The Croesus Track, which begins near Blackball, was established by goldminers who found a reef of gold bearing quartz. With the usual Victorian energy, they carted a stamper battery up the hill and had a brief bonanza, with two pubs springing up to ease the journey. Then it faded. The operation was briefly re-established during the depression before being finally abandoned. Trampers took over the track, extended it over the hill to Barrytown and one of their number organised the building of a hut at the top. It’s named after him. The track and hut became then, part of the local commons.
Then the Paparoa National Park was established and DOC began to administer the commons. The hut remained free to use and we put up with the signage, banning of dogs etc. However, Pike came along and government guilt led to the recent building of the Paparoa Great Walk, both as a tribute to the dead but also being seen as a means of invigorating the local economy.
Te Puawai Co-operative Society had been established as an incubator for local co-ops in the necessary economic transition for the Coast, so it seemed logical to set up a shuttle and vehicle relocation co-op in Blackball. There was a lot of competition from ‘the market’ and we formed a partnership with the biggest enterprise, a South Island wide provider. It has worked well. They provide the van and booking service, and the co-op provides a way for the local labour to organise itself in an equitable fashion.
It is interesting to observe the dynamics of a Great Walk (which is also open to mountain bikers). The vehicle relocation service is more popular than the shuttle. Why? Presumably the same reason that the private car is more popular than public transport. Flexibility – and you don’t have to relate to ‘the public’. Those who cycle are often on a mission to do the track quickly, to ‘conquer’ it. Some do it in a day. One bloke drove from Christchurch, parked his car in Blackball, cycled up the hill, rode the track and we picked him up at 3pm, wet, muddy and exhausted, brought him back and he was returning to Christchurch that evening. An extreme experience. Walkers take their time and it is often a social experience for family members or to meet up with old mates and to do something together. Both cyclists and walkers are generally middle class pakeha and the walk has become a commodity. You have to book and pay to stay in the huts and ‘our hut’ has become part of the deal. It is no longer part of the commons. But there is some money circulating locally and that’s the trade off for accepting enclosure.
There’ll be some stories, mainly of stuff going wrong. Probably some cyclist will die of exposure on the tops one day. We get to drive some flash cars and keep a wary eye out that we don’t get into a zero hour contract syndrome. And co-op members can think about a new roof or tyres for the car or a visit to the dentist.
If there were a socialist and climate crisis solution it would be to cut out the vehicle relocations (they are logistically problematic) and have a singular and regular shuttle service operated via an electric van. But that would mean limiting the providers to local people who agree on this strategy and culling the market impulse. Unfortunately, that sort of logic can only exist in a country like Cuba. Meanwhile, we have to play the market game.
And we no longer go for a walk up Croesus.