Tramping group fights plans to charge tourists for using Great Walks
Tramping group Federated Mountain Clubs is hitting out at the possibility that tourists could be forced to pay more to experience the country's Great Walks.
Conservation Minister Maggie Barry has conceded the costs of servicing remote huts and keeping them "up to standard has become a challenge".
As a result, the Government has been considering the introduction of a "differential charge" for international visitors, with a decision expected to be made within the next six months.
But Federated Mountain Clubs vice-president Jan Finlayson said her 20,000-member organisation was firmly against the idea.
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"It's almost certainly going to be inefficient, very difficult and intrusive to [New Zealand's] welcoming culture."
Under current legislation, no trampers, whether domestic or international, may be charged for access to national parks and tracks. However, the Department of Conservation (DOC) can charge for the use of huts, camping and car parking.
Barry said DOC was now working with the tourism industry and "other stakeholders to explore options for sustainable funding".
"A lot of discussions are going on at the moment with the tourism sector at political and operational levels.
"No decisions being have been made yet, but a number of options are being considered and carefully evaluated such as differential fees for international and domestic visitors."
The cost of maintaining the nine Great Walks – Lake Waikaremoana, the Tongariro Northern Circuit, Whanganui Journey, and the Abel Tasman Coast, Heaphy, Routeburn, Milford, Kepler and Rakiura tracks – outpaced the revenue they generated by about $3 million in the year to March.
Collectively, about $6.1m was made by the walks during the 2015-16 financial year, but that was outweighed by expenses, such as hut operating and maintenance costs and staffing, totalling $9.1m.
About half of the $3m loss came from the Heaphy Track, which posted a shortfall of almost $1m, and Southland's Rakuira Track, which was in the red by more than $500,000.
Finlayson said DOC was becoming increasingly reliant on volunteer groups to carry out its core functions, and described the department's funding as "deplorable".
"DOC presently receives about half what we spend on type 2 diabetes. There's no way we would treat education or health with such contempt.
"The Government needs to show that conservation is something of vital importance to the nation and worthy of proper funding, not just token funding as it currently receives."
Labour conservation spokeswoman Nanaia Mahuta said any changes to the way the walks were funded deserved strong consideration.
"For our most popular walks, modelling should be undertaken to assess what the implication of a charging regime might deliver to enhance our 100 per cent Pure brand.
"Work should be done with the relevant agencies and industry stakeholders to investigate how a border levy would be collected."
DOC recreation manager Richard Davies said: "The Great Walks are our most expensive destinations to manage (huts and tracks), but we also recover a significant portion back from our users.
"Our track maintenance and investment is an ongoing process ... we invest in maintaining and upgrading tracks in areas that are well used and valued by a large number of people.
"It's important to note that, from our perspective, more people using these places is a good thing."
IN-SEASON HUT COSTS ON THE GREAT WALKS
Lake Waikaremoana, Tongariro Northern Circuit, Whanganui Journey, Abel Tasman Coast Track, Heaphy Track: $32 a night (adult)
Routeburn Track, Kepler Track, Milford Track: $54
Rakiura Track: $22