Fewer Kiwis doing Department of Conservation Great Walks

Tramper Mark Wilson, left, of Auckland, and his namesake, Hump Ridge Track manager Mark Wilson, of Tuatapere.
JOHN HAWKINS/FAIRFAX NZ

Tramper Mark Wilson, left, of Auckland, and his namesake, Hump Ridge Track manager Mark Wilson, of Tuatapere.

Kiwis are becoming a minority in their own backyard on the Great Walks.

Department of Conservation figures show while Kiwis remain the biggest group by nationality using the Great Walks, they are using the tracks less frequently and on some tracks made up only a quarter of the total walkers.

In the 2014-15 Great Walks season, 2957 New Zealand walkers took to the Kepler Track in Fiordland National Park.

New Zealanders made up only 24.77 per cent of the 11,936 people who walked the track in total that year.

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The previous season, 3301 New Zealanders walked the Kepler Track.

Of the 7107 walkers on the Milford Track during the 2014-15 season, 2522 were kiwis.

Fiordland National Park operations manager Greg Lind said there could be a number of reasons why fewer New Zealanders were using the great walks.

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One reason he suggested was that tourists would book their trips months in advance when setting travel plans, whereas New Zealanders might leave it to the last minute and miss out.

While there would initially be disappointment when missed out on the Great Walks, they would soon find other places to tramp.

"There is growth on the other tracks," Lind said.

DOC staff in the visitor centres would direct keen walkers to other tracks, and could even book accommodation at the huts or campsites if needed, he said.

"New Zealand is highly regarded for it's tramping so if they [overseas visitors] can't get on a track they will go somewhere else."

At the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre, staff could redirect walkers who wanted to do the Milford, Routeburn or Kepler Great Walks to other tracks, like the Hollyford, Greenstone Caples or Hump Ridge tracks.

There had been a noticeable increase in popularity of the Great Walks since DOC partnered with Air New Zealand, Lind said.

With the number of tourists on the rise concern about pressures on conservation land has led the Conservation Authority to consider a user pays system to cover the increasing costs of handling those numbers.

The Milford, Routeburn and Kepler tracks did cover some of their own costs, with the revenue from hut and campsite fees in excess of $3 million each year, Lind said.

DOC was considering a user pays system, but that was a decision that would come from a higher level, he said.

Venture Southland tourism team leader Warrick Low said other tracks like the Hump Ridge or Dusky had the potential to grow.

"The more they get used, the more they are managed, the more they get marketed."

There were many other tracks out there of a similar quality to the Great Walks, but the Great Walks just had bigger established brands, Low said.

Low said DOC bringing in a user pays system made business sense to him.

"It alleviates the pressure from the taxpayer."

Some national parks in other places - such as parts of Europe and the United States - charged for entry, and Low believed that created value for users who were more likely to appreciate something if they paid for it.

Visitors to New Zealand could take our parks for granted because access was free, he said.

"It would be nice for everything to be free but that's not a reality."

While the Great Walks are flooded with visitors, some private tracks are struggling.

Mark Wilson, who manages the Hump Ridge Track near Tuatapere, said the track was operating at about 40 per cent capacity, even though it was on pace for its best year since 2004.

"When it opened, there was a lot of publicity, but it's sort of drifted away," he said.

"We're still only running about 40 to 50 per cent [capacity]. We have only two or three days a year when we're completely full. You can walk the Hump Ridge and go an entire day without seeing another person."

Wilson said part of the struggle was the fact the track did not rank highly on Google searches compared to the Great Walks, and that it was not advertised as extensively as the Great Walks.

He also said Air New Zealand's partnership with the Great Walks provided marketing muscle the Hump Ridge Track could not match.

AT A GLANCE: NEW ZEALANDERS USING THE GREAT WALKS

  2013/14 season      2013/14 total      2014/15 season     

2014/15 total

Abel Tasman Coastal Track    12,316 31,647 13,583

34,685

Heaphy Track

4032 

5831 

3859 

6064 

Kepler Track 

3301 

11,026 

2957 

11,936

Lake Waikaremoana Track    

4838 

6332 

4593 

6015 

Milford Track

2600 

7244 

2522 

7107 

Rakiura Track

2357 

4277 

2390 

4796 

Routeburn Track

4911 

13,853 

4528 

14,225

Tongariro Northern Circuit

3085 

7464 

3316 

7997

Whanganui Journey

4702 

7204 

5103 

7866 

 - Stuff

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