The idea to pump more money into DOC to create a series of Great Day Walks and Great Short Walks was to help divert traffic away from hotspots suffering from overcrowding. By any measure, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Cathedral Cove, Hooker Valley and Roys Peak tracks would be deemed candidates for less, not more, foot traffic. Talk to the communities in these places and that’s what those most affected by the huge visitor numbers say.
So what to make of the announcement that these four walks, among 14 short walks and five day walks, are to be granted ‘Great’ status? Surely this will only further highlight their appeal? A total of 30 such walks are planned, adding to the nine – eventually to be 12 – existing multi-day Great Walks.
And while plans are in place to improve visitor facilities on some of these newly-minted Great Walks, pressure on facilities at other tracks continues unabated.
I hear stories of the loo at Bushline Hut in Nelson Lakes National Park overflowing. Blue Lake, also in Nelson Lakes, has the purest water in the world – for now. People are trashing the place, going to the toilet near the lake’s edge, washing themselves and their clothes in the pristine water. By all accounts, the toilets at the huts in the family-friendly Hurunui Valley, near Lake Sumner, are repulsive. To be sure, long drops are never ‘great’ – hold your breath and get in and out as quickly as possible before the mosquitoes get to you – but ‘pyramids of poo’, as one person describes it, approaching the toilet seat is disgusting and unhealthy.
You won’t find such conditions at Great Walks’ hut loos – they’re too well maintained – but that’s what people who are seeking an outdoors experience beyond these branded walks are all too often encountering.
The New Zealand outdoors is already great. We don’t need more tracks designated as such. We need DOC to focus on its core responsibilities, to have an overarching plan and budget for dealing with stressed, over-visited locations throughout the country, not funding a Tourism New Zealand vanity project, because that’s not fostering recreation for New Zealanders.