Cable Bay Farm Walkway
Barbara Stuart and her family have long been champions of public walking access on farms
Barbara Stuart is a Nelson farmer and outdoor enthusiast with a background of community involvement. The Stuart family has a long standing history of supporting outdoor access. Barbara and her husband Ian and his parents were among the first private landowners to create a formal public walkway across their family farm, opening the Cable Bay Walkway in 1982 and having it gazetted in 1984. In 2013, they received one of four Walking Access Awards for this and other outdoor access initiatives in their community. Barbara is serving her second term on the Walking Access Commission as a board member, and was first appointed to the Board of the Commission in October 2008.
As Barbara explains “My father in law was farming here when the walkway was first opened. When he bought the Cain Estate in 1967, adding it to the farm, he created the track by walking in front of a bulldozer with a spirit level.
The walkway is the track which was put in through a block of bush which faces west towards Tasman Bay above The Glen.
It was not long before people started ringing up wanting to walk the track. In those days we were on a party line with 10 people and lots of babies. The phone would ring about the track and it was an intrusion.
When the Walkways Commission approached us, my father in law and husband were very open to the idea. They loved sharing the beauty and the views with the public coming through and they enjoyed the sheer convenience of not having the phone ringing all the time.
After 20 years when times were tough we had just lost our son, and we looked at the future on this very difficult farm. We looked at the assets we had and one of those assets was the walkway, so we put in a camping ground.
My message to people is when thinking about allowing the public onto your farm, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. You could take on some kind of business as a result.
Do we as landowners have the right to lock people out of interesting landscapes and unique and special corners of our country? That is a question that only the landowner can answer.
We have rights of ownership but when there is a responsibility to share something on our farm with others, the Walking Access Commission has come up with protocols that can assist.
Not every farm is suitable, but when you own a piece of land that the public will have an interest in, there is pressure to let people in.”
The walkway is in the midst of a landscape full of visual, ecological, geological and historical treasures. It starts at Glenduan (The Glen) at the upper end of Airlie Street. It takes three and a half hours to walk the 7-8km track one way to Cable Bay. It is steep in places, and rises to a height of 452m above sea level. Drumduan, the highest point is 657m above sea level. Barbara says “It is quite a good workout for people of average and above average fitness.”
Just north of The Glen is where the Boulder Bank starts at Mackay Bluffs. It’s an internationally important natural spit of boulders up to 1.2m in diameter, which are swept southwards from the bluffs in storms.
The Boulder Bank is 13 kilometres long, of which the last eight kilometres form a spit separating Tasman Bay from Nelson Haven. Radiocarbon dating shows that the bank has developed in the 6,000 years since the sea rose to its present level.
There are great views of the Boulder Bank from the Cable Bay walkway.
Cable Bay at the other end of the walkway is a special place too. Evidence of Māori occupation in the Cable Bay area (Rotokura) dates back to about 1150 AD; the area was a fishing ground and a campsite was maintained there. Delaware Bay, across the estuary, was the site of the main pa. In 1863, the pa occupants heroically rescued the crew of the Delaware during a terrible storm.
Cable Bay was once known as Schroders Mistake, after a Nelson skipper mistook the bay for another and put his boat on the rocks there.
The laying of New Zealand’s first international telegraph cable gave the bay its European name. The operation, from Sydney to Cable Bay, took 11 days and transmission began on 21 February 1876. A fire razed the station in 1914 and in 1917 the cable was moved to Titahi Bay, near Wellington.
Barbara says lots of people from Nelson come out to use the walkway, running over and back when training for triathlons. It is only 10 minutes from Nelson at The Glen end and 25 minutes at the Cable Bay end. It attracts a steady stream of visitors through the year, except for when it is closed at lambing time in spring.
The original cable station owners built a café at Cable Bay, which was used as a bach for many years but is now a café again.
Another feature of the landscape traversed by the walkway is the 200ha of bush covenants the Stuart family have with the local council, the Department of Conservation and the QEII National Trust. The bush is home to a stand of huge totara trees, some measuring 7m in circumference which Barbara thinks must have been standing when Abel Tasman sailed into the Bay.
Barbara says that the walkway, which was a gesture of goodwill by her husband and Ian’s father, has turned out to be an important part of them being able to stay here on the farm and of their income.
The campground operates all year round, and is currently leased to their niece Jo.
People are reluctant to open their farms up formally although a lot of access happens informally. Farms are frequently opened to the public for fund-raisers but the farmer doesn’t often get a lot of recognition for giving access, Barbara says.
It needs some unique things going on to make it attractive as a walkway. “People have opened up bush covenants to the public, but people don’t use them. You need to have a beach or be in close proximity to a town or be enabling people to go from A to B.”
The Te Araroa Trail goes through lots of private land, but on the whole there are few walkways on private land.
The New Zealand Walking Access Commission is the Crown entity that plays a lead role in protecting this heritage by promoting free, certain, enduring and practical access to the outdoors.
It works to strengthen the links between rural and urban New Zealand by identifying publicly accessible land, providing information about public access rights and responsibilities, assisting with dispute resolution and facilitating new opportunities for people to access and enjoy the great outdoors.
Collectively, board members have experience in farming, forestry, local government, land management, law, Maori interests, recreation and dispute resolution.
The commission’s role is to achieve free, certain, practial and enduring access, and it helps resolve access issues in bringing clarity around rights and responsibilities, Barbara says. It’s independent and gives advice to the public, councils and government agencies. It has a good relationship with Federated Farmers.
“We can’t always solve the problems overnight, and it may take time to resolve.”
Formerly there was a lot of focus on high country access, but now the commission sees its role as quietly working towards resolutions without getting on the front page of newspapers or compromising people’s privacy. People can have confidence in the independence the commission brings to an issue in terms of the rights and responsibilities she says.
Unformed legal roads or “paper roads” are often a source of conflict, with roads on maps not often put where they are practical. Landowners inherit these long-standing issues. The commission doesn’t like to see paper roads disappear. It will look at options for practical access including shifting them at some later date to somewhere practical.
The commission is “over-run” with business, and has plenty to do with waiting lists of work.