Overcrowding a growing issue in New Zealand’s national parks

Tourists stream across the busy Tongariro Crossing on Easter Sunday, when queues for toilets stretched to the dozens.

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER/FAIRFAX NZ

Tourists stream across the busy Tongariro Crossing on Easter Sunday, when queues for toilets stretched to the dozens.

Waves of tourists are overcrowding New Zealand’s national parks – and not just in summer.

For the de facto mayor of Mount Cook, there is no respite.

Visitors to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park have increased 25 per cent from last year. Half a million would soon visit the park annually, during times that were once quiet.

A view of the Hooker Valley and Aoraki/Mount Cook village from the Red Tarns track.

ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

A view of the Hooker Valley and Aoraki/Mount Cook village from the Red Tarns track.

“We used to have a shoulder season. That’s effectively gone,” chief ranger Mike Davies said.

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“We used to have our staff go on leave in winter; now I’m struggling to have enough staff to cope with the visitors coming through.”

Mike Davies, operations manager of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. The village in the park is run by the Department of ...

ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Mike Davies, operations manager of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. The village in the park is run by the Department of Conservation, making him the de facto mayor.

Crowding is one of the challenges facing New Zealand’s national parks, which have more visitors than ever before, at all times of the year.

Davies runs the small Mount Cook village.

During peak season, accommodation bookings in the village reached 90 to 100 per cent. Most visitors brought cars and left waste.

“Tourism New Zealand has been really effective at marketing New Zealand and getting people here. The next phase is managing them when they’re here,” he said.

“Trying to manage vehicles . . . is going to be our biggest challenge. They’ve marketed that you hop in a vehicle and visit these places – gone are the days when a whole lot of people hopped on a bus.” 

At least half of all international tourists visit a national park while in New Zealand.

At Tongariro National Park in the central North Island, visitor numbers have reached breaking point. Tourists bring about $20 million a year to the region, but crowding has started to devalue the experience.

The number of visitors walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing has risen from 20,000 in 1992 to 109,000 last year – a 450 per cent increase.

“It’s my belief that the numbers can’t keep growing like this. Either the numbers and/or the experience will crash somehow,” Tongariro-based Department of Conservation scientist Dr Harry Keys said.

The alpine crossing has capacity for 600 people a day. Beyond that, the experience suffered, research showed.

Last year, 55 per cent of days had more than 600 visitors on the crossing. On three days, there were more than 2000.

Crowding was now a major complaint, and was referenced in 40 per cent of online visitor reviews on the crossing, Keys said.

More visitors brought more risks, which added costs to the free rescue service run in the park.

A group of tourists had to be rescued after walking barefoot to Mount Ngauruhoe, in an homage to its role as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies.

Last year, rangers rescued their first baby from the crossing, Keys said.

“I believe this overcrowding of the Tongariro alpine trail needs some kind of solution.

“It’s a multi-faceted solution, not a single solution, whatever it is.”


 – Stuff


First published at: August 11, 2016 at 02:47AM.
Syndicated from:
http://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/news/83033637/Overcrowding-a-growing-issue-in-New-Zealands-national-parks