While border restrictions stopped tourists coming to the country, people staying at Department of Conservation campgrounds in Northland hardly dropped over summer, with the Uretiti Campground the most popular in New Zealand.
The region also had the third most popular DoC campground last summer, Otamure.
DoC has released its summer 2020/21 visitor insights report, which shows the impact of Covid-19 related border closures — with tens of thousands of New Zealanders exploring the natural areas DoC manages last summer, but also that many iconic visitor sites were unusually quiet.
Uretiti was the most popular of all DoC campgrounds, recording 14,500 visitors - more than any other DoC campground in the country and 4000 more than the next most popular Tōtaranui Campground at the top of the South Island.
DoC's Otamure Campground near Whananaki was the second most popular in the region - and third most popular nationally - with 6130 visitors.
New Zealanders took to the outdoors in large numbers during peak summer, according to the data released by DoC.
DoC booking data shows 75 per cent more New Zealanders undertook a Great Walk over summer (December 1, 2020, to February 28, 2021) compared to last year. Around 108,000 people camped at bookable DoC campsites, 48,000 people experienced a Great Walk and 30,000 people stayed at other bookable huts across New Zealand.
"It's been a summer like no other. Ongoing border closures and Covid-19 alert level changes continue to impact visitor patterns across Aotearoa, but it's awesome to see more Kiwis than ever have been enjoying their great outdoors this year, especially during holiday periods and weekends," DoC's Strategy and Insights manager Tim Bamford said.
"It's even more pleasing to see indications people have really loved holidaying in nature often reconnecting with conservation areas special to them."
However, the increase in New Zealand visitor numbers has not been enough to prevent a large decline in activity in many places compared to summer last year.
Visitor activity data taken between November 1 and January 31 shows popular places that have been significantly quieter include: Milford Sound/Piopiotahi down 78 per cent; Franz Josef Glacier, down 72 per cent; and Tongariro Alpine Crossing, down 72 per cent, compared to the same period last year.
This decline in visitors has had a heavy impact on communities in those areas, Bamford said.
"DoC's aim this summer was to support and encourage people to get out into the regions, and for people to really take advantage of the health and wellbeing benefits taking time out in nature can provide.
"Many New Zealanders are restricted by when and how far they can travel. They also have considerations such as work, school and where they can take pets. It's tough, but not unexpected, to see more remote places have been impacted by border closures.
"At the same time, places close to urban populations have either been stable or had increased use. Coastal environments were the most visited outdoor environment over summer and a lot of bookable DoC huts were at, or near full, capacity over summer weekends."
Anecdotally peoples' behaviour has also been mixed across the country, with littering, trampling of vegetation and damaged facilities the most commonly observed visitor impacts.
DoC rangers reported visitors taking dogs where they are not allowed. There were also numerous observations of people inadequately prepared for trips, poor driving and vehicles in conservation areas and unsafe behaviour.
"There should be no excuse for New Zealanders endangering wildlife. Before setting out, people should check DoC's website or pop into visitor centres to make sure they know how to keep themselves safe and protect the special places they are enjoying — including where dogs are permitted," Bamford said.