Doc hikes fees on Great Walks

Tracks such as the Milford, Routeburn (pictured) and Kepler rank as some of the great 'must do'...
Tracks such as the Milford, Routeburn (pictured) and Kepler rank as some of the great 'must do' outdoor experiences, says the Department of Conservation. Photo Getty
The Department of Conservation will increase charges for huts and campsites on some of its Great Walks which are sometimes under strain from a surge in the number of visitors.

The increases are part of the Doc's first review of its Great Walks pricing in five years and come as the New Zealand Herald has in its Great Tourism Squeeze series this week highlighted pressure on them and rising costs of maintenance.

On the popular Milford Track, where up to 67 per cent of visitors are from overseas, hut fees will rise from $54 to $70.

The department said today the new charges were designed to increase revenue from the walks by about $880,000 a year, which will go some way to bridging a funding gap. Doc is confident it will not significantly reduce demand or participation.

"New Zealand's nine Great Walks are our flagship walking experiences. Tracks like the Milford, Routeburn and Kepler are internationally famous and globally rank as some of the great 'must do' outdoor experiences," says Doc's director of recreation, tourism and heritage, Gavin Walker.

"Increasingly more and more visitors to the Great Walks are international [about 60 per cent] and the feedback we often get is how amazing they are and how cheap. The reality is we are charging $54 a night for the Milford Track, arguably the greatest walk in the world, and this is well below the value that we are delivering for visitors," he said.

Fees across the Tasman were much higher - the Three Capes Track in Tasmania works out at roughly $180 per night.

"These price changes are based around each walk's demand profile, with our highest-use tracks seeing the largest increase."

The Great Walks were now operating at more than 90 per cent capacity in the summer period.

"We want to encourage visitors to explore the wider range of equally spectacular tracks in the network and, for Kiwis in particular, to take advantage of tracks suitable for quieter times of year."

It would introduce seasonal pricing for huts on two of the Great Walks tracks, Abel Tasman and Rakiura.

During the past three years there had been a 35 per cent increase in use in the Great Walks. With higher numbers, the gap between what the department spends and earns from these walks was closing.

"However, overall the department has a $1.2 million shortfall per year on its Great Walks. On top of the high cost of removing all waste from these remote and unspoiled destinations, these tracks are well-formed and have higher standard huts and facilities making them more expensive to build and maintain. "

Walker said user fees made an important contribution towards providing outstanding experiences on these tracks without drawing funds from Doc's other work.

"Any revenue earned above what is needed to sustain the Great Walk experience will be reinvested back into the conservation and recreation priorities of the department," he said.

Doc was maintaining its kids-go-free policy aimed at making Great Walks accessible for Kiwi families.

"Doc will continue to invest in New Zealand's extensive network of huts and tracks offering fantastic, lesser-known, multi-day walks for those seeking quieter, lower-cost experiences."

Price rises:

•A general price increase for the huts on seven of the nine Great Walks (excluding the Whanganui Journey and Lake Waikaremoana).

• Ranging from 6 per cent to 30 per cent (from $2 to $16 more per night) depending on the track's demand profile.

• The Milford Track has the highest increase of 30 per cent (from $54 to $70 per night). An increase in the campsite fees of four of the eight tracks that have campsites. The recommended price increases range from 7 per cent to 11 per cent (from $1 to $2 more per night) again depending on track use.

• The changes would be in place by May 16 when bookings for the Great Walks open.

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