Behind every picturesque photo taken from Wānaka’s Roys Peak Track lies another set of footprints on the 16km trail. Overuse of the track has put it under significant pressure; the visitor impact on the area during the last 12 years has been so intense that it has triggered a New Zealand author to remove the popular walk from his guide book.
Along with Roys Peak, Shaun Barnett has deleted several other well-known tracks from his revised 2007 guidebook, 100 Best Tracks. Barnett said tracks that were once the sole preserve of a few hardy local trampers are now popular destinations for people from other areas of New Zealand and all parts of the planet.
He said he is pleased that so many people are getting active in nature, but the sheer number of walkers is causing problems, like putting pressure on toilet facilities and the surrounding environment. Barnett has said he hopes his revised guide book, 100 Best Day Walks, will help people enjoy the NZ outdoors, but in a more responsible way.
Department of Conservation (DOC) told the Wānaka Sun that 75,000 people visited Roys Peak Track, located within The Stack Conservation Area, in the past year, which is up six percent on last year’s figures. Aaron Fleming, DOC’s Southern South Island operations director, said the increase was primarily due to it becoming a quintessential icon for the Wānaka region through social media.
Roys Peak is one of the top 10 social media destinations for international visitors who often wait to take a photo on the 1578m summit; the queue can extend upwards to 40 minutes for the famous snapshot. Some locals wonder if the destination to the peak is more about obtaining the photo than about enjoying the walk.
DOC has acknowledged the pressure New Zealand walking tracks are coming under as a result of external elements, such as overuse, climate change and coastal erosion. “Like other parts of the world, New Zealand has seen a big increase in visitors in the last few years,” said Fleming. “Many are drawn to Aotearoa by our unique natural environments and stunning landscapes which they often come across via social media. Urbanisation and technology are changing the way people connect to nature. One of the biggest challenges park managers face worldwide is the power of social media to create new visitor destinations at short notice such as is the case with Roys Peak.”
DOC is urging visitors to seek out lesser-known experiences where possible and avoid the queues for photos. “DOC manages about 14,000 km of tracks throughout the country and there are many quieter parts of New Zealand people can discover if they do a little research,” said Fleming.
“DOC has good systems in place to design facilities suitable for high-use where needed,” he said. “We also work to provide more ranger resource at peak times for these popular places. The environmental impacts from this increase in use come mainly from easily-fixable, inappropriate visitor behaviours such as not using the toilet provided, not carrying out litter and damage to sensitive native vegetation through straying off the track. This shows the importance of everyone playing their part in protecting our natural heritage when outdoors. DOC has significantly increased its work to ensure people are aware of how to enjoy New Zealand’s natural environment responsibly, including running, ‘Visit the Kiwi way’ over the summer season.”
Visit the Kiwi way is DOC’s $3.5 million campaign to educate both locals and visitors of the country’s national parks, which see more than three million visitors each year, on how to treat the land.