Editorial: Adventure carries cost to community

Last updated 13:00 28/12/2012

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OPINION: Throwing caution to the wind and tackling danger head on is part of the New Zealand psyche.

It can produce more resilient, capable people, healthier for having blown away the stresses of modern living by tackling the back country, big seas or river rapids.

It can also bring disaster, especially at this time of year, when annual leave and warmer weather add greatly to the number of people pushing their own limits of fitness, experience, knowledge or luck.

The Catlins area on the southeast coast of the South Island is one of the more rugged, beautiful and isolated parts of New Zealand.

Like the Kahurangi National Park region in the opposite corner of the South Island and the Nelson-Lakes-Lewis Pass region, it is a magnet to those who like to get away from the malls, pubs and packed tourist beaches and challenge themselves in the outdoors.

Already these holidays a youth has died after his motorbike plummeted off a steep cliff in the Catlins and two French tourists have been given a "bollocking" by police after ignoring weather conditions and tackling a tricky part of Lake Te Anau in choppy water, without lifejackets, in small plastic kayaks.

In the Marlborough Sounds, a Christchurch man suffered a punctured lung and suspected decompression sickness when a routine dive went wrong. A German couple have been plucked to safety after being swept down a Manawatu River, and a German tramper's body was removed from a mountain near Wanaka on Christmas Day.

Meanwhile, in this region, several teams of searchers have put a lot of effort and resources into hunting for a 54-year-old teacher and tramper missing on Mt Owen in Kahurangi park. Although Alistair Levy had three decades on tramping under his boots, family say he rarely carried emergency locator beacons.

Locator beacons are no longer expensive to hire - not compared with the expense of mounting a full-scale search - and should be the first ting packed for anything more than mildly challenging excursions in the New Zealand bush.

Hopefully, Mr Levy soon will be found safe and well and the worst he will face will be a "bollocking" for underestimating the rugged Mt Owen which is full of bluffs and crevasses. However, the search is now well into its fourth day, and the most likely places have been checked.

Our various search-and-rescue organisations - whether land or sea-based - do sterling work, often under the most trying of circumstances. They routinely tackle atrocious conditions in attempting to save people when things go wrong, as sadly can happen even to the best prepared and most experienced.

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Many of the searchers are true volunteers, and their enthusiasm is inspiring. Where would we be without these mostly unsung heroes?

However, by the end of summer, rescue services around the country will have completed many thousands of hours of missions, and the cost to taxpayers, individuals and some companies will have been significant.

In a user-pays age, perhaps the time is coming to consider some sort of insurance or charging system for rescue missions, especially those involving non-New Zealand citizens.

- The Nelson Mail

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