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Instagram-mania damaging Pouakai wetland

The one rule of photographing at Pouakai Tarn that almost no-one on Instagram follows: stay on the boardwalk.

Fragile red tussock and subalpine herb fields are being trampled as ‘Instagram-mania’ heads uphill to Taranaki’s Pouakai Tarns, leaving local DOC staff concerned. Senior Ranger, Dave Rogers, says measures will be put in place this summer to try to protect the area, or at least mitigate the damage.

Tens of thousands of people make the 2-3hr climb to an alpine tarn near Pouakai Hut where it’s possible, in still and clear conditions, to capture the reflection of Taranaki Mounga. The key area is boardwalked to protect the fragile wetlands but that’s not stopping people from trampling to wherever they think they might get a better view.

Rogers said an estimated 22,000 people visited the tarn in 2017 and the surrounding area is showing the effects of the high visitation. “It is quite timely to think about the issues that come from a photographic setting where the impact on such a sensitive environment is likely.”

Management of the area is difficult given its location in a national park that’s open to all-comers, and it looks like DOC’s protective moves will be largely dependent on visitor attitudes.

“Signs will be in place by Christmas, asking for visitors to be aware they are walking in an ecologically fragile environment, to stay on the boardwalk and to not camp within 500m of the tarn,” said Rogers.

“Hut wardens based at Pouakai will patrol around the tarn and advocate the area’s conservation values. Wardens are being briefed to explain the importance and vulnerability of the area, and to dissuade visitors from swimming in the tarn and building ‘make-do’ shelters. They will also monitor issues such as inappropriate toileting and rubbish disposal,” he adds.

Rob Needs, who has been running shuttle services for the Pouakai Crossing for several years, says the popularity of the tarn is astounding. “So many people are putting all their hopes into getting that ‘one shot’,” he said. “New Plymouth District Council is currently building a significant car park at the end of Mangorei Road (the track entrance) to deal with the parking chaos. Overnight congestion at Pouakai Hut (16 bunk) is also an issue. It really needs an upgrade and a booking system.”