Our parks and reserves are visited by droves of tourists over the busy summer season, most of whom will inevitably need to ‘answer the call of nature’ at some point during their visit. So how do we stop some of our most treasured conservation areas from turning into veritable toilets for the masses? Enter, an acutely necessary but oft under-appreciated amenity: the long-drop.
Situated along the east coast of the upper Coromandel Peninsula lies the iconic Cathedral Cove Recreation Reserve. With its tantalising combination of coastal cliffs, off-shore islands and plentiful marine life it’s not difficult to understand why the area is a huge draw card for anyone visiting the Coromandel Peninsula.
For a location that sees upwards of 50,000 visitors per month during the peak holiday season, the long drops at Cathedral Cove are an essential piece of infrastructure. And yet the presence of such facilities in this scenic and somewhat isolated location are entirely taken for granted. That is, until they need cleaning. As you can imagine, this is one of the few instances where a run-of-the-mill task like toilet cleaning becomes elevated to fully-fledged multi-person operation.
In order to keep the Cathedral Cove long drops in working order they must be emptied four times per year. Given that each ‘tank’ holds 1,000 litres of human waste and there are four tanks in total, that’s a whopping 16,000 litres of human waste which needs to be ‘evacuated’ from Cathedral Cove per annum. And just how is this waste removed from the area? By a helicopter of course. Oh, and a helicopter pilot, the pilots ‘point man’, no less than 6 of our staff and a contractor to empty out the septic tanks.
Because the flight path of the helicopter covers the track to Cathedral Cove, crowd control is a necessary part of the operation. But far from being disappointed at having to delay their walk in order to wait for a poo-laden helicopter to pass overhead, visitors to the area seem positively intrigued by the process and genuinely delighted at the opportunity they have been given to witness this spectacle. Most endeavour to capture the action on their cell phones, while others will simply shake their heads and say, “that’s a pretty impressive way to clean a toilet.”
And that’s it. Only a few hours after the operation has begun it’s all over and the modest structures tucked under the pōhutakawa trees at Cathedral Cove go back to being the essential but low-profile facilities that they were always intended to be.
Perhaps this is something to contemplate the next time you are availing yourself of a long drop in the wilderness – they may not be the highlight of your trip, but they are certainly a necessary component!
If you’re heading out in nature, remember to always ‘poo in a loo’ – please use a toilet when you see one. If you really can’t wait, chose to poo away from people and waterways and cover it up when you’re finished! Find out more: www.doc.govt.nz