A Northland man says it's a case of ''mission accomplished'' in his plan to reopen a disused walkway along Kerikeri River despite DoC opposition.
For more than three years, keen walker Bob Bingham has been working to clear a track through public land along the south side of the river.
While the track is neither official nor signposted, it is recommended in Lonely Planet's newly published Best Day Walks New Zealand — which Bingham reckons must count as some kind of official recognition.
The Lonely Planet tome, which includes only one other Northland walk, sends walkers up the Rainbow Falls Track on the north side of Kerikeri River then directs them back to the Stone Store via Bingham's ''Southside Track''.
Bingham got the idea when he was introduced to an online mapping system produced by the Walking Access Commission showing all public land in New Zealand.
The map showed, to his surprise, a disused Department of Conservation track through public land all the way up the south side of the river.
''I thought, 'I'll have a go at that'. So I hacked a way through and started walking it, mostly for my own pleasure.''
However, given the huge popularity of the Wairoa Stream Track created by Vision Kerikeri founder Rod Brown, Bingham figured others would like to use it too.
He also thought it could help build Kerikeri's reputation as a walking destination by linking up existing tracks to create a network of trails.
''My aim was to pull all the tracks and Kerikeri's five waterfalls together,'' he said.
After years of weeding and hacking and the construction of one modest bridge, the Southside Track can now be walked from Kerikeri Basin all the way to Clark Rd in the town centre or to the bridge over Puketōtara Stream on Golf View Rd.
It is a little rough in places and the start just uphill from the Stone Store is hard to find but it is otherwise reasonably easy to follow.
Bingham said DoC maintained the track until the Cave Creek disaster in 1995 when the department closed many walks — including the Southside Track, which eventually became overgrown — and upgraded those which were left.
''What I didn't realise when I started is that DoC doesn't want people walking on land they don't have complete control over, so they've done what they can to discourage me.''
That included putting up warning signs saying the track was closed, removing Bingham's colour-coded track markers, and telling him to take down his Kerikeri Walks website.
Bingham said he understood DoC's funding shortage and concerns about liability in the post-Cave Creek era.
However, liability could be addressed by signs warning people of the risks and taking steps to minimise them, and community volunteers were willing to do the work.
Bingham said he had tried four times to get an agreement with DoC so they could work together to plant trees, trap pests and manage risk.
He was no longer maintaining the track but enough people were using it to keep the route clear.
''I daren't touch it. If I do they'll be on to me. But I do have lots of enthusiastic supporters. If a tree goes down a saw turns up as if by magic and it gets cut up and carted away.''
The Far North District Council, which also administers public land along the route, had been supportive.
The council had marked out property boundaries, removed rotten and invasive trees, and granted $13,000 for Bingham's website, walking brochures and bridge materials.
Once he reached a community agreement for the use of council-owned land he would approach DoC again.
Bronwyn Bauer-Hunt, DoC Bay of Islands operations manager, said the department had reservations about the track ''for perfectly good reasons''.
Also, there was already a well-formed and well-used track, Rainbow Falls Track, on the other side of the river, and with limited resources DoC could not afford to replicate it.
''We have yet to sit down with Bob and work out a way forward. We are willing to talk with him but we also have to talk with Ngāti Rēhia and other stakeholder groups,'' she said.
Even if DoC didn't come to the party, Bingham said it was still a case of mission accomplished.
''People are walking the track. That's all I set out to do. You can walk through the woods and pretend you're a thousand miles from anywhere. We're incredibly lucky to have this in the middle of town.''
• Go to www.kerikeriwalks.kiwi for more information about the five waterfalls track network.