Image of the July 2012 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
July 2012 Issue
Home / Articles / Walkshorts

Online intentions opportunity for backpacker lodges

Knowing where you've gone helps searchers find you quickly. Photo: Josh Gale
DOC’s decision to remove its paper-based intention cards from visitor centres has caused a backlash of criticism, but could provide an additional income stream for backpacker hostels

Backpacker hostels around the country could charge visitors a small fee for being their ‘trusted contact’, according to Mountain Safety Council chief executive Darryl Carpenter.

Earlier this year, DOC head office instructed its visitor centres around the country to remove the paper-based intention system in favour of the system.

Carpenter suggested the removal of the paper-based intention cards from DOC visitor centres provided an opportunity for backpacker lodges which could act as a trusted contact for guests and charge for the service.

“The backpacker on Stewart Island could potentially be promoting the fact that they will act as a trusted contact for the people staying with them and encourage people to leave their outdoors intentions,” Carpenter said. “Hopefully that backpacker will also mention that it can get pretty wet and boggy down there and ask whether guests have the right gear.”

However, the owner of Mountain House backpackers in Arthur’s Pass, nick Menary, said while he is considering the possibility of acting as a trusted contact for his guests, he thinks the paper-based system is better. “Really, the much more efficient system was the way DOC was doing it because they have much more staff than we do. It’s their job to give advice about tracks and weather conditions so it’s a natural add-on for them.”

Menary said while the new system might work for New Zealanders, it isn’t an appropriate system for international tourists who make snap decisions to go into the outdoors when visiting Arthur’s Pass. He also said when he tested the Adventure Smart electronic form, the email to his trusted contact ended up in their spam folder, not their inbox.

The key message of Adventure Smart’s outdoor intentions process is for people going into the outdoors to be responsible for their own safety, not DOC, by telling a ‘trusted contact’ where they’re going and when they’ll return.

Trampers and other outdoor recreationists can do this by visiting and filling in an electronic form which can be emailed or printed and given to a trusted contact. A third option on the Adventure Smart website is to create an account with

Carpenter said it didn’t really matter how people leave their intentions as long as they do. “People can still leave a post-it note on their fridge or leave a message on the back of an envelope as they’ve been doing for many years.”

However, the Adventure Smart system has come under fire in the outdoor community and even some DOC visitor centres requesting an exemption. The DOC visitor centre at Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park has an exemption that allows it to continue with the paper-based intention cards. And according to material gained through the Official Information Act, Taranaki Egmont visitor centre had concerns with the removal of its paper-based intention cards and felt it also had a “strong case” for exemption.

DOC head office allowed the visitor centre to continue using intention cards while the Adventure Smart system was being implemented, though applied strict conditions around the use of the paper-based system.

Former DOC ranger Graeme Kates has been an outspoken critic of the new system. Last month Wilderness reported on a survey carried out by Kates which he said shows people aren’t even aware of Adventure Smart.

In February, Kates interviewed 116 people climbing Avalanche Peak in Arthur’s Pass National Park and found 95 per cent had filled out the paper intention card at the visitor centre. His survey also found only five per cent of New Zealanders interviewed had heard of the Adventure Smart system and none had used it. None of the tourists interviewed had heard of it.

DOC’s visitor service manager Gavin Walker said not all DOC visitor centres around the country offered the intention cards which created inconsistency and confusion among visitors.

Walker said a visitor centre on one side of the Routeburn Track welcomed visitors to leave their intentions while on the other side they were turned away. In other parts of the country, there were no visitor centres at all.

“The best system for us all in the future is to leave our details with somebody who actually cares about us and follows up on that,” Walker said. “The concept of the trusted contact is a long held tradition in New Zealand.”

When asked why it was necessary to remove the paper-based intention cards from places like Arthur’s Pass rather than run them in tandem with the Adventure Smart system, Walker said: “We made the decision not to run them in tandem, for good or for bad, to try and have a simple clear message of telling people to leave their intentions with a trusted contact.”