DOC wants to charge us to walk in our own back yard

It may be time to start charging for the use of the country’s Great Walks, Department of Conservation director-general Lou Sanson says.

Foreign tourists could pay $100 and New Zealanders $40 to cope with a huge increase in trampers – especially overseas travellers – and their effect on the environment, he suggested.

Sanson said the country’s Great Walks brand had “exploded” but this popularity had created some problems.

A report prepared 18 months ago said 30 per cent of international visitors came to New Zealand to connect with nature. That figure was now 50 per cent.

As tourism numbers increased to New Zealand, it was important to protect the country’s point of difference – its natural environment. In March, he took the United States ambassador to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – a 19.4km one-day trek between the Mangatepopo Valley and Ketatahi Rd in the North Island.

“Every time we stopped we were surrounded by 40 people. That is not my New Zealand.

We have got to work this stuff out – these are the real challenges,” Sanson told the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce yesterday.

On the Routeburn Track numbers were increasing by 10 per cent annually, with 70 per cent of the users coming from overseas.

Introducing differential charges on the Great Walks was one potential mechanism to alleviate pressure.

For true Kiwis, being charged to go for a walk on public land rubs the wrong way. ?Especially since our taxes have paid for the amenities having been built and maintained to date. ?

It will also be the thin end of the wedge. ?Once it is acceptable to charge for some, it will be used to charge for all.

As for the Great Walks. ?No sane local walks those at?any time except throughout winter when you can actually count on being alone for more than a few minutes and the huts aren’t full of smelly rude foreigners.

Mind you, that wedge already exists.

Trampers already pay to stay at most huts on Department of Conservation walks, based on a three-tier system.

Huts on Great Walks cost $54 a night for the Routeburn, Milford, and Kepler tracks, $32 for the Heaphy, Abel Tasman Coast Track, Tongariro Northern Circuit, Whanganui Journey and Lake Waikaremoana and $22 for Rakiura.

Huts on these tracks are double-glazed and include gas cookers, heating, toilets and mattresses. Some have resident wardens.

On other tracks, a serviced hut (with sleeping platforms, mattress, toilets, water and fuel) costs $15 a night. A standard hut (sleeping platforms, toilets, water) is $5 a night and a basic hut (bivvy, shelter, simple hut) is free.

Would you be OK with paying twice? ?Once as a tax payer and once more when you go for a walk?