Recreation Transition: low-carbon recreation in the mountains

By Jamie Stewart, Federated Mountain Clubs

Looking 130 km east from Fanthams Peak, Taranaki (1966 m) to Mts Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu (2797 m). Photo: Peter Laurensen,

Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC), founded in 1931, represents 96 clubs, 22,000 members and 300,000 people that regularly recreate in the New Zealand backcountry. This article first appeared in the June 2020 issue of Backcountry magazine and is reproduced with permission. (Read the original article). See also “EVs for mountain recreation” (Backcountry, June 2020) and a series of articles on climate change and the backcountry (November 2020).

It has been a while now – pre-Covid-19 (everything pre-Covid seems a while ago) since the FMC Executive approved a new campaign we have called ‘Recreation Transition’ to encourage low-carbon recreation.

FMC has been considering our response to the climate crisis for several years. We have taken steps to minimise our organisational carbon footprint, including the recent decision to phase out the FMC Travel Club. But the times demand more of us, so we have developed this campaign to shape our future advocacy, to attempt to impact central and local government thinking and possibly to influence the recreational choices of clubs and our wider outdoor community.

FMC recognises that in this instance we are not leaders, but followers, of many committed initiatives from clubs and individuals in our outdoor community.

Railcar about to enter the Arthur’s Pass tunnel, mid 1970s. These trains ran from 1956 to 1978 and were a legendary source of transport for trampers who would wave down the train for unscheduled pickups. The Auckland–Wellington night train fulfilled a similar function in the North Island until 1979, and is now the subject of a revival campaign. (Photo: Roy Sinclair)

Low-carbon recreation infrastructure

There is a need for low-carbon transport options for people to get to the places they love. Dan Clearwater investigates in this Backcountry what is possible currently with electric vehicles. Improved passenger services on railways are also important, and this government is heading in the right direction – will we see Cantabrians heading to Arthurs Pass on the train for a climb and tramp again in our lifetimes? Clubs also have, and will continue to, play a crucial role with car-pooling, club buses and other climate-friendly practices.

The push for low-carbon recreation infrastructure encompasses the creation of and investment in recreational opportunities that don’t have high embedded transport costs. How much could carbon emissions be reduced if people from Auckland and Tauranga did a yearly tramp in the Kaimai ranges rather than on a distant Great Walk? How much carbon emission reduction if the public money invested in the Paparoa track had been used instead to develop more mountain-biking opportunities near some of our larger centres of population?

From my back door

FMC coined #frommybackdoor pre-Covid, but events have overtaken us. What a lesson and opportunity we have all had to rediscover our neighbourhoods, and to think about how we can improve our local outdoor opportunities. How much could carbon emissions be reduced if more people choose to recreate from their back doors regularly? Should we apply the ‘recreational opportunity spectrum’ suburb by suburb, town by town?

Department of Conservation research has shown that the most influential factors in connecting people to nature are experience in nature as a child and regular interaction with specific natural places as an adult. Where better to make this happen than people’s own neighbourhoods? The unkempt gully, the piece of bush locked away between neighbours, the old braid of the river, the swamp on the edge of town.

A ‘from-my-backdoor’ ethic also includes self-powered journeys, be that to nearby coasts or distant mountains. Ed Hillary of course rode his bike to the hills, as did many others. A more contemporary trip I have always aspired to emulate is Erik Bradshaw’s and Jonathan Kennett’s climb of Tapuae-o-Uenuku from Wellington – by bike – in a weekend. Low-carbon outdoor recreation still allows plenty of opportunity for exploring, achieving ambitious trips and developing skills.

The actual bicycle ridden by Edmund Hillary and Julian Godwin in the 1940s. “”Godwin’s best mate in the RAF was Ed Hillary and on weekends they would ‘double’ each other out to Mt Taranaki and have a crack at the mountain,” said Jecks, recalling what Godwin had told him. In Hillary’s autobiography, there are several mentions of Julian Godwin and even a reference to this very bicycle.” (Photo: Emma James/Fairfax)

Layers of Experience

‘Layers in the outdoors’ usually refers to poly-pro and fleece. Two of each and a good raincoat is my ‘handle anything’ kit. ‘Layers of experience’ might bring to mind those forehead wrinkles and calm that comes with enduring a few challenges in your time. In this case though, FMC is talking about the richness to be gained from a multi- layered experience in a place, beyond what you get from briefly passing through. We are talking about going beyond just ticking another place off your list or taking your photo for instagram.

Layers of experience may include: skill development, sense of community, contribution to the place – say through conservation volunteering – artistic endeavour, mentoring and increased knowledge in various fields. This is a richness which many clubs have done well to preserve, but which has been lost to much of our outdoor community, who have been herded instead from carparks, along gravel tracks, to well-worn destinations. It is a richness that may help people confidently choose to recreate #frommybackdoor and indeed to generally live more lightly upon the earth.

Family Tramping

FMC has had a focus this past year on family tramping, the joy of parents introducing their children to the outdoors. What if we look at this opportunity anew through a recreation transition lens? Can we family tramp from our back doors, after a short drive, or from a railway station?

Wellington’s Ōrongorongo valley is a long-standing outdoor recreation success with its mix of bookable and non-bookable huts, close to each other but incredibly well used and cost-effective for servicing and maintenance. Is this a model worth replicating elsewhere? In say the Glentui/Mt Richardson area, Waitawheta River, or at an appropriate spot in the Hūnua Ranges?

Do we need to design multi-day trips for little legs – were DOC’s previous policies to remove front-country huts and ensure minimum distances between huts short-sighted? Do we need to think more about providing appropriate loops in our most accessible places? Could we do more to encourage camping during what we now call day-trips?

There will no doubt always be a place for journeys to remote road ends and mysterious ranges out the back of beyond, but maybe we can make more of the opportunities close to home as well.

2 thoughts on “Recreation Transition: low-carbon recreation in the mountains

  1. Great article, can I add to it? What about tramping with a purpose – clearing, rebaiting traplines, monitor birdcalls, put out and collecting tracking cards to see what creatures are out there… And if there isn’t an existing trap line you can help maintain, how about making a new one in a patch of bush (relatively) near you?
    Smaller detail perhaps but what are you cooking with? LPG = fossil gas in an unlikely to be recycled metal canister that you are always throwing away. Or fossil white petrol stoves? But there are of course the twig burners to cook with or the smoke free methalated spirits (alcohol) stoves that are not fossil and so zero CO2 emission (co-incidentally they are apparently the most energy dense fuels other than solid fuel in terms of Joules of heat per kg of weight)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s