National Park General Policy and Sustainable Tourism

National Park General Policy and Sustainable Tourism

A review of the national park policy will need to be carefully managed. We need a clear vision for how our national parks balance conservation and tourism. Whilst some, including myself, will not want any dilution of the important protection measures set into the current policy that reflects the National Park Act, some sectors will be keen to see easier access to exploration of resources, be that minerals, water, timber, new roads or unsustainable tourism developments.

It is crucial that we carefully manage our national parks, and, in light of the current tourism growth, we need to review current policies to carefully balance the protection of our special places and allow for non-damaging visitor activities.

During the last five years tourist arrivals to New Zealand increased from 2.5 million to 3.7 million. Tourism growth has continued throughout this recent season and it is predicted that visitor arrivals will reach five million within seven years.

Visitor numbers to some particularly popular national park locations certainly reflect this growth and there is considerable pressure for further development, for both commercial operations and public infrastructure such as toilets and carparks.

Transport systems encompassing gondolas, monorails, tunnels, boats and aircraft have all been suggested as means of both managing and increasing the number of visitors.

One positive example of effective visitor management is the recent introduction of park and ride for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. During the busy season this allows for visitors to park their vehicles outside the National Park and use shuttle buses. This is reducing not only congestion but also social and environmental impacts a bit. What may eventually be needed is a cap on numbers at any one time at the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This approach to limits may also need to be implemented at other pressure areas in national parks.

A revised General Policy for National Parks should incorporate international best practice for managing the impacts of tourism. The following key points could be considered when developing the revised policy:

  • Continued acceptance of the connections of iwi to their land that, irrespective of national park status, iwi hold kaitiakitanga (guardianship) over their maunga (mountains), ngahere (forests), awa (rivers) and moana (lakes and sea). As such, they should be involved in the management of national parks that encompass these ancestral connections.
  • ‘Free access to our national parks’ is really a fallacy, and certainly not a workable principle in this age of increased users and commercial pressure. There is often an environmental, social or cultural cost. Accordingly, there should be legal provisions for charging visitor fees at specific, under pressure sites within national parks to help pay for facilities and environmental management.
  • Concession fees need some flexibility, with concessions for national park activities being at the premium end and lesser fees for tourism operators in in less sensitive conservation areas. There needs to be a greater focus on concessionaires collaborating with DOC to deliver conservation benefits rather than just a transactional arrangement between the operator and DOC.
  • There is a need for improved legal provision for limiting commercial activities in national parks. For example, more than 40 transport concessions currently operate for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing making it difficult for DOC and iwi to manage the environmental, social and cultural impacts. International best practice would have at most a handful of concessionaires operating there.
  • Continuing to accept the provision of targeted visitor accommodation in some areas of our national parks, but increasing the environmental standards required by accommodation providers.
  • Accepting the concept that there may be the need to limit the number of visitors to any heavily used locations, due to environmental, social and cultural impacts.
  • The current process of developing a management plan for each national park does not recognise the options for visitor activities that could be planned on a collaborative basis with neighbouring national parks.

It is crucial that the National Park Policy review really sticks to the principles of protecting our wonderful national parks. The revised policy should incorporate an assumption that visiting our national parks is a privilege, not a right. It is possible to have well protected national parks that allow for sustainable and growing tourism.

Photo:The Lake Wakatipu region of Mount Aspiring National Park is one of the gateways to several popular multiday walks including the Routeburn Track. The track’s huts continue to be at capacity during this summer.

Posted: Sunday 28 January 2018

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