I have just spent a few days tramping in the Waitotara Conservation Area, starting at the Puniwhakau Rd end East of Stratford and heading south to the upper Waitotara Valley through some of the most interesting lowland forest, consisting of mature rata, rimu, kamahi and black beech.
Large areas of regenerating scrub early on the track remind you of early attempts to farm this area, as you leave the last of the open country.
In a recent Conservation Comment Dave Scoullar talked about tourism in Taranaki and asked the question: what about Whanganui?
The conservation area is west of Whanganui National Park and was once promoted as a possible main walking attraction for the Whanganui – Taranaki region. The Whanganui River could be the exit point for those walkers who extend to the Matemateaonga Track, who can then choose to head downriver via jet boat to Pipririki.
What we see now is the Mangapurura walkway/cycle way getting most of the interest from walkers and cyclists heading south from National Park into the Whanganui River Valley.
For some reason DOC has ceased to maintain the track system that allows access to large parts of the Waitotara Conservation Area. It still has three huts - Puteore, Tahupo and Trains - which are underutilised as a result.
DOC has large areas to manage in the Central North Island, and tramping clubs could take on some of this Waitōtara work. Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand (FMC) has a Backcountry Trust that clubs can ask for funding.
Anything from $5,000 to $20,000 could be available if a project was accepted by the trust. Wanganui Tramping Club could work with neighbouring clubs in Manawatu and Taranaki. All are likely to end up using the tracks and huts, along with deerstalkers and possibly even mountainbikers.
District and regional councils, iwi, tourism and conservation interests could also get involved.
We are always hearing about enhancing and protecting our conservation estate to ensure a future for generations to come. What's wrong with looking to the future by developing and maintaining this track system so that all can use it?
What better way than by all working together to achieve an area which could become the economic driver for recreation in our own conservation estate?
Move over Taranaki. This could be done for much less in dollar terms than the Taranaki project, while involving locals from both areas.
All we need is Regional Development Minister Shane Jones, along with Conservation Minister Eugeine Sage, showing some vision for conservation values in our region.
Brian Doughty is a tramper and member of the Te Araroa Whanganui Trust