Te Waihou walkway blue spring closed to swimmers
Officials have put an end to swimming at a picturesque New Zealand spring made famous by the internet.
After an ever-increasing number of visitors, swimmers will no longer be able to take a dip in the deep Blue Spring at the Te Waihou Walkway near Putaruru.
The South Waikato District Council announced on Tuesday water users were having a "negative impact" on the vegetation in the riverbed and on the banks, as well as the visual amenity.
The stairs leading into the water near the blue spring has been closed off, with a sign advising visitors not to swim.
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"We are currently discouraging swimming," South Waikato District Council's communications manager, Kerry Fabrie said.
During the summer, the spring became a popular spot for swimming with its inclusion in a Stuff series about New Zealand's best kept secrets luring crowds of visitors to Te Waihou Walkway and swimming in the Blue Spring and surrounding river.
Photographs taken by the Department of Conservation show the effects of people swimming in the Blue Spring area between November 2014 and February 2016.
"The impact is extremely clear," Fabrie said. "We have always presented the Te Waihou as a walkway. It is not a swimming hole. The Blue Spring is not a swimming hole."
Fabrie said council had heard from numerous people in the community with their concerns of people swimming.
"They said the beauty and the serenity of the area was completely destroyed."
Fabrie said typically, about 10,000 to 11,000 people would use the walkway during any given year. However, during November, December last year and January this year, numbers skyrocketed.
About 4500 people used the walkway in November, 5000 in December and near 9000 in January.
"Our infrastructure was not designed to cope with those numbers of visitors. The entire walkway took a hammering and the Blue Spring area took a hammering."
Chair of Raukawa Settlement Trust, Vanessa Eparaima, said the area is of great cultural significance to Raukawa.
"Te Puna, (the Blue Spring) is a natural taonga formed through the special and delicate merger of geology, ecology, freshwater biology and geography, over many hundreds of thousands of years.
"We need to work together to protect the puna and environment. We encourage all visitors to take in the beauty of this area and enjoy its pristine waters, but please refrain from swimming within the puna."
Fabrie said council's intention was to reduce the use of Te Waihou Walkway from the Leslie Rd end, the closest entrance to the spring.
Visitors are encouraged to access Te Waihou Walkway from the Whites Road end on State Highway 28.
Council will not permit mobile food traders at the Leslie Rd entrance, and the fence line will soon be shifted to the legal front boundary which will reduce the number of parking spaces.
There will also be no additional temporary, or permanent toilets installed, other than a toilet at the Whites Road entrance.
The council intends to develop a co-management with Raukawa, community, Department of Conservation and Waikato Regional Council.
This plan will also include the identification of alternative places for swimming.