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Kiwi? Prove it for cheaper Great Walks access

Enjoy the view, folks - from June foreign trampers will pay double the hut fees on the Milford, Routeburn, Kepler and Abel Tasman Great Walk tracks. Photo: Nicholas Freeman

Kiwis heading on a Great Walk this summer may have to take their wallet to prove their nationality after the Government moves to hike fees for international visitors.

Overseas tourists will now be charged double the rate to book DOC huts and campsites on four Great Walks (Routeburn, Milford, Abel Tasman and Kepler) starting in October. That will mean overseas tourists will pay $140 a night on the Milford Track and $130 on the Routeburn and Kepler, and $75 on the Abel Tasman.

The system will be trialled for one season and could be extended to other Great Walks next year.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said about 60 per cent of people on Great Walks were from overseas and the walks have been under-priced.

“The Great Walks are a magnet for international visitors and the huts sell-out very quickly,” Sage said. “If we are going to manage the increasing number of visitors, we need more tools to manage demand.”

The charges will also help the Great Walks to break-even. Currently, the cost of managing them outstrips revenue by about $3.8m a year.

“DOC expects to recover an additional $2.9 million during the trial period, without significantly reducing bookings and visitor demand. The increased fees may also encourage overseas visitors to use less visited Great Walks where prices remain the same.”

Children from overseas will also be charged under the new scheme. Formerly, those under the age of 17 stayed in the huts for free. They will now be charged the same rate as adults, but the walks will still be free for Kiwi children.

“There have been issues with Australian school groups booking huts and then not turning up, so this is aimed at addressing that issue,” Sage said.

The announcement comes as DOC is about to launch a new online booking system which will enable it to charge differential rates. However, Sage said it will still be an “honesty system” and trampers will need to carry proof that they are a New Zealander to show hut wardens.

“People will need to show a power bill, driver’s license or passport,” Sage said. “Wardens are already checking that people have paid hut fees, so it’s not a big change.”

The lower fees will apply to those who are ‘ordinarily a New Zealand resident’, including those who hold a work visa or have residency status.

The new booking system will be launched on June 12.

It’s the second policy to hit tourists in the pocket, after the Government announced plans last month to introduce a border levy on tourists early next year.

However, the move doesn’t go as far as a National Party policy announced last year, which would have seen fees for tourists double on five Great Walks, and increase by 50 per cent on the other Great Walks and for backcountry hut passes.