New Department of Conservation (DOC) figures are showing a sharp decline in walkers on Roys Peak and Mt Iron tracks, down 42 percent and 67 percent respectively over the spring compared to the previous year.
DOC said from September to October’s end many high-volume internationally-renowned destinations in national parks, such as Roys Peak, saw a huge decline in visitation, whereas visitors to coastal areas increased.
Managing Director of Wānaka adventure company Wildwire Mark Morrison said the figures back up what he had experienced in the industry.
Numbers for his business around the same period were down 40 Percent. As a snapshot on December 28, numbers on one of his trips, a waterfall climb, were 25 people climbing, compared to 52 people on the same day this time last year. Many of those were likely international visitors.
“Prior to Covid, around 80 percent of our business came from the international market, and only 20 percent were kiwis. Today, almost all are kiwis, so that’s good they’re out there,” he said.
Local tourism businesses were just hanging out for the Australia-New Zealand bubble, expecting a large influx due to pent up demand and no other destinations or countries potentially safe for Australians to travel to.
“This is the light at the end of the tunnel. But no-one wants to rush it and we’re all good with that. It has to be safe,” he said.
Most Wānaka businesses are dependent on summer tourism tiding them through the quiet winter months.
“If we don’t get the bubble with Australia, I’d say the rubber is going to hit the road and this will start to bite. But worse than no tourists would be another Lockdown so we’re still grateful to be in an amazing position to be able to operate as normal.”
Other iconic spots hit by a sharp decline in tourist numbers and the border closing include:
· Milford Sound/Piopiotahi – down 72%
· Franz Josef Glacier – down 66%
· Hooker Valley Track – down 52%
In a reversal of fortunes for Central Otago, DOC recorded numbers of people using the Otago Central Rail Trail were up 55 percent over the spring. DOC huts on other tracks are sitting near capacity over January though people should check availability that could be better in February online by visiting https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/online-bookings/
DOC’s Director-General, Lou Sanson said many New Zealanders are looking to nature for escape and relaxation during these unprecedented times.
"As we say goodbye to 2020, DOC is working to ensure everyone can have fantastic and restorative experiences outdoors over the summer and asks that people ensure they are also putting in the effort to prepare well for their trips, visit respectfully and keep themselves and their families safe.”
Read edition 1007 of the Wānaka Sun here.