Franz Josef
Image: Benhi Dixon | Creative Commons

Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


Visitor data from some of DOC's most popular sites shows mixed results but another record summer season overall.

Date:  24 May 2018

An estimated 3.9 million or 80% of New Zealanders visit public conservation land and water at least once a year. In addition, a record 1.75 million or 52% of all international tourists visited a national park last year (in the year ending March 2018), an increase of 5%.

“DOC welcomes increasing numbers of people visiting New Zealand’s great outdoors provided we can protect the special nature they come to experience,” says DOC Director-General, Lou Sanson.

“International visitor numbers are predicted to increase by a further 1 million over the next 6 years. This growth in domestic and overseas visitors comes with challenges of capacity, protection of natural and cultural values, and quality of experience in some high-use sites. DOC is committed to ensuring our natural and historic heritage isn’t put at risk by increasing use.

“Visitor numbers continued to climb at Franz Josef Glacier which experienced a 9% growth in numbers this year to 750,000. The glacier valley saw around 6,000 visitors a day during peak season and at times a 30-minute wait for car parks. 

“Milford Sound continued its trend of around 9% growth annually, over the last 5 years, with more than 4,500 visitors on its busiest days and 810,000 visitors for the year ending March 2018. 

“Our stunning natural landscapes continue to be a major drawcard for people to visit New Zealand,” says Lou Sanson.

“One of the biggest challenges park managers face worldwide is the power of social media to create new visitor destinations at short notice. Three international visitors have sadly been killed on Gertrude Saddle in Fiordland over the past three years.  Social media has been a strong influence in encouraging people to this site who may not have the experience or skills to tackle this terrain and changeable alpine conditions.”

“I strongly encourage all visitors to make use of the local knowledge and advice of our exceptional visitor centre staff before heading to the outdoors.

Roys Peak, near Wanaka saw a 27% increase, with more than 75,000 people visiting, resulting in queues for photos at the now famous rock overlooking Lake Wanaka.

Visitors to the Hooker Track increased by 35% and numbers to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park are estimated to be around 945,000 in the year ending March 2018, 17.5% growth from 2016/17.

Prolonged fine periods over the peak season in places like Aoraki resulted in some extremely busy days. At the same time, dips in numbers elsewhere are likely related to drearier weather in parts of the northern North Island, significant storm events and the re-opening of SH1 through Kaikoura.

Compared to previous years, DOC planned for more than 50,000 extra staff hours over the summer season.

“Across the country we increased DOC’s on-the-ground presence in key spots – sharing local knowledge, increasing on-site interpretation, cleaning toilets and maintaining tracks,” says Lou Sanson.

“Rangers also ensured those using our campsites and huts paid their fees and checked tourism operators had the appropriate concessions for their activities.” 

“In February and March, the Department undertook two targeted operations on the Milford Road, in conjunction with Police, NZTA and Immigration New Zealand, as part of our National Compliance Strategy.

“These operations, along with our summer monitoring programme, identified compliance issues with 30% of the 585 vehicles checked (ranging from not displaying a valid concession card to not having a concession). These issues are currently being followed up and this compliance work is a top priority.

“Concessions form a vital part of managing visitor destinations well. The compliance process is designed to ensure commercial operators hold a concession, are operating within its terms, and are giving back to conservation. It’s vital we support our responsible concessionaires and clamp down on those not paying their fair share to operate businesses in New Zealand’s National Parks.”

“DOC is assessing ways it can sustainably manage predicted growth and changing visitor trends in the long term, while ensuring the values of the places New Zealanders care about are protected for future generations.

“With these increased visitor numbers, behaviour is key and we all have a role to play in demonstrating responsible use of our great outdoors,” says Lou Sanson.

Tourism and recreation dashboard (PDF, 856K)


Phone: +64 4 496 1911

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