“Take only photos, leave only footprints” was a great saying we grew up with when we were venturing off on those first adventures into the hills, as was the lovely old Maori proverb “toitu te whenua” which means “leave the land undisturbed”.
It was a bit of a “soggy” afternoon in Fiordland. I have had a few of those during my visits here over the last 17 years, but as this region usually gets between 7 and 8 meters of rain a year - that’s right, meters – you always come prepared! I was on the Lake Marian track where the cloud and mist had allowed us a few quick peeks at the sheer rock walls surrounding the lake, giving some sort of perspective on the place. The lake was glassy, calm and serene, as a procession of hikers arrived at the lake, some adequately clad and some woefully clad. Some lingered for a while and were rewarded, like us, with glimpses of the surrounding grandeur, others too impatient or too sodden and miserable merely had a quick look and turned around again.
While wandering back down the track three or four Rifleman were flitting around us. I always enjoy watching them – they are tiny, graceful and easy to miss if you are in a hurry, they always remind me to be “in the moment” and relish this time in the wilderness. As well as the Rifleman encounter, the wind was picking up and making the ancient old forest groan and creak as it shifted back and forth in time with the breeze. Down in the valley Marian Creek was rumbling away as it made its hasty descent from the lake to the Hollyford River, crashing over giant moss covered boulders – I pondered that the term “white water” could have been created here, as the sheer violence of the water forcing its way through this wilderness of forest greens and ancient granites left in its wake an iridescent white glow.
However, it wasn’t the distinctive zip, zip call of the Rifleman or the crashing boulders that next grabbed my attention. At first I couldn’t place it, yet it was so familiar. It was growing louder and more alarming by the second and my brain still couldn’t seem to register what the hell it was. Then with crushing recognition I realised it was music, dance music, presumably blue toothing from an iPhone to a boom speaker – technology which I often embrace myself – albeit in different surroundings. The sound was distorted as they had the volume right up - rivers tumbling over boulders, wind whistling in the trees and birds singing, I guess made it hard to hear the ‘music’. I stepped to the side of the track and just hoped that they would pass by soon. Eventually they emerged - a gaggle of foreign girls clad in jeans and sneakers and soggy sweatshirts with the offending speaker swinging off a backpack. I debated on whether I should say something or not but worried I was just turning into a grumpy old man and I should just celebrate the fact that these girls had dragged themselves out of their car to spend a couple of hours walking in the Fiordland wilderness on a wet afternoon. The girl with the speaker attempted to turn it down when she saw this “grumpy looking old man” perched on a rock glaring at her, but in her distracted state she unknowingly lead her gaggle off track down a dry creek bed instead of along the trail – I yelled out and pointed them in the right direction. They nodded their thanks, cranked the volume back up and scampered off, and peace returned to my Fiordland Kingdom.
The music incident got me thinking about something else that I was noticing more and more on my recent hikes and that was toilet and tissue paper often in the middle of the track or just to the side of the track. I am going to come straight out and blame the girls for this. When nature calls it’s pretty obvious that a lot of you girls are just dropping your trousers in the middle of the track and instead of going for the ‘drip dry’ technique a tissue is used and left as a reminder to all those that follow that you had a pee there and were too lazy to either:
a) put your tissue in a plastic bag and carry it out as rubbish.
b) at least get off the track and bury your tissue under some leaves and branches so it can break down out of sight.
“Leave no trace” – it’s pretty simple to understand really and should not need any explanation, but it is always good to remind ourselves from time to time. Click on the link which will take you through to the Department of Conservation’s website which defines the 7 principles of Leave no Trace.
Of course if you have taken the time to read this you are probably not an offender, rather a sympathiser who has had a similar experience. As it's always harder to change the habits of others rather than our own, it may be a case of having to lead by example and pick up the offending tissues. Sounds a bit gross but I’m sure those dog poo bags that councils give out would be perfect. Hopefully the offenders may feel guilty enough to change their ways when they see their peers picking up after them?
As our planet gets more crowded and lives get busier, the pressure on our wilderness areas will just get greater and greater. But more than ever we are going to need wilderness to bring balance to our lives, remind us of our place in the world, and just enjoy some natural quiet. So no matter how much we enjoy our music or how badly you need to pee, we always need to be mindful of how our actions and behaviour will impact on the next visitors to these special places.
Don’t get me started on drones.