The community had some concerns around the conversion of farmland to and how it changed the look of the area, contributed to unemployment and jeopardised the connectedness of farming communities.
“One of the things that makes me feel very sad is to see a really good farm sold to overseas investors and they’re just planting it back in trees and it’s having an impact on this community. It’s being subsidised by taxpayers. And they’re going to stay there, for carbon credits. People are planting vast areas of land, in pine, permanently. It’s less work for the shearers… I’m worried this is going to impact on our community. It did in the 1990s. I see the beautiful flat rolling land up in the Waitonga’s, there’s lots planted out.”
Some of the participants expressed that there were problems with the overuse on the Tongariro Crossing and that this could be repeated on other walks or tracks in the region. The participants felt that therefore there was a need to re-examine the drive for touristic development when it risked compromising the integrity of the area.
“I have a real concern, a personal beef, and a real concern about Tongariro Crossing. Overused, in a very bad way. It needs more control. The problem is you put in more controls and it impacts on the little businesses, the shuttles to it that sort of thing. But the number of people that go on it, I’m surprised that more hasn’t been done about it. It’s disgraceful. And it is likely to repeat with the Pureora Forest Trail, there’s a lot more people going through that. I think as a society we need to have a real think about tourism and it’s not only about dollars. I feel quite strongly about that.”
In Taumarunui itself, air pollution was raised as an issue which contributed to respiratory health issues.
“Because of our position in a valley here air pollution is sometimes a problem.”
Several participants raised concern with the management and quality of water in Taumarunui and surrounding areas, particularly with regard to the Whanganui River.
“Water is a precious resource and we need to think about it in a much more responsible way. The whole management of water. I love the water, canoeing and jet boating. My happy place is on that river. But there’s some unintended consequences that have occurred. We’ve had a treaty settlement lately which was long overdue and the local iwi are still bedding down what’s going to happen with their money. The potential here is huge. But this is one of the first rivers in the world to be given that status of person and that’s had an impact on the river users because no one’s game to attend to safety issues on the river. There’s 10-12 000 canoeists heading down the river with low skills and there’s scarcely a day when I don’t help a canoeist. So when you want to remove a snag or a rock or improve things like boarding or getting off, we can get permission from everybody but the iwi says no. And we can’t even find the right person to negotiate. Once everything’s settled I think it will be better. But in the meantime there’s people leaving on river journeys and it’s amazing that no one has lost their life. In the past we’d just go and do it, remove the snag, move a rock. I could do it but if someone saw me…]”
“They’re the jewel in the crown, our rivers…. We use the river. For swimming. For fishing. Our house backs on to the river and we bought it 14 years ago. And when you bought it 14 years ago it was clear. It was beautiful. And now I don’t want to swim in the river because there’s algae, green stuff floating down it. It’s not what it used to be. I really noticed it over a few years. We do a lot of fishing but we don’t eat them out of the river anymore.”
“Water quality is another issue. We’ve got to do more to reduce the silt coming from the catchments. It’s coming mainly from, particularly bad up until Christmas time, from Forest harvesting situations. And after a forest is harvested there’s a lot of silt run off until the new trees have sufficient root mass to lock up the silt. The river is shocking. There’s tourists down there and you think, please don’t look at the water. It’s an embarrassment.”
“The amount of cattle that are in the (Whanganui) river at this time of year, it’s a disgrace. They’re shitting in the river just above the local swimming hole.”
The impact of climate change was noticed in changing weather patterns.
“We don’t get as many frosts as we used to and the summers are so much hotter. We can’t grow the same things in our garden as we used to. I mean, they still grow but they don’t thrive. Certain veggies. The climate has changed.”
“On the mountain, the season is starting later or they can’t open. It’s very limited. I’ve never seen it so bare last winter. It’s definitely shortened. I’m a hunter and my favourite time of year is just about to start. And over the years the cold has gotten further and further away.”
Participants understood the key risks from natural disasters in the region to be floods and volcanic eruptions from Mount Ruapehu. Covid-19 preparedness was also raised as a concern.
“I wouldn’t think they’re prepared. In this community there are the ‘precious few’. The person who is the civil defence person, the volunteer fire brigade, the first responder. People in the community who are part of everything, but you all go to the meetings and you see the same people all the time. And the average Joe? They aren’t prepared for anything… I would imagine many families don’t have enough food in their cupboards for a day. There’s a significant proportion of our population who could be in a lot of trouble.”