Kiwis turn their backs on nature

By Teresa O'Connor

The long Kiwi love affair with the great outdoors may be over.

New research shows New Zealanders are turning their backs on the great outdoors in droves because they have become so urbanised they lack the confidence to tackle even the most basic activities like camping and tramping.

Many had no idea how to erect a tent or what to take on a camping trip - a problem that also extended to tramping where people were unsure about what equipment they required.

The Auckland Regional Council research found a common theme: if in doubt, don't do it - even if it's a 30 minute walk.

The council's senior recreation adviser, Neil Olsen, said there appeared to an increasing lack of confidence about exploring the environment "even when it's right on their doorstep".

"It seems as Auckland city gets bigger and people become more urbanised they are less exposed to these types of outdoor experiences," he said.

"It's getting to the point where an increasing proportion of the population see a simple tramp in the regional parks as a little bit too risky."

The research - surveys on the public's experience in council regional parks - has worried the organisation responsible for promoting physical activity among New Zealanders.

Sparc spokeswoman Deb Hurdle said with many New Zealanders preferring city-based activities, they were getting very little exercise.

However, she stressed it was was not just an Auckland problem.

While the research had concentrated solely on Auckland, this apparent lack of confidence about the great outdoors affected people living in city areas throughout the country.

This meant many city children would grow up having no experience of traditional Kiwi pursuits like tramping or camping.

"Part of the problem is that some parents have no confidence in their own physical abilities because of a bad or belittling experience they had when learning sport earlier in life. So they don't believe they are capable of taking their children for a simple tramp, thinking they may endanger them."

The council's solutions include rangers taking public guided tramps, better signage that states a walk's length and degree of difficulty and brochures and advertisements to promote the parks.

The Auckland Outdoor Education Association, which runs an adventure facility on Waiheke Island, believes it will be tough changing people's perceptions.

"That research doesn't surprise me at all, it's long overdue," said spokesman Jack Hadden.

"I believe you're not doing your best for kids by keeping them away from any potential danger."

But Simon Peterson, chief executive of Sport Auckland, said many young Aucklanders were choosing non-traditional leisure activities, including "pay for play" sports such as indoor netball, basketball, badminton, squash or touch football.

Mr Peterson said a fear of outdoor experiences like tramping may be because the only knowledge some Aucklanders have of these activities is media reports of people getting lost in the bush.

- HERALD ON SUNDAY

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