Calling for leadership on the effects of tourism

Auckland-based landscape architect Stephen Brown is calling on the Government to provide strategic guidance around tourism and its impact on our environment. Brown, who spends much of his time buried in resource management issues, says there’s no doubt masses of tourists are having a detrimental effect on some of our beauty spots, especially in terms of freedom camping in places like Queenstown and Wanaka.

“The Government’s been riding on the coat tails of economic benefits of tourism for years,” Stephen Brown says. “But all the responsibility for managing these (detrimental) issues falls on the rural districts who don’t have the resources to address them.

 One of the images Tourism New Zealand uses to market the country.  

One of the images Tourism New Zealand uses to market the country.  

“I think that leads into the much bigger question of the direction, the priority that should be or shouldn’t be placed on tourism in different parts of the country.”

Queenstown landscape architect, Rebecca Lucas, is concerned at the impact some tourists are having on her region.  She says many lakes and waterways have reached a point where they can’t sustain any further pressure, such as freedom camping.

“I think the concept of freedom camping needs consideration to identify if our landscapes, residential neighbourhoods, reserves and ecosystems can sustain it or not, and what benefit if any do we gain by accommodating it,” she says. “The recent ban on freedom camping at Lake Hayes by Queensland Lakes District mayor Jim Bolt was applauded by locals but the campers have moved on to other locations so this is really just relocating the problem to other potentially sensitive areas. I think it needs a more holistic  approach.”

 Freedom campers in Wanaka.  Photo credit Nikki Heath, Wanaka Sun. 

Freedom campers in Wanaka.  Photo credit Nikki Heath, Wanaka Sun. 

She says locals who regularly visit recreation areas are less likely to leave rubbish because they have a degree of custodianship over the place. But there’s a lack of respect from some freedom campers who leave behind rubbish and excrement and move on.

“It’s been a hot summer and Lake Hayes is popular with local families, children like to climb the trees and chase balls, but they are doing so amidst human excrement,” says Lucas. “The lake is again toxic to humans and animals which is very concerning to the local community. It cannot sustain more pollution from campers.”

Driving between Christchurch and Queenstown last month she saw over 50 campervans parked at the Mt Cook information centre just out of Tekapo at Lake Pukaki. “It looked like a camping ground which it’s not,” she said.  ”What struck me is if an application was made for a camping ground in that location it would almost certainly be declined but it is happening anyway with no facilities, no mitigation, no consultation and presumably Government blessing.”

Stephen Brown has been outspoken before about the absence of the tourism industry in relation to resource management issues.

 Freedom campers lining up at Lake Dunstan. Photo credit - Otago Daily Times. 

Freedom campers lining up at Lake Dunstan. Photo credit - Otago Daily Times. 

“The Government has basically abdicated responsibility for providing a tourism strategy other than saying the more tourists the better,” he says.

He cites the case of the proposed Te Kuha mine on the West Coast, which is about to go to appeal. “There you have conflict between traditional extractive industries - in this case coal mining - and the protection of a tourism and landscape resource. It’s a classic situation where there are no priorities and the Government has traditionally not been engaged in developing tourism strategy which addresses these types of issues.”

So what needs to happen? Whose job is it to tackle the Government on this?

“Maybe the NZILA has to do that,” he says. “Maybe it needs to be in conjunction with Forest & Bird, the Environmental Defence Society and Tourism Industry Aotearoa.”

To that end he’s meeting with the EDS next month to discuss whether a delegation to Government is appropriate. Watch this space.

 Another image used by Tourism New Zealand on its website. 

Another image used by Tourism New Zealand on its website.