What do you picture when you hear the words New Zealand? For me, I picture dramatic landscapes. Mountains, plains, and coast lines – a land where it doesn’t take very much effort to escape the rat race.
New Zealand has definitely lived up to my expectations in that regard. New Zealanders seem to really care about the preservation of their unique landscape. And with about 75% of flora and fauna in New Zealand being absolutely unique to this land, you can really understand why. The New Zealand government takes an active role in preserving this land, and educating locals and visitors alike through their national parks system. Almost all crown land in New Zealand is protected by the department of conservation (DOC) and throughout the fourteen national parks there are hundreds of hiking trails for the public to enjoy.James On The Routeburn Great Walk
The best and most wonderful of these trails were crowned the “Great Walks.” There are nine great walks in New Zealand, three on the North Island, and six on the South Island. My goal before coming to New Zealand was to complete all nine. So far I have completed five : Waikaremoana, Wanganui, Abel Tasman, Heaphy, and Routeburn.
These walks are considered great for the wide variety of wildlife you can encounter, and the greatly varying landscapes you walk through. From dramatic mountain passes on the Milford, to idyllic beaches on the Abel Tasman. From cheeky Keas (alpine parrots) on the Routeburn, to mischievous Weka (curious flightless birds) on the Heaphy. Rata forests, volcanic landscapes, hot pools, and violent crashing waves are all things that will be encountered on the great walks.
Bringing tourism into such isolated place always begs the question – are the educational gains made to the public worth the environmental cost of the practices?A Swing Bridge On The Heaphy Great Walk
In this article I am going to talk about three potential environmental impacts of eco tourism in New Zealand parks, and how DOC deals with each.
The first issue is fuel. Supplies for hut wardens and trail upkeep often need to be helicoptered in due to the isolated nature of the huts, which is no saver of fuel. Also, due to climatic extremes in New Zealand, the huts need to have some form of heating. This varies from region to region, but can be anything from wood fires, to gas heaters, to even coal burners. From an environmental point of view, the last thing I want to see after a day revelling in nature, is the burning of dirty coal.
Another issue is rubbish disposal. This is something the DOC has really gotten right. They have a strict “pack in, pack out” policy, even for the wardens. It is a huge social faux pas for a hiker to discard food waste in the bush, or discard other rubbish in the fire.
The last thing that we usually think about when examine environmental practice is toilet waste. But this can present a major environmental issue if not done correctly! Luckily, this is another thing that DOC has really gotten right. Almost all of the toilets along the great walks, or on any walk for that matter, are environmentally friendly composting toilets. The helpful bacteria which live at the bottom of the toilet not only turn a potential environmental and health hazard into benign soil, but they also almost completely eliminate the smell.
But, what about the benefits of the great walks? Well, the great walks do more than just provide tourism revenue for New Zealand. They actively promote awareness of environmental issues and potential solutions to these programs through booklets and posters distributed throughout the huts. The walks, and the profound experience of being in wild nature, instills a deep respect for this world in both tourists and locals alike. And it is this respect, which will hopefully be carried forward to encourage people to make changes in their daily lives.Our Bags Sit On A Beach On The Abel Tasman
Have you had a profound eco-travel moment? Tell us about it in the comments!