Race stopped in its tracks

TRAIL DEFEATED: An outbreak of a tree-killing disease has meant the scrapping of plans for an ultra running event along the Hillary Trail in the Waitakere Ranges.
TRAIL DEFEATED: An outbreak of a tree-killing disease has meant the scrapping of plans for an ultra running event along the Hillary Trail in the Waitakere Ranges.

Plans for an adventure race along the Hillary Trail have been dashed as the Auckland Council tries to send a strong message about kauri dieback disease.

An application by Shaun Collins to hold The Hillary race in April was declined last week because of the risk of spreading the tree-killing disease.

He had hoped to create New Zealand's newest ultra-running event along the 75km trail through the Waitakere Ranges.

The decision to reject the application comes after council officers were asked to prepare a report about the impact the event would have on the environment.

The proposed race would have 500 runners tackling various lengths of the trail. All participants would have needed to run through monitored footwear cleaning stations along the way to prevent them spreading dieback. 

A council survey of people using the walking tracks shows the use of cleaning stations is generally poor with 20 to 50 per cent compliance. The report suggested that entrants could "set the behaviour standards that we wish the general public to emulate''.  

But council acting manager of regional and specialist parks Richard Hollier said the race cannot go ahead, although the trail remains open to the public.

''While precautionary measures like shoe cleaning and phytosanitary mats would reduce the risk of spreading kauri dieback, the council should not be promoting organised events and activities in areas infected with the disease at this time.

''This decision is very much about kauri protection and sending a strong message to park users that we are taking kauri health seriously,'' he said.

The Hillary Trail is still promoted in the section on walking tracks on the council website as a track for Aucklanders to ''get out and enjoy''.

There is no mention about kauri dieback disease or prevention measures.

Council communications manager Glyn Walters said the website is being updated, including the Hillary Trail content. 

"The Hillary Trail is made up of a network of tracks and each track on the council's website that forms part of the Hillary Trail has information about kauri protection zones or a link to kauri dieback biosecurity information."

Collins said the council's message on dieback are not clear when the trail is still open for casual visitors and walking groups.

''On the weekend there were bus loads of them and tramping groups are still visiting. That's why the logic used doesn't make sense, it's not consistent.''

Walters said the trail's network of tracks and junctions would make closure logistically challenging. He said areas that appear to be unaffected by kauri dieback have been closed to the public, creating protection zones.

There are several events scheduled in the Waitakere Ranges this summer and Walters said none have been cancelled as yet.

''Officers are reviewing all event applications that have been received and events that have already been permitted and will be speaking with organisers in the coming weeks.''

Two councillors who learned of the declined application raised the issue at the Parks, Recreation and Heritage Forum on Wednesday.

Councillor Dick Quax said the forum should have ruled on the application, which should have been approved.

''If I was to get a group of mates together to run the length of the Hillary, presumably there'd be nothing to stop me. 

''Kauri dieback disease is being used as a straw man - an excuse.''

Quax wants the full report of the officers' findings and is pursuing the issue.

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