Higher standard for cows than people

08/01/2020

A lack of loos on DoC tramping tracks is a problem that needs urgent attention.

A public toilet should be added at the Ben Lomond Saddle or the area’s impressive tourist reputation risks being flushed away, MP Hamish Walker warns.

Mr Walker, the Clutha-Southland MP, said the Department of Conservation needed to act and install the much-needed toilet.

About 35,000 people walked to the summit annually and this number was growing each year.

“As the track’s popularity continues to increase this issue will get bigger,” he said.

Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) southern convener Peter Wilson agreed with Mr Walker’s suggestion, but emphasised that the funding for the toilet should come from the Tourism Infrastructure Fund, and not from Doc’s own hard-pressed resources.

It’s a timely suggestion,” Mr Wilson said.

Mr Walker said the matter “needs to be sorted now with the installation of a toilet to future-proof the track and protect the natural environment”.

The necessary infrastructure was not in place, and there was “a major environmental problem developing, with piles of human faeces and toilet paper spread across a large area, getting worse every year”, he said.

Landowners voluntarily offered access to members of the public, but the growing mess could jeopardise this access, he warned.

Mr Wilson, a former Dunedin resident who is immediate past FMC national president, said a toilet needed to be installed to prevent environmental damage at the 1326m saddle, near Queenstown. . .

Roys Peak has a  similar problem with human waste.

The property owner next to the Roys Peak Track in Wanaka has vowed to keep advocating for more toilets to be installed along the popular Department of Conservation day walk, despite the Minister for Conservation assuring him that inappropriate toileting behaviour was on her radar.

On November 25, John Levy wrote to minister Eugenie Sage asking for the “very important health issue” of only two toilets, one at the start and one at the summit on the 16km return, to be addressed.

In the past year Doc recorded 81,350 people had walked the track, an average of 222.8 people a day.

“If the Mt Roy track was a restaurant, cinema or any other business in Wanaka, the Queenstown Lakes District council would require 47 toilets, not just two,” Mr Levy said.

If anyone else tried setting up a business catering to the public with too few loos they would not get consent. If anyone else had an attraction which couldn’t cater for the number of visitors it would be required to restrict numbers or upgrade to cope with them. Why is DOC not held to the same standard?

On December 16 Mr Levy received a reply from Ms Sage, in which she acknowledged “inappropriate toileting is unacceptable and of concern” but it was a national issue for Doc and not restricted to the Roys Peak track, she said.

“Encouraging behaviour change of our visitors requires a multi-agency approach across New Zealand … there was a significant focus [last year] on promoting responsible visitor behaviour, which had a significant reach and impact,” she said.

Trying to change tourist behaviour was “asinine”, Mr Levy said.

“It is like saying we only have one toilet at the cinema or restaurant and everyone can just hold it until they get home.” . . 

Educating tourists on toileting while tramping is only a very small part of the solution. It is completely unrealistic to expect people to either hold on or carry a trowel and bury their waste on popular tracks like those up Ben Lomond Saddle and Roy’s Peak.

Last time we went up Roy’s Peak it took us 2 hours and 50 minutes to get to the top. We carried  along the ridge, up Mount Alpha then down to Spotts Creek, finishing in the Cardrona Valley where we’d left a car the night before.

This is the Skyline Track which the DOc website says takes 10 to 11 hours.

This challenging tramp begins with the track to Roys Peak (1578m). From the peak, follow the ridgeline towards Mt Alpha (1630m). A short narrow section of track around rocks before the climb to the highest point has a steep drop off on one side and requires care when crossing.

From Mt Alpha the track descends through snow tussock to a 4WD farm track before reaching a signed junction. A poled track from this junction drops down into Spotts Creek then out to the Cardrona Valley Road and car park. Though this description has the track starting with Roys Peak Track, the Skyline Track can be walked in either direction.*

We did the tramp in 7 1/2 hours, our son-in-law did it last week in a bit more than half that time.  But even that would be too much without at least one loo stop for most people, especially if it’s a hot day and you’re making sure you stay hydrated.

These are DoC tracks and it’s their responsibility to ensure that they’re not polluted with human effluent, in exactly the same way that farmers have a legal responsibility for dealing with effluent from dairy sheds – with very expensive consequences should they get it wrong.

As it stands, there’s one standard for tourists and another much higher one for stock and for the sake of both human and environmental health, that is simply not good enough.

* The Skyline Track can be walked in either direction but I’d advise starting at Roys Peak, even though it’s a steeper climb than going the other way.  There are some steep and scrabbly stretches between Roys Peak and Mount Alpha and it’s easier going up these than down. Once at the top of Alpha it’s a reasonably gentle descent into the valley which is much easier on joints and braking muscles than the steep one down from Roys Peak.


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