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Great Walk fees aren’t coming… yet

A busy Luxmore Hut on the Kepler Great Walk - but would additional fees really alleviate visitor pressure? Photo: John Strother

In an off-the-cuff Q&A session, Department of Conservation director-general Lou Sanson floated the idea of imposing additional Great Walk fees to help alleviate the pressure the tracks have come under in recent seasons.

While speaking at the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce, Sanson suggested a “differential charge” whereby international visitors pay $100 and New Zealanders pay $40. He did not elaborate on how the charge would be applied.

As Federated Mountain Clubs president Peter Wilson pointed out, the Conservation Act doesn’t allow for track fees; Wilson expected the added fees would be tacked onto existing hut fees.

During the 2015/2016 season, there were 117,400 visitors on the Great Walks, 60 per cent of which were internationals. Assuming the numbers at least hold steady for future seasons, the proposed fee increases could bring in up to $7.2 million a year from international visitors, and an extra $1.9 million from domestic trampers.

There are three tiers for huts on Great Walks; it costs $54 a night to stay at huts on the Routeburn, Kepler and Milford; $32 for Abel Tasman, Lake Waikaremoana, Heaphy, Tongariro, Whanganui; and $22 for Rakiura. Campsites range from $5 to $18, depending on the season and track.

Gavin Walker, DOC’s director of recreation for tourism and heritage said that while no decisions have been made regarding increasing the cost of walking the Great Walks, record numbers of visitors mean they have to get creative in how they bring in more funding.

“To protect conservation values and to continue to deliver great experiences, DOC needs to find new ways to manage increased use, including sustainable funding options.”

Wilson, however, doesn’t think any funding shortfalls should fall on the backs of trampers.

“It’s not an ideal solution,” Wilson said. “It’s a shame DOC has to do this. I think that it would be better to properly fund the department.”