Visitor numbers to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park exceeded 1 million a year for the first time.

Figures out today show the growth in the number of foreign visitors to national parks was outstripping overall tourist arrivals.

In the year ending January overseas visitor arrivals were up 150,000 (4 per cent) to a total of 3.8 million1. The estimated growth rate for international visitors to national parks is higher at 9 per cent a year.

Around 3.9 million New Zealanders visit public conservation areas (from national parks to marine reserves) at least once a year, alongside around 1.8 million international visitors.

Advertisement

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said summer visitor data from some of the Department of Conservation's (DOC's) top visitor sites to February, shows another big season despite an overall slowing in international visitor growth.

The number of visitors to the site of our highest mountain are up 11 per cent on last year while over a longer period the pressure on conservation areas is growing sharply.

Visits to Otago's Blue Pools are estimated to have risen from 3400 to 102,000 in just three years.''

Over the last year visits to Rakiura/Stewart Island's Ulva Island increased by 76 per cent (17,000 visits) and Northland's Tane Mahuta Walk up by 44 per cent (152,000 visits).

"Magnificent places such as Aoraki will always draw New Zealanders and international visitors in large numbers," said Sage.

She said that since 2010, DOC has invested over $16.5m in visitor facilities within the national park including a new visitor centre, road improvements, tracks, and more toilets.

An estimated $122,000 was also spent to repair the popular Hooker Valley Track after extreme weather damage in March. More than 121,000 people did the walk last year.

DOC was continuing its work towards and ambitious goal of being predator free by 2050.

Advertisement

Sage said the New Zealand-Aotearoa Tourism Strategy launched today provides for the Government to take a more active and coordinated approach to tourism to make sustainability a core value.

The strategy was launched in Rotorua at the tourism industry's main trade event, Trenz.

"It's not just the number of visitors but the rapid rate of growth in those numbers that has put pressure on some of New Zealand's most iconic places," says Eugenie Sage.

But slowing visitor growth is reflected at several key conservation areas. Milford Sound (840,000 visits) and Franz Josef (759,000 visits) have both seen 3 per cent growth compared to the previous year and Tongariro Alpine Crossing - sometimes clogged with long lines of hikers - increased 1 per cent to 142,500 visits.

"With these increased visitor numbers, a major part of the Government's proactive approach to managing tourism is to encourage visitors to enjoy and respect New Zealand," said Sage.

She said the soon to be implemented International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy - aimed at raising $80m a year - would help ensure tourism contributes to protecting and ''restoring nature which the country depends on.''