumstances beyond their control?

People have called in rescue teams for some pretty stupid stuff here in NZ. People who went on multi-day tramps with almost no food because they didn't want to carry extra weight. People who decided to take "short cuts" and got lost or hurt, people who tried to climb in alpine terrain in shorts and a t-shirt because it was sunny and warm at the bottom of the mountain. I've even heard of people calling for rescue because they decided they were too tired to walk back to the trailhead.

Often tourists are blamed for this sort of behaviour. But locals actually account for the majority of rescues in New Zealand. However, the general feeling seems to be that if you are visiting the country, since you aren't a taxpayer, you should get an invoice for your rescue.

I have no idea how this works in other countries. Maybe some of you can enlighten me as to what happens if you need to be rescued in the US? In Europe? In Australia? Do you get asked to pay for it?

I'm of two minds with this. On the one hand I know that the system gets abused because it's free. On the other hand, I'd hate to see a situation where people died in the wilderness because they felt they couldn't afford the help they needed.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Two out of Three Ain't Bad

Above the Waiohine River in the southern Tararuas

Even though it is officially summer, the weather in the Tararua ranges is always a bit of a crapshoot. Since we were off for almost 2 weeks for the Christmas/New Years holidays, we kept an eye on the forecast and decided to go tramping for three days starting December 27.

We arrived to pleasant, sunny weather on our first day. The campground at Waiohine Gorge Roadend was bustling, as you would expect at this time of year. But we were determined not to repeat last year's mistake of getting stuck in overcrowded huts, so we brought our tent along and decided we'd avoid the huts altogether.

Our trip started with a big, steep climb up to (almost) Cone Saddle. It's strange how I can go to the gym several times a week, and still be immediately out of breath as soon as I have to tramp uphill with a pack on! Oh well, I don't think I could deal with the strange looks if I started showing up at the gym with a loaded backpack.

The sun was thankfully having a hard time penetrating the tree cover, so we were sweaty, but not unbearably hot. And the last part of our tramp for the day was a descent down the opposite side of the ride past historic Cone Hut.

Cone hut is very basic, and only has bunks for 6 people at best. I was glad we weren't planning to stop there for the night, because a group of 6 (plus one dog) showed up just behind us. They weren't too sure about staying in the "well preserved" hut either, and at least one couple opted to sleep nearby in their tent instead.

We continued down to Smith Creek, where there is a relatively well established camping area. (No facilities though.) We picked a flattish, sheltered spot and set ourselves up in the tent. I had a bit of a wipe down by the river, but had to be a bit subtle because the Cone Hut group were also lounging down there.

The evening was very pleasant, and we were quite pleased to be on our own, away from the hordes.

Overnight it began to rain, and we avoided getting up in the morning as we tried to use our sheer will to make it stop. Eventually we had to give up hope, and have breakfast in the light drizzle. We packed up the wet tent, and headed back up the hill to Cone Saddle.

The rain stopped and started all day, making everything wet and a bit slippery. Both of us lost our footing now and then on a bit of mud or a slick tree root. Nothing major though. It was one of those days where you can never quite decide whether to keep your rain jacket on, or take if off. Either way you're going to end up damp - either from drizzle or from sweat.

We descended back over to the Waiohine Gorge side of the ridge, and decided to camp at a small spot by the river. Our original plan was to follow the river trail up to Totara Flats, and camp closer to the hut. However, there was a fairly large stream to cross first, and with the rain it was not very appealing to me. With a perfectly good campsite on our side of the stream, I opted to stay there (and G humoured me.)

The drizzle wouldn't relent, so we basically spent the entire time inside the tent until morning. It had dried overnight, but the wind had picked up too. However, I was happy to be out of the tent, and I really liked the little ferns that were growing all over the trunk of the tree fern by our tent.

We packed up and headed back along the Waiohine Gorge towards the road end. The trail seemed longer than it looked on the map - but perhaps I'm in worse shape than I like to think!

The sun had returned, so although it was windy we had pretty pleasant walking conditions. There was a lot of mud from the previous day's rain though, so we probably went slower than usual trying not to sink ourselves in too much.

There was one big stream crossing on the way back. Most people rock hop over it without too much trouble. But as I've pointed out before, stream crossings and I don't get along very well. I made it about 3/4 of the way across from rock to rock, then got to a place where it was too far for me to step or hop.

I decided I would have to step into the stream with one foot, then climb up onto the last rock. It seemed like a good plan, but my execution was somewhat flawed. I didn't step far enough up onto the rock, and instead tried to put my weight onto the mossy, slimy side of the rock. Needless to say I slipped, banging my knee on the rock. I wasn't hurt (other than a bit of a scrape and a bruise) but I was very frustrated and pissed off at myself for doing this yet again! You'd think I'd get better at it with experience, but somehow I just keep on messing it up.

Anyway, the rest of the walk out was pretty uneventful. I had an ice cream in Greytown to drown my sorrows on our way back to Wellington. Within a couple of days the weather turned and the Tararuas have had strong wind and heavy rain warnings since New Year's day. So it looks like we lucked out, with just one drizzly day.