Mt Cook conference to help reduce user impact on NZ's mountains

Tourists at Lake Pukaki, Aoraki (Mount Cook) near Twizel.
KIRK HARGREAVES/FAIRFAX NZ

Tourists at Lake Pukaki, Aoraki (Mount Cook) near Twizel.

Increasing numbers of tourists are putting pressure on New Zealand's mountains, New Zealand Alpine Club immediate past-president John Cocks says.

Cocks said the last few years had seen numbers grow "dramatically" which could compromise what New Zealander's valued in New Zealand's mountain environment, particularly mountains in conservation estate.

However planning ahead, discussing the issues, finding solutions, and reducing user impact to protect the mountain environments would be a focus at a conference being held next month in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park.

The international Sustainable Summits Conference was the "first of its kind in New Zealand" and would bring people from around the globe.

The four-day conference will be hosted at the Hermitage Hotel and is supported by the alpine club and the Department of Conservation (Doc).

The conference would focus on finding ways to adapting to a changing mountain environment, responding to changing visitor patterns and behaviour, and preserving mountains for the enjoyment of future generations, he said.

It was a chance for New Zealand to learn what other parts of the world did to cope with "enormous pressures" of human activity on the mountains, such as Europe where they had "stunningly big numbers of people".

Three themes would be addressed: pressures on popular mountain routes, commercial activity in mountains, water protection, cultural awareness and visitor implications; environment impact from humans, such as human waste, contamination, noise from helicopters and planes, tracks and erosion; and natural hazards, such as rock fall, ice recession, unstable geology and potential natural disasters.

It would also include "topical" panel discussions such as issues of commercialisation on mountains and guests would be taken on guided field trips to explore the national park to see the issues in practice?

Cocks said a decision to increase daily helicopter landing limits in Fiordland due to increasing demand was one example. Growing visitor numbers to Tongariro National Park, where he saw track erosion, was another.

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It was these places which were under pressure from numbers and exceeding capacity, he said.

Between 30 to 40 guests would speak at the conference. They included David Higgins, of Ngai Tahu, Doc director-general Lou Sanson, and a number of mountain specialists from countries such as Alaska, Nepal, and Austria.

People attending had either a professional or recreational involvement in mountain environments "with an eye of preserving it".

The conference, last held in 2014 in Colorado, was being organised by Cocks and Dave Bamford along with other volunteers.

 - Stuff

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