DoC has teamed up with Leave No Trace New Zealand on a 21st century guide for the great outdoors, writes Thomas Bywater.

Being a "Tidy Kiwi"might no longer be enough.

New Zealand's natural landscapes are world famous. As kaitiaki we've learned how to behave outdoors, clean up after ourselves and respect our natural resource.

However, in the age of Instagram and Google Maps there is another, virtual world in which our actions have consequences. Although it may seem a long way removed, even taking pictures may be damaging the parts of the country we love.

Luke Stefanko posted to Twitter showing the ultimate social media picture at Roy's Peak, Wanaka. Photo / Lukas Stefanko, twitter
Luke Stefanko posted to Twitter showing the ultimate social media picture at Roy's Peak, Wanaka. Photo / Lukas Stefanko, twitter

At the beginning of the year hikers on the Roys Peak trail, near Wanaka made a strange discovery. In front of the vista a queue of about 50 walkers had formed, all apparently waiting to take the same picture from the lakeside view.

DoC has noticed the effects the online world is having. "One of the biggest challenges park managers face worldwide is the power of social media to create new visitor destinations at short notice," it said of the phenomenon in Wanaka.

According to DoC the hill has seen an annual 27 per cent increase in photo hunters. By its count, this means 75,000 people turned up because they saw the picture online. But the effects are more far-reaching and dangerous than Instagrammers clogging up paths.

Leave No Trace New Zealand, a non-profit that specialises in "outdoor ethics" has come up with a new set of guidelines to educate Kiwis on the effect of our online actions are having on our great outdoors.

Social media guidance for the great outdoors
1 Tag thoughtfullyavoid "geotagging" specific locations. While tagging can seem innocent, it can also lead to significant visitor impacts to shared places.

In February the Mermaid Pools in Matapouri were shut to visitors after a tidal wave of visitors descended on the bay. Shocked by the amount of rubbish and destruction left by visitors, the local iwi took the sad decision after the quiet backwater suddenly had up to 1000 tourists arrive in a weekend Leave No Trace attributes this to the taonga's sudden discovery by social media.

2 Be mindful of what your images portray

give some thought to what your images may encourage others to do. Enough people taking the same risky selfie will eventually lead to a disaster.

An estimated 43 people suffer "death by selfie" at natural beauty spots. At Gertrude Saddle in Fiordland, three international visitors have been killed in as many years. DoC says "social media has been a strong influence in encouraging people to this site who may not have the experience or skills to tackle this terrain and changeable alpine conditions."

3 Give back to places you loveinvest sweat equity into the outdoor spaces and places you care about. Don't just wish goodwill online, practice what you post.

If someone plants a tree a forest and no one takes a photo, did they really volunteer? Some things don't need to be documented.

4 Educate others in Leave No Tracegiven the millions of social media users in the world, the virtual world has huge potential to educate others about the natural world.

We are in danger of being too hasty to condemn social media as a damaging factor, says Ashlyn Oswalt of LNT New Zealand.

"I actually think it's got a lot more people outdoors that didn't think the outdoors was something that was accessible to them or that being "outdoorsy" was something that they wanted to do"