Editorial: Are we doing all we can?

Many visitors to New Zealand have an almost otherworldly expectation of how benign a place it is. This has become a source of sorrow, rather than just puzzlement, because the consequences can be worse than a rude awakening.

We have fatal accidents to testify to the lack of tourist understanding that our roads aren't all that generously wide, nor do they negotiate the landscape in reliably gentle swoops,

We have drownings as mordant reminders of how swiftly and violently our seas can turn tempestuous. People fall to their deaths from our mountains, and die lost in our bush, because they headed out with a more vivid sense of personal challenge than of implacable danger.

This week a river-crossing fatality claimed Milford Track tramper Yessica Asmin, swept into the Clinton River.

In his anguish, the young man who couldn't save her, Sebastian Keilhoz, has railed against the lack of bridges, or sufficient warning of the perils of river crossings.

It is easy - too easy - to make a default reply that hammers the doctrine of personal responsibility, and to scold novices that they always have the option of changing their plans in the name of sensible caution.

The question becomes whether they were given fair warning about the hazard. The Department of Conservation is right to say it doesn't have the responsibility, let alone the resources, to follow everyone around like"the safety police".

But more can be done to alert the underprepared and perhaps dissuade the inept.

Are the calls for better warning signs - perhaps even a bridge - on the track so unreasonable, considering the enormous gravitational pull this so-heavily-publicised track exerts?

Former track guide Ray Willet's call for DOC offices, where most people still check in, to have a life-size statue or cut-out of a tramper up to his thighs in water, in a sign reading "you are in danger in swift water this deep" seems entirely practical. Consider the annual rate of three river crossing deaths before you rise to disagree.

We can't keep every visitor safe in our great outdoors. Nor every one of our own citizens, either. But let's face it, we've been needing to tell ourselves this far too often lately.

The Southland Times