Lucky Taranaki is about to benefit from the Government money-go-round. Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage unveiled an ambitious plan aimed at enabling more people to enjoy the beauty of Mt Taranaki and strengthen connections to its natural and cultural heritage.
The Provincial Growth Fund will commit up to $13.3 million to investigate and support the Mounga ki Moana Taranaki Crossing project, a major new investment for the region, including the national park.
The proposed crossing concept would create a 41km Mounga to Moana walking experience offering a range of one-day walks from Dawson Falls via the North Egmont Visitor's Centre, Pouakai Range and Pukeiti Gardens to Oakura Beach.
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A potential upgrade of the North Egmont Visitor Centre to create a conservation and cultural education facility will be considered, as will possible development of transport options such as shuttle buses to manage and reduce traffic within the national park.
The Mounga ki Moana Taranaki Crossing Experience was developed by Venture Taranaki through the Tapuae Roa — Make Way for Taranaki Regional Economic Action Plan, which identified the crossing as a priority project for the region.
The project has a total cost of $23 million, with additional funding from central and local agencies, including the Taranaki Regional Council, DoC, the New Plymouth District Council and NZTA.
This comes on the back of plans to promote the 14.4km Pouakai Crossing in Egmont National Park, running from the North Egmont Visitor Centre to the Mangorei Road end, traversing the RMT, Ahukawakawa swamp and the Pouakai Range. This has been touted as the "next Tongariro Alpine Crossing" — though given the issues there this may be a dubious distinction.
A new car park and toilet facilities will be built by next summer at the national park entrance at Mangorei Rd. Upgrading is scheduled on boggy sections of the track between the swamp and Pouakai Range and on slip sites on the RMT, drawing on around $3.4 million allocated to DoC over a four-year period for track upgrades and interpretation.
The economic potential of the Pouakai Crossing as a premier one-day walk has caught the attention of regional tourism interests and is also short-listed by DoC as a potential new Great Walk.
While it is great seeing tourism, conservation, iwi interests and local bodies in Taranaki coming together to maximise the natural environment and people's connection to it, what about the Whanganui region?
The Waitotara Conservation Area, which — along with the Whanganui National Park — forms the second largest area of lowland forest in the North Island, is a tramping backwater that is ripe for developing greater use.
This is mainly mature contiguous forest with rimu, Hall's totara, and northern rata reaching above a canopy dominated by tawa and kamahi.
Some 20 years ago DoC ceased maintaining some Waitotara tracks. As a sweetener, it offered to promote a three-day tramping circuit taking in Puteore, Pouri and Omaru huts, which included bridging the Omaru Stream.
This never happened, but the potential is still there. So is upgrading the track from the Waitotara Valley Rd end to Trains Hut and beyond to Tahupo Hut.
Our local tourism, conservation and iwi interests and local bodies may have other priorities but to get traction they must come up with a vision. Taranaki provides an example of what can be achieved by working together.
■Dave Scoullar is a tramper, conservationist and member of the Te Araroa Whanganui Trust.