Home / Articles / The world outdoors

Could the Covid recovery be a boon for the backcountry?

A wrap of the biggest stories and best writing about the outdoors from New Zealand and around the world.

The backcountry could benefit from a major public spend-up to reduce unemployment with a number of conservation and track-building projects proposed.

Last month, the government called for ideas for ‘shovel-ready’ projects that could employ a lot of people and get money flowing into the economy. A number of track and predator control projects have since been put forward. 

Auckland Council has asked for money to upgrade tracks to prevent the spread of kauri dieback, Horizons Regional Council has asked for $7.5m to help start a new 2500ha eco-sanctuary near National Park Village and an East Coast iwi is hoping to get $35m funding to help restore Raukūmara Conservation Park. 

But perhaps the most interesting, and boldest, idea comes from the Green Party, which has called for a billion dollars to be spent on environmental restoration projects. The money would be spent over three years, employing up to 7000 people. It comes as Stuff reports DOC’s budget may take a hit with the loss of concession income.

Covid-19 hits outdoor industry

A number of high profile tourism companies have announced plans to close. 

The biggest is Ngai Tahu Tourism, which is planning to close all of its operations for the foreseeable future affecting 300 jobs. Among its tourism businesses, the company owns two private lodges on the Hollyford Track, and also Guided Walks NZ, which is the country’s longest-running guiding business. Last week, Hermitage Hotel in Aoraki/Mt Cook Village also announced it was proposing to close, affecting 170 jobs. 

Other outdoor tourism operators are calling on the government to reopen domestic tourism under Level 2. Ruapehu District Mayor Don Cameron says many of the 700 tourism businesses in the region are at risk of collapse if the rules don’t change, Stuff reports. The mayors of Ruapehu, Rotorua and Taupo have written to the government calling for domestic travel to be allowed under Level 2.

Meanwhile, in Milford Sound, tourism operators are calling for restrictions in Fiordland National Park to be relaxed to help business. RNZ reports that a number of Fiordland businesses are frustrated with restrictions imposed by the national park management plan which limits the number of clients they can accommodate and the activities they can do. DOC has previously been criticised and sanctioned for not enforcing the park plan.

But here at Wilderness, outdoor businesses say they are hopeful the industry will bounce back quickly as Kiwis spend more time exploring their backyard. 

Call for Kiwis to shop local

Outdoor businesses are reducing prices and offering discount vouchers to encourage Kiwis to support local business. The Otago Daily Times reports a Wanaka climbing guide is offering ‘koha climbs’, where climbers can pay just $50 for a $200 climb. On the West Coast, nearly 20 tourism businesses have been selling discount vouchers to try and get cash flow going again.

In the May issue of Wilderness, Neil Stitchbury from distributor Outfitters has written about the broader benefits of supporting local outdoor businesses. 

Search and rescue work resumes

A Waikato man was rescued over the weekend after spending three days in the Kaimai Range. The 28-year-old went for a walk near Te Aroha mountain on Wednesday afternoon and was reported missing on Thursday. Thirty-six search and rescue volunteers were involved in the search, but the man was found by cyclists on the Waipapa Track on Saturday afternoon, the NZ Herald reports.

And, perhaps as a lesson for trampers considering going on a longer hike under Level 3, a fisherman has been charged with breaching health regulations after he was rescued. Stuff reports the man was fishing on the Waimakariri River when he became trapped on an island by rising water levels and had to be rescued by a helicopter. 

If you’re in doubt as to what you can do in Level 3, the Mountain Safety Council has put together a helpful guide on which activities are, and are not, permitted under Level 3.

Outdoor news from around the world

National parks have reopened in Queensland, Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia, with some states allowing hikers to travel in groups of up to 10 and even go on overnight camping trips, the Daily Mail Australia reports. However, national parks remain closed in New South Wales and Victoria and state borders also remain closed. 

In the US, there is debate around privatising some national park services as the country faces a $12 billion backlog in park maintenance. National Geographic reports a government committee has proposed allowing private companies to run facilities like campgrounds and lodges on public land. 

This week’s great read

The Spinoff has published an excellent account of a tramper’s pilgrimage to Mesopotamia Station in Canterbury, the setting of Samuel Butler’s classic 1872 novel Erewhon: or, Over the Range.

The Wild podcast has released an extensive interview with Guy Cotter which is also worth a listen. For those unfamiliar with The Wild, Wilderness wrote about the duo behind the podcast here.

Lockdown distractions

NZ Topo Map has launched a teddy bear hunt, hiding bear icons at locations around the country. Go to topomap.co.nz and click on the bear icon on the left of screen for more details. There are lots of prizes up for grabs.

And DOC has a range of ideas for helping children learn from home during the lockdown on its website, including a guide to ‘backyard camping’.