Widespread disappointment regarding the Hunter Valley station sale decision by the Overseas Investment Office stems from the fact there will be no guaranteed access up the northern side of Lake Hawea into the Hunter Valley, according to Upper Clutha Tracks Trust chair Grant Fyfe.
“The decision means the access up the lakeside route is only permitted when the farmer says it’s OK,” Grant said. “That’s the key problem. There is no access as of right and the farmer can deny access at any time, on a whim, on the grounds that it will interfere with the farming operation.”
The iconic 6,468ha lakeside station runs 35km up the north side of the lake and is surrounded by bush clad mountains and conservation land.
Former lessees of the station, Taff and Penny Cochrane, have denied access often, particularly since they put the station up for sale in 2010. This has included access to the Kidds Bush Reserve camping ground. While, under the OIO decision, Kidds Bush will now be permanently accessible, most of the conservation area beyond the station will not be.
Grant said the solution would be for the new owner to “use his position as the pastoral leaseholder to give the public something meaningful”. (Television One News announced Today Show host Matt Lauer was the new owner on March 2.)
The public may not realise there isn’t any substantial access being offered. It’s all at the discretion of the farmer. There is a huge amount of conservation land up there and it would be good to see the new owner showing some goodwill by providing meaningful access to our public land.”
The OIO decision states “The consent holder must continue to permit the current non-commercial access over Hunter Valley Station Road by walkers, hunters, fishers, non- motorised cyclists, and horse riders, on terms to be determined from time to time by the consent holder and its lessees or agents, acting reasonably and in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Pastoral Lease, and having regard to any officially designated use or purpose for the Land.”
Other clauses the UCTT and others are not happy with include walking access to Sentinel Peak being allowed only from the west (again at the discretion of the consent holder).
“That’s up Camp Creek,” Grant said. “It’s of no useful benefit because its very inaccessible to ordinary trampers. I’ve been up there and, without a lot of money being spent, it’s no good for access – it’s very steep and dangerous, more suited to climbers, not trampers.” Grant said a preferred access route up Sentinel Peak would be from the Neck.
The OIO decision also says the consent holder will donate entry fees from the annual Contact Epic cycling race to the UCTT “after direct costs incurred”.
“We want access, not this token gesture which is of limited benefit,” Grant said. “
“We wanted more huts to be constructed. Instead the Highburn hut is to be demolished. I would like to ask why. We understand it was built with public funds, possibly by the rabbit board.”
Other submitters asking for more access than has been granted included Federated Mountain Clubs,Otago Fish and Game and Upper Clutha Tramping Club.
The Walking Access Commission consulted on public access to the station with these groups as well as the applicant’s lawyer, Department of Conservation and Queenstown Lakes District COuncil and others last year. Long-time public access campaigner Wanaka local John Wellington said a comprehensive management plan was drafted and recommended to the OIO by the Walking Access Commission.
“Everyone is shocked and disappointed the decision issued effectively ignored the consultation and accepted only the minor access offered by the applicant,” John said.
“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to substantially improve public access to the Hawea Conservation Park, the Hunter Valley and Lake Hawea, and the opportunity appears to have been wasted,” he said.
“The new owner said he wants to be considered a good property owner and compared himself to Mutt Lange and how he has managed his stations between Wanaka and Queenstown.
“We view this as a very positive statement and would urge him to look at the public access that has been granted over Mr Lange’s properties, and then take another look at the submissions.”