Aussie kids steal Ki­wis’ Great Walks

Tourism in­dus­try wel­comes higher charges for for­eign tourists as way to boost ‘un­der­val­ued’ at­trac­tions, writes

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS - Tim O’Con­nell.

Paul Mar­gis and Kayleigh Wang had the Abel Tas­man track to them­selves yes­ter­day.

That is, un­til they bumped into a fly-in/fly-out visit from a del­e­ga­tion of politi­cians and me­dia, cam­eras whirring and rhetoric flow­ing.

The cou­ple, Mar­gis from the UK and Wang from the US, now live in Welling­ton. But when they first ar­rived in New Zealand, it was as over­seas tourists. And when their Bri­tish and Amer­i­can friends and fam­ily fol­low them to see the sights they write home about, they will pay twice as much as Ki­wis.

Stand­ing on the beach yes­ter­day, Con­ser­va­tion Min­is­ter Eu­ge­nie Sage an­nounced her depart­ment would dou­ble the hut fees for over­seas tourists on the Abel Tas­man, Route­burn and Ke­pler Great Walks and on that most fa­mous track of all, the Mil­ford.

Tourists on the Mil­ford will now pay $140 a night. It will cost them as much to stay in a tramp­ing hut, with no power or hot wa­ter, as it would for a fullser­vice mo­tel room.

From Oc­to­ber, over­seas chil­dren – pre­vi­ously ex­empt from hut fees, like Kiwi kids – will pay as much as their par­ents and teach­ers.

Sage hoped the move would give young Ki­wis who had pre­vi­ously been miss­ing out a greater chance of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing what their own back-coun­try had to of­fer.

‘‘New Zealand chil­dren un­der 18 can walk these great walks for free,’’ she said. ‘‘In­ter­na­tional chil­dren will be pay­ing the same as adults be­cause there have been is­sues with Aus­tralian school­child­ren com­ing in and do­ing block book­ings and then not al­ways turn­ing up, so this was tak­ing that op­por­tu­nity from others.’’

The Govern­ment hopes its Great Walks fund­ing an­nounce­ment will open new path­ways to New Zealand’s lesser-trav­elled tracks, such as the Whanganui River jour­ney or Lake Waikare­moana. The trial will last seven months in­clud­ing sum­mer – af­ter that, the Govern­ment will de­cide whether to can it, or po­ten­tially ex­pand it to all nine Great Walks.

Mar­gis and Wang agreed with the idea of pay­ing a bit ex­tra to con­trib­ute to the park in­fras­truc­ture, though they ac­knowl­edged it would be un­pop­u­lar among tourists. ‘‘There might be a bit of di­vide in the camp be­tween Ki­wis and in­ter­na­tion­als,’’ Mar­gis said. ‘‘I can see some peo­ple might be a bit miffed.’’

Costs for New Zealan­ders will re­main the same at $70 per night for the Mil­ford, $65 per night for the Ke­pler and the Route­burn, and $38 per night for the Abel Tas­man Coastal Walk. New Zealan­ders aged un­der 18 will still not have to pay.

With over 300,000 visi­tors an­nu­ally, the Abel Tas­man Na­tional Park is the most­fre­quented of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. But as the Sun­day Star-Times re­ported last month, Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion rangers now find them­selves clean­ing up used toi­let pa­per on the track , as the park be­comes ever more crowded.

The new fees are in­tended to help cover the $3.8 mil­lion short­fall in main­tain­ing the Great Walks and their fa­cil­i­ties.

Some in the tourism in­dus­try have been op­posed to dif­fer­en­tial pric­ing says it makes over­seas tourists feel se­cond-class. But last night Tourism In­dus­try Aotearoa chief ex­ec­u­tive Chris Roberts wel­comed the trial, say­ing it made no sense that the Great Walks were pro­moted heav­ily and yet DOC was still los­ing money on them.

‘‘We be­lieve we’ve been un­der­valu­ing the Great Walks. They’re some of the best walks avail­able in the world.’’

He be­lieved the four in the trial would still be fully booked de­spite the price hike.

Dif­fer­en­tial pric­ing was ‘‘quite com­mon’’ around the world and Roberts said he did not ex­pect any back­lash.

Wil­sons Abel Tas­man, which offers cruises, kayak­ing and guided walks around the park, said DOC was right to ex­plore op­tions to ad­dress its fund­ing short­fall.

‘‘As a coun­try, we have to do some­thing,’’ said chief ex­ec­u­tive Dar­ryl Wil­son. ‘‘I think it’s a step in the right direc­tion.’’

But he re­minded the Govern­ment that in­ter­na­tional visi­tors al­ready con­trib­uted through taxes such as GST. ‘‘In­ter­na­tional visi­tors are not free­loaders.’’

Back on the Abel Tas­man, Wang warned that higher prices may mean tourists wouldn’t see as much of New Zealand.

‘‘I first came to New Zealand two years ago and what I liked about it was the fact you could do a lot of these walks and there was ei­ther a low cost or no cost at all,’’ she said.

‘‘I don’t think it would de­ter me – but I’d be a lot more selec­tive about what walks I’d do.’’

123RF BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

For­eign visi­tors will pay $140 a night to walk the Mil­ford Track. Paul Mar­gis and Kayleigh Wang agree with the prin­ci­ple of charg­ing tourists more, but ex­pect it to be un­pop­u­lar.

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