SHARE

A huge hike in trampers is putting pressure on the country’s Great Walks, including the Routeburn Track, near Queenstown.

Department of Conservation figures show paid users on the Routeburn jumped from 10,946 during the 2010-2011 season to 16,030 for the 2015-2016 season, a whopping 46 per cent increase in five years.

While it’s good news for Glenorchy, it’s putting pressure on roads, carparks and the environment.

One Glenorchy tourism operator, Ingrid Temple, worries the increase in traffic and rammed carparks will put people off.

“There is a danger we are killing that golden goose if you like.”

A Fairfax report said DoC’s eight Great Walks lost more than $3 million last year. Yesterday, DoC announced it was increasing Great Walks fees to rake in an extra $880,000 a year.

The latest DoC figures show thousands more international tourists are flocking to our national parks. In the case of the Routeburn that’s about 4000 more than five years ago.

That bolsters a call from DoC’s big boss Lou Sanson – made in Queenstown last October – to charge for the Great Walks.

Temple, co-owner of Glenorchy Journeys, which offers transport to and from the Routeburn Track, says the traffic increase is evident.

Many people are bypassing Queenstown to stay in Glenorchy, she says.

“[Accommodation] prices are a little more appealing in Glenorchy.

“It is also a quieter environment and a lot of people who enjoy the outdoors are looking for that.”

She’s noticed an increase in Chinese and Korean trampers, while traditional markets like the United States, Britain and Germany remain strong.

DoC figures reflect the international flavour on the Routeburn.

While the proportion of international trampers on the Routeburn is relatively static – from 69.4 per cent in 2010/11 to 72.5 per cent in 2015/16 – the raw number of overseas walkers has increased by more than 4000.

The appeal of the Routeburn, which winds through jaw-dropping Mt Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks, is understandable.

But Temple worries increased traffic could dilute visitors’ experience – noting the carpark is often at capacity in peak season.

The visitor increase at Abel Tasman, the country’s most popular Great Walk, is 43 per cent over five years, to 42,035.

That’s been fuelled by an increase of almost 10,000 overseas tourists.

Wakatipu DoC boss Geoff Owen points out the figures don’t reflect those doing a day walk on
the track – so the actual number could be as many as half again.

“As always with increased numbers there is generally more work to be done. More [track] maintenance and having to attend to toilets and those sorts of things more frequently than we have done in the past.”

It hasn’t resulted in more staff – “yet” – but that may change if numbers continue to skyrocket.

Owen says DoC’s Queenstown tourist information office is busy but many are bypassing the busy resort to go directly to the tracks.

Despite the increase in nature lovers, not all Queenstown businesses are raking it in.

Outside Sports boss Martin Youens says the store’s rental sales are slightly up – but people are not shopping for big-ticket items.

He thinks accommodation prices are putting hikers off staying in the resort – sending them to cheaper places like Wanaka, Te Anau and Glenorchy.

“Town has priced everyone out. For people who do outdoor pursuits they are usually not very rich. The [Queenstown] market is for rich people to come and shop.

Youens adds: “From talking to a few people it would appear people are flying into Queenstown but then going to hike in other places as it is cheaper to stay like Wanaka, Te Anau or Glenorchy.”

louises@scene.co.nz