A Northland man's efforts to open up a track to a hidden waterfall have been recognised with a national award.
Kerikeri man Rod Brown was the driver behind a project to restore access to Wairere Falls, a picturesque waterfall on Wairoa Stream, a stone's throw from central Kerikeri.
The falls were a popular picnic spot 60 years ago but subdivision and regeneration of dense bush made them all but inaccessible. After years of effort a track was opened in April last year.
On Wednesday night Mr Brown's work was honoured when members of the Walking Access Commission travelled to Kerikeri to present him with an Outdoor Access Champion Award.
Only a few of the awards are presented around New Zealand each year.
Commission chairman John Forbes said many people were involved in the project but without Mr Brown it probably wouldn't have happened.
He also acknowledged landowners who had allowed the track to cross their land, in particular Richard and Emily Fladgate.
Mr Brown said the track's success was the result of a lot of people and community groups working together for a common purpose, without letting egos get in the way.
The track was in fact two separate projects, one a public walkway and wildlife corridor near the Cobham Rd bridge created by Vision Kerikeri and Living Waters.
The other, a track from the bottom of Pa Rd to the hidden waterfall, was a Vision Kerikeri project with Kerikeri Rotary Club building the bridges, the Shadehouse nursery growing the seedlings, and the Friends of Wairoa Stream doing the track maintenance and weeding.
Mr Brown said the Friends had an average age of 73 and refused to join committees or pay membership fees, but were happy to spend hours pulling up weeds and fixing tracks. Without them, good soils and high rainfall meant the track would quickly be reclaimed by Kerikeri's ''pernicious weeds''.
While restoring access to Wairere Falls was important in its own right, the volunteers also had a long-term goal of recreating native bush to link remaining pockets of mature forest. In 50 years' time Kerikeri would be bisected by a 4km-long wildlife corridor, he said.
Nor was the Wairoa Stream track the end of it.
The groups were now working on another track linking Inlet Rd and the waterfall via land bequeathed by John Dalton; while the track on the other side of Cobham Rd bridge would be extended as far as Campbell Lane – though Rotary would first have to build "a bloody big bridge" with a 16m span.
Walking Access Commission chief executive Eric Pyle said walking trails had far-reaching economic, health and community cohesion benefits.
''And people have a great time getting out and planning, building and walking these trails.''
About 30 people attended the award ceremony at the Turner Centre on Wednesday evening, including representatives of the Bay of Islands-Whangaroa Community Board which has provided funding.