Trail closures have been put in place across some of New Zealand's most popular hiking routes to contain the spread of a disease that's killing kauri trees. But authorities say hikers are still flouting the bans, despite the potential risk of heavy fines.
Kauri trees are the mighty, ancient beasts of New Zealand's native forests. They're some of the longest-living trees in the world, with an average 1000-year lifespan. But their future is at risk due to the spread of kauri dieback disease, a pathogen that attacks the tree at its feeder root and starves it from the inside. According to the Department of Conservation, kauri dieback lives in soil and can be spread around tracks by as little as a pinhead of soil on our shoes. One-in-five trees are now infected and as there is no cure, stopping the spread of the disease is the only way to save the species, which is particularly vulnerable in the Auckland region.
The government has implemented trail closures since 2018 around infected areas to contain the disease and give the forest time to recover. Potential fines of $60,000 (£30,000) apply to anyone caught repeatedly violating the bans. But authorities say not everyone is heeding the signs. So far this summer, 14 people have been issued with bylaw breaches and trespass notices, and another four are set to receive formal warnings, according to the New Zealand Herald. One hiker was charged in November for entering a quarantined area three times.
Vandalism is also on the rise with incidents of fences being torn down, damaged or cut around closed trails. Auckland Council regulatory compliance manager Steve Pearce said, "there's been fences that have been taken down, chucked into nearby streams, signs that have been removed and it's just senseless vandalism. People that are a bit bored and pushing things over when they really don't need to," he told RNZ's Summer Report.
"We're trying to protect those ranges and those parks for all New Zealanders, all of our tourists, and a couple of silly people have gone and wrecked it for everyone."
As well as trail closures, Controlled Area Notices (CAN) are also in place and hikers must obey certain rules when passing through, such as using on-site cleaning stations and not taking shoes or any equipment with soil in or out of the CAN areas. Dog paws must also be inspected for soil. The Waitākere Ranges and Hunua Ranges are among the most infected areas and hikers are encouraged to keep their eyes peeled for signs when out and about.
A spokesperson for Auckland Council told Lonely Planet that 33 tracks in Waitākere Ranges are currently open, and seven partially open. Nearly 100 tracks are closed and nine tracks are permanently closed. A number of tracks are due to be ready for the public by the end of the summer as the council works through a five-year programme to reopen tracks.
If you're visiting Auckland and want to make sure you're not breaking any rules, the council has published a full list of trail closures which you can view here. If you're keen to know more about the mighty kauri, check out the conservation programme, Keep Kauri Standing.