Rock climbers have won a reprieve from a ban that threatened to end climbing on Mauao.
The joint council and iwi board which controlled day-to-day operations of Mauao has stepped back from an outright ban on rock climbing.
Yesterday’s hearing to decide public submissions on Mauao’s management plan gave the management board, Nga Poutiriao o Mauao, the authority to select the sport climbing routes.
In another decision, noted celestial navigator Jack Thatcher has suggested that the planned flat area or atea on the summit of Mauao could become part of interlinked atea throughout Polynesia that were traditionally used to train navigators.
”It would be nice to consider something like this for Mauao.”
Thirty-seven submissions were received on the proposal to ban climbing on the northeastern face of Mauao, with Dennis de Monchy of Federated Mountain Clubs calling it one of the best climbing crags in the country.
After a long debate, members were satisfied their concerns could be met by rewording the original ban to say: ”Rock climbing is not permitted on Mauao except for specific climbing routes approved by Nga Poutiriao o Mauao.”
It was revealed there were 50 climbing routes on Mauao, with not all the routes posing a direct risk from climbers or their equipment dropping on to the 19,000 walkers every month who passed underneath on the Oruahine Track.
Members of Mauao’s management board that made up the panel sought assurances that the climbing routes satisfied concerns about public safety and the impacts on wahi tapu (sacred) sites and the rare fern Psilotum nudum.
Sport climbing clubs and the management board would develop safety guidelines for climbers. The council had no record of a rock climbing incident on Mauao.
Council reserves and recreation planner Clare Abbiss said there was a low risk of liability if a member of the public was injured from climbing activities. It was the same low risk if the council had banned rock climbing but did not actively enforce the ban.
Thatcher, a panel member and Mauao Trust representative, said he wanted climbers to say how they could be more focused on safety. There appeared to be no centralised management framework or safety plan for climbing on Mauao.
He said he could not support rock climbing on Mauao unless there was a management plan that regulated safety.
Abbiss said climbers were quite individual and generally did not belong to the organisations that advocated for them.
Councillor Leanne Brown said they could not be too risk averse.
”We could put all the safety measures in place, but it could still happen. We can’t be too over the top.”
The panel also decided to avoid public confusion and drop the word ”marae” from the proposed marae atea – a flat open meeting space without buildings proposed for the summit.
Panel chairman Dean Flavell said taputapuatea were raised stone platforms in Polynesia build out of rock that for centuries were used to train navigators for ocean voyages.
The panel agreed that Mauao’s management board and the Bay of Plenty Hang Gliding and Paragliding Club would develop rules on Mauao’s take-off and landing sites.
It was also decided that users of the 4WD track to the summit would have to apply every year for permission to use the track, with the management board taking account of complaints, safety, and the extent to which further restrictions were necessary for the ”protection and general wellbeing” of Mauao.
Abbiss would come back with new wording to control the construction of utilities on Mauao, such as the VHF radio repeater sought by Coastguard.
There were concerns that the wording was too specific for a management plan, with Flavell saying utilities could be considered on a case-by-case basis through a process defined in the plan.
Rock climbing safety measures on Mauao
– Approved climbing routes
– Rare fern identification board near sport climbing routes
– Develop safety guidelines with sport climbing clubs
– Sign warning track users of climbers on cliffs