by Mike Fay
Most of you will know that some of the roads set out around Waitati and elsewhere by the early surveyors have received little or no development. These undeveloped roads have been called 'paper roads' but are just as much legal roads as George Street in Dunedin and have the same right of public access. For many years these 'roads' just sat there quietly, often 'the quieter the better' for some land-owners who ignored the legal obligation to mark and provide means of access – a piece of law-breaking that was largely ignored by the bodies responsible for upholding laws, particularly local councils. This behaviour became institutionalised to such an extent that the right to deny entry was believed by some to be law, and land-owners were amazed when this was legally challenged and shown not to be the case. Conversely, and much to their credit, some local land-owners had provided walking tracks across their property that can be used by all of us.
Mopanui Road officially runs all the way from Blueskin Road to link up with Whites Road at the top of the headland, and was in good repair until some time in the 1980s. Today the southern part of the road is in good condition, but it would require a bulldozer to cover the northern part from the north east corner of the Orokonui Ecosanctuary to Whites Road. What appears to have happened is that a deer fence was put in along the western side of the road (long before the present owners' tenure) and the detritus from this operation was heaped on the road. Over the years since this was done there has been significant scrub growth, including a pine tree of almost a metre in circumference, but there is single-file walking access hard against the deer fence. From the end of the deer fence the road surface is flat but completely obstructed by old-man gorse. The owners of the adjacent land, David and Liz Sumpter, have provided a route marked with ribbon to bypass this impassable section of Mopanui Road, so it is possible for able people to walk all the way through and down to Waitati.
Waitati is lucky to have some good low-carbon links already. There are two paths by the river: a short continuation of Quayle Street to the west, and a longer one to the east that is still under construction. Unfortunately there are others where public access would be difficult, if not impossible. Further afield there are paper roads over the northern flank of Mihiwaka (one of these would be a bit damp underfoot as it runs through the Port Chalmers reservoir) and on the seaward slope of Mopanui towards Osborne. These paper roads and low-carbon links provide more than just leisure opportunities, however. They also offer a utilitarian purpose through safe and practical routes for walkers, cyclists and horse-riders within and between settlements. And most importantly, they have the potential to provide emergency access, in the event of a failure of our other transport 'lifelines' as was the case in the 2006 floods when Waitati was cut into three isolated zones. Perhaps the Waikouaiti Coast Community Board should make the reinstatement of all our paper roads a strategic priority over the next 10 years.