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November 2021 Issue
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Great Walks’ popularity surges, West Coast’s plummets

Castlepoint Lighthouse is the only high-volume iconic destination to see a rise in visitor numbers in the past year. Photo: Peter Laurenson

It’s looking like the country’s popular tourist tramping spots will remain quiet for another season, but it is likely to be a bumper season on the Great Walks and major cycle trails.

DOC recently released track data for the year to June, which again showed that tourist spots, particularly on the West Coast, have had a sharp decline in visitors.

Visitor numbers at Milford Sound were down 73 per cent, Franz Josef down 72 per cent, Roys Peak down 67 per cent and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing down 63 per cent. The Castlepoint Lighthouse was the only “high-volume iconic destination” to record a boost in visitor numbers, up 12 per cent.

The numbers on short walks followed a similar pattern – only the Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway and Whangarei’s Mt Manaia Track recorded an increase in visitors, at 31 per cent and nine per cent respectively. The biggest losers were Lake Matheson, down 63 per cent, Cape Foulwind Walkway, down 55 per cent, and the Cathedral Coves Walk, on the Coromandel Peninsula, down 51 per cent.

However, with the borders closed, other sites and tracks enjoyed by Kiwis appear to be more popular than ever. An estimated 171,000 people camped at bookable campsites, 91,800 people experienced a Great Walk and 80,600 people stayed at other bookable huts across New Zealand during 2020/21.

It also looks as though it will be another record season on the Great Walks, with bookings in August up 27 per cent compared to last year, with 167,800 bed nights claimed already. All of the Great Walks recorded a surge in bookings, ranging from the Abel Tasman Coast Track, up 11 per cent, to the Whanganui River Journey, up 103 per cent.

Bike trails also recorded remarkable growth, with numbers on the Ohakune Old Coach Road up 138 per cent, bikers on the Timber Trail up 104 per cent and a 24 per cent increase on the Otago Central Rail Trail.