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DOC’s $76m boost to fund new Great Walks and tourist tracks

Busy day at Mintaro Hut on the Milford Track. Photo: Kay Bayley

Two new Great Walks, new day walks and short walks, and an upgraded online booking system that could facilitate differential pricing for Great Walks are all on the conservation shopping list, following the announcement of a $76 million government hand out for DOC.

Speaking at the national tourism industry tradeshow, TRENZ, Tourism Minister Paula Bennett announced a $102m Tourism Infrastructure Fund, alongside $76m in new funding for the DOC Estate.

Speaking as a ministerial tag team at the tradeshow, Conservation Minister Maggie Barry confirmed that the two new Great Walks would be new-build walks, not upgrading of existing walks. The locations had yet to be decided, she said.

“Along with the Paparoa Great Walk (due for completion in 2018) these new Great Walks will mark the first expansion of the network in around 25 years. DOC will run a contestable process to select the best locations and work with partners to co-fund these walks,” she said.

“There needs to be a lot of conversations yet, preparing a business plan and talking with iwi and communities around New Zealand before any decisions on locations can be made.”

The new funding would also be used to develop a network of Great Short Walks and Great Day Walks.

Increasingly people enjoying New Zealand’s parks and conservation areas want activities that can be done in a day or less, said Barry.

“Great Day Walks and Great Short Walks will give people more choices. We also want to encourage people to go on the paths less travelled,” she added, mentioning regional areas such as the West Coast.

Of the total $76 million package, $11.4 million has been earmarked for improvements to DOC’s online services, including more customer focused technology and a new booking service, which Barry hinted could lead to charging higher prices for international visitors for Great Walks.

“For international visitors we are looking very hard in favour of differential charging. At the moment, we haven’t had capacity (to enable this) across the booking system. This funding will allow us to be able to do that.”

Answering a question from the floor, the Conservation Minister was emphatic that introducing entry fees to national parks was not on the government agenda. “No, we are not looking at that. The Conservation Act is very clear. We cannot charge for entry to national parks. We can charge for facilities, however.”

The funding boost appears very much geared to help tourism. “Our outstanding natural landscapes are the reasons why so many local and overseas visitors holiday in New Zealand. This package will allow many more people to enjoy a high quality visitor experience in New Zealand’s parks and conservation areas,” said Barry.

According to current forecasts, overseas visitor numbers are set to reach 4.5 million by 2022.

Meanwhile, Minister Bennett said the new Tourism Infrastructure Fund will provide $100m over the next four years, in partnership with local councils and other community organisations, for projects such as new car parks, toilets and freedom camping facilities.