Updated below with comments from Federated Mountain Clubs.
The cost of doing the most popular Great Walks will double for international tourists if National is re-elected next month.
Prime Minister Bill English and Conservation Minister Maggie Barry announced the new policy in Queenstown this morning.
The fee for foreign visitors would double on the five most popular Great Walks (Milford, Routeburn, Kepler, Abel Tasman Coast Track and the Tongariro Northern Circuit), and increase by 50 per cent for the other Great Walks and for backcountry hut passes. Rates for New Zealanders would stay the same.
The extra changes were expected to bring in over $4 million a year, which would go to DOC. The policy would come into effect in October next year.
“The nine Great Walks are among New Zealand’s most popular visitor attractions, but they run at a $1 million annual loss,” Barry said.
“We believe it’s fair that international visitors who experience our Great Walks pay a little more to enjoy our landscape and contribute to protecting our native wildlife.”
Barry said she hoped the levy would direct more walkers to less popular trails.
It comes after a 30 per cent price hike for huts on the Milford Track and a 20 per cent increase on the Kepler and Routeburn tracks, which came into effect in May.
The cost of booking a hut on the Milford Track is currently $70 a night, the Routeburn and Kepler cost $65, the Coast Track is $38, while the Tongariro Northern Circuit is $36.
The National Party also announced it would give an extra $5.4 million to community conservation programmes.
Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) president Peter Wilson said differential charging eroded the egalitarian culture of the outdoors.
“Everyone’s equal in the backcountry,” he said. “FMC doesn’t like seeing tourists treated as cash cows, but at the same time we would be happy to see Great Walks break even and DOC get further revenue. We are disappointed it has to come from fleecing tourists, but DOC are between a rock and hard place, given they’ve been starved of funding for so long.”
He said FMC would prefer DOC received funding based on the level of GST paid by tourists: “That’s already a tourist tax. DOC needs guaranteed funding based on tourist numbers.”
Proposed Great Walk hut pricing for international vistors