Hut fees may lift for foreigners

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 05:00 14/02/2014
mueller hut
JOHN BISSET/ Fairfax NZ

VISITOR RIGHTS: Aoraki Conservation Board member David Round suggests foreign visitors should pay more than locals to enjoy conservation accommodation, such as the Mueller Hut at Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.

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Foreigners will pay more to use Department of Conservation (DOC) huts if an Aoraki Conservation Board member's idea gains traction.

David Round's proposal will be discussed at today's board meeting at The Hermitage, but he wants other conservation advocates to consider it.

He said there was "enormous non-payment" of hut fees by users, and "short of putting a warden in every hut, the situation is not going to change".

He suggested DOC could introduce an international access pass in order to recover some costs.

"This new pass would not be a 'hut pass', but an access to the estate ... overseas visitors would have to have one before they entered larger parts of the conservation estate.

"New Zealand citizens and residents would not require one," he said.

"Unless wardens or DOC officers are present in the hut, compliance with the law is entirely discretionary ... Occasionally department staff have to make unedifying enquiries about visitors' sleeping arrangements, and do not always get truthful answers."

Figures provided for the Aoraki-Mt Cook National Park estimated more than 150,000 people came through the visitor centre's doors last year, while there were also 8400 recorded "bed nights" at the local huts.

According to the hut visitors' logbook, about 1150 visitors listed themselves as coming from Australia, 2500 as coming from New Zealand, and 3750 as "other international", while the rest declined to say.

Hut fees range from $5 per night (Ball Hut) to $30 per night (Mueller Hut).

Mr Round said in Europe and Canada, tourists were often charged extra to visit national parks or museums.

"This would not be any injustice to [foreign visitors], nor a difficulty, because they can afford to pay more, and should expect to. The real impediment is nothing but our cringing inferiority complex, which causes us to undervalue what we have here, and feels afraid to ask tourists to pay for it."

Conservation Minister Nick Smith was not available for comment.

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- The Timaru Herald

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