Increase in visitors could close high country walks

Mackenzie Basin high country. Photo: George Empson
The Walking Access Commission prepared the draft report, which focuses on the South Island's busiest tourist districts - the Mackenzie (above), Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago districts. Photo: George Empson

Some South Island high country walkways on private land could be blocked due to a huge increase in visitor numbers.

Nearly 300 people have given feedback on a report looking into problems caused by increasing visitor numbers on the tracks.

The Walking Access Commission prepared the draft report, which focuses on the South Island's busiest tourist districts - the Mackenzie, Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago districts.

It warns some high country landowners might withdraw access to their land due to the pressures from increasing visitor numbers combined with a lack of infrastructure.

The commission said one Queenstown landholder with a popular walkway crossing his property reported the number of people using it increasing from approximately 30,000 in 2013 to between 70-100,000 in 2017.

Federated Farmers High Country spokesperson Simon Williamson said some farmers who opened their land up for public access felt they were taking on too much risk.

"[The farmers say] there's a lot more people turning up and freedom walking and demanding access over parts of the property where there is no infrastructure or all of the stuff that you need.... they're worried that something will happen to someone [somewhere] along the line that they can't control," Mr Williamson said.

Otago Fish and Game also made a submission to The Walking Access Commission on the draft report - as anglers also access private high country land.

Chief executive Niall Watson said the growth of tourism was alarming and could have serious consequences where fishery resources are overused.

"It is not just a question of better signage or more infrastructure. We have to start identifying carrying capacities in terms of anglers for pressure sensitive waters," he said.

The commission will now read the 274 submissions it received, one of which was ten thousand words long, before producing a final report.

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