'Concerning' 4WD damage prompts DOC appeal

by Lauren Pattemore - Jan 11, 2024

Extensive damage to terrain and vegetation at a number of popular four-wheel driving locations in Otago has prompted Department of Conservation and New Zealand Police to issue an appeal asking drivers to stick to formed roads and to do so with care.

Damage has been spotted at Macetown Historic Reserve, the historic Skippers township and the Chinamans Flat area near Glenorchy.

DOC Whakatipu Operations Manager David Butt says wheel ruts caused by 4WD vehicles in Macetown and Chinamans Flat will likely take decades for fragile vegetation and soils to heal, as well as impacting native wildlife. 

“Threatened native birds nest on the gravelly areas of braided rivers such as the Dart River, which is near Chinamans Flat. Please save lives and avoid driving in braided rivers from August, when these birds start nesting, until the end of February.”

Mr Butt says their rangers have also seen damage around Skippers township caused by motorbikes. 

People can head out to enjoy these beautiful locations, but just be mindful of where you are and stick to the formed roads and tracks, Mr Butt says.

Area Road Policing Manager Steve Watt says police are concerned about growing vandalism caused by off-road vehicle use in backcountry reserves.

Tire-track damage in Skippers (Supplied: Department of Conservation)

“We’d like to remind all users of the Macetown and Skippers tracks these are public roads and normal road rules apply. We encourage the community to explore what our region has to offer but want people to respect these areas and be considerate so everyone can enjoy them,” says Steve.

Anyone responsible for damage on a public reserve can face imprisonment and/or a fine under the Reserves Act 1997 or the Conservation Act 1987.

DOC and Police are also asking those who head out are aware of the safety concerns, saying that the both Macetown and Skippers is challenging; with sections of narrow road with steep drop-offs, and blind corners.

The Macetown track has multiple landslides.

"Experience in rough conditions is essential and drivers are responsible for recovering their own vehicles in the event of a mishap. Drivers should ensure they check the weather conditions before heading out," the joint statement says.

The DOC website states vehicles must stay on roads and recognised vehicle tracks.

DOC is asking anyone who sees any illegal or suspicious activity can contact the 24-hour DOC emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) immediately and report it, and that all calls and personal details are treated confidentially.

Main image (Supplied: Department of Conservation): Off-road vehicle damage at Macetown Historic Reserve.

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