In Southland Times April 1997
Filtering the FITS
Some time about the turn of the millennium, the road through Catlins where Southland meets Otago on the East coast, will finally be sealed.
All residents in their right mind are looking forward to that day -- or are they?
It will bring us into the modern world, it is a sign of progress. At last we will be able to enjoy coachloads of tourists, which is no more than our wonderful coast deserves.
Once we’re opened up money will just flow, farmland will increase in value, options will multiply, everyone will want to live here.
There are some residents, still in their right mind, who have some fears about the imminent explosion.
What do they have to fear?
How about loss of wildness, loss of all the peace that keeps them here, loss of those rare animals that are the icing on the cake for the coastal landscape: the yellow eyed penguins, the Hooker’s sealions, the Hector’s dolphins, even loss of the petrified forest.
Many more facilities will be required : toilets, waste bins, ambulances, police, shops, accommodation, services.
This coast could turn into a copy of a thousand places world-wide, pretty scenery but tame.
Yet wildness is what millions of people yearn for. Fortunately they can’t all get here, only the keenest. Generally speaking the tourist industry calls them FITS, free independent travellers, and they filter through the gravel road south from Balclutha or north from Invercargill. Everyone else takes the high road, Highway 1, or they don’t come south at all.
The result is that we have a small tourist industry but a very rewarding one, in human terms. The people we meet are self-selected into an exclusive club, not because of wealth but because of their interest in finding things for themselves, in going off the beaten track. They have a sense of adventure, a need to test themselves, a keen sense of interest in natural processes - geology, biology etc., and they love to meet and talk to locals.
How then as residents can we have the best of both worlds, keep the peace and yet make progress?
Of course we want the road sealed, so how do we mitigate the effects of the inevitable flow of people?
The sensible thing to do is to plan ahead, at least for the infrastructural things like toilets, roading and rubbish, and for the protection of the fragile aspects like the wildlife, the forest, the beaches.
Fortunately planning, nowadays, is seen as a community responsibility, not the job of faceless bureaucrats from Wellington.
This is where our local bodies come into their own, they can hear what people say and have the muscle to get things done.
Southland District Council have had good practice in helping areas like Stewart Island, Riverton, Tuatapere to set up ‘Concept Development Plans’, and at last it is our turn, from Waikawa to Fortrose, to have a get-together as a community.
Tomorrow in fact, 29 April at Waikawa, we will have a collective ‘think’ about how we want the area to look in five, ten, twenty years’ time. There will be varying opinions about the priorities but we should come up with a few principles and key issues, and a plan of action. So to the rest of Southland, come and see us as we are now, while we still have a little wildness.....