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1000 Kilometre Walk Reaches Westport


1000 Kilometre Walk Reaches Westport

"WALKING THE WALK", an epic journey ends tomorrow as a team of conservationists complete a three month, 1000 kilometre on-foot journey from Auckland to Happy Valley to protest the mining of an area of national ecological significance.

HAPPY VALLEY is 256 hectares of rare sub-alpine ecological wetland, habitat of 13 protected and endangered species of plants, birds, and other animals.

HEATHER SIMPSON, a member of the "WALK THE WALK" team may have worn out her shoes out but not her determination.

"It is beyond belief in this day and age that our government can be behind the destruction of a pristine sub-alpine ecosystem such as Happy Valley, all to produce coal, - the number one cause of climate change" she exclaims.

"How do you explain this to New Zealand children who are learning environmental lessons at school? How can Helen Clark talk about becoming a sustainable nation while driving this hypocrisy through their own company, Solid Energy?" asks Ms Simpson

Five million tonnes of coal is expected to be produced from the site which will be exported. When burnt this would emit 12 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Having now done her share of walking, Ms Simpson is calling on the Prime Minister to "Walk the talk" by putting a moratorium on new coal mines. Miss Clark recently received a United Nations award for work on Climate Change. "In all honesty she should be looking at giving the award back" Says Heather.

Miss Clark recently banned new coal fired power stations in New Zealand.

Heather and the team have visited 43 towns along the way receiving a variety of responses as varied as being applauded, abused, and even shot at in Palmerston North. "In the main we were very well supported by average New Zealanders who were appalled to hear what the government is doing"

"Whenever we arrived in a town square and set up camp, people approached our colourful banners, tents and campaign material. We were often up until two in the morning sharing our message" she explains.

"The hardest thing wasn't the walking, it was the sleeping" said Heather, who has walked the entire distance.

"While camping in Hamilton I was awakened by what felt like a fire hose squirting water in my face at midnight! I thought, this town will go to any lengths to keep public lawns green even in a drought"

Ms. Simpson said Council staff generally agreed with the group's message -- if not with camping "on their turf"! "Everywhere we camped, we picked up all litter we found." She recalls carrying large bags of litter picked up at road sides.

In Wellington they camped outside parliament grounds and presented a book entitled "Dear Helen Clark" filled with submissions. A banner with "Stop Greenwash, No Coal" was also presented to Trevor Mallard, who is both Minister for the Environment and Minister of State Owned Enterprises.

Camping in public places meant many eventful nights. In Palmerston North five homeless people approached them for shelter and food. In other towns they were awoken by boy racers, young street kids, drunk people, and had their Climate Camp banner stolen.

Heather said overcoming challenges has strengthened her team.

"When our support vehicle was delayed for repairs, we continued on, pushing gear in prams from the local recycling centre! We were down to plain white rice but we marched on like this for six days -- We did get some strange looks pushing prams along a gravel rural road." In the first week of the walk, the team turned their donation tin into a wood-burning Hobo stove: "We didn't need donations but we needed a hot meal!"

Heather says she agrees that miners livelihood is important. "Some towns rely on mining jobs. They see no other way to feed their families and pay rent." She says living without income while on the walk has opened her eyes. "It's not easy for three months, let alone years!"

Heather says she has been touched by people's generosity. "They offered gifts of home baking, veges from their garden, hot coffee, showers and sometimes bags of food. Once we awoke to find our camp decorated with beautiful roses by a mystery well-wisher."

In return for help the group gave out vegetable seeds and helped in gardens. "The most valuable investment you can have at this crucial point in history is a garden" she says.

In Motueka the group camped on a proposed McDonalds site and were hosted by "Uniquely Motueka," a group that supports local food production and local economies.

"While open cast coal mining provides some livelihoods it has eroded others" Simpson says, "Acid Mine Drainage pollutes fresh water and destroys local fish reserves. Without forest and wetlands the natural drought and flood regulation is lost. There is no net local gain once environmental costs are considered.

Their support car runs on vege oil recycled from a fish and chip shop. It is only for gear that cannot be carried. "A group of soldiers offered me a lift on the desert road in a downpour" she recalls. " I said 'Thanks but I' m walking to Westport.' They were amazed that someone would do this off their own bat."

From Westport, The "Walk the Walk" team hike on to join other conservationists in Happy Valley.


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