A single tramper's concerns about the Te Araroa trail made the front page of the Sunday Star Times last week. "High-paying tourists are forced to walk highway shoulders and travel in local's dinghies", declared the newspaper sub-head.

In fairness to fellow journalists, the pair who wrote the story didn't write the sub-head or headline. It's a ludicrous claim.

Yes, there are places on the 3000km trail tracing from Cape Reinga to Bluff that follow the road. Sometimes they are busy highways - the section between Whanganui and Palmerston North is reportedly the worst of all - but our tramping guests can always take a bus. No-one is "forcing" them to walk the shoulders of our main roads.

Some "through walkers" are determined to tramp every step of the way - no rides and no skipping sections. Power to them: their choice. Detailed trip notes available free from the Te Araroa website spell out what each section involves.


As for "high-paying tourists", that has to be made up by an overworked sub-editor because there is absolutely no basis in fact. High-paying tourists take helicopters to luxury lodges on Waiheke Island, right?

Fact: an anonymous couple who blogged in detail about their trip along the entire Te Araroa route spent $28 a day each. They bedded down at free campsites 47 times and spent another 22 nights in backcountry huts, which cost them a whopping total of $184. (You can sleep in our extensive network of back-country huts for an entire year on a $122 DOC hut pass - it's one price for visitors and New Zealanders.) The official Te Araroa website suggests a minimum budget of $7000 - for five months. That's less than $325 a week. It acknowledges that some people are doing the trail for much less, only possible by resorting to things like illegal camping, raising the ire of locals.

Being offered a morning's fishing out with a local, who then drops you across the harbour to your trailhead? That's the type of encounter-with-locals all travellers remember forever with considerable affection.

The newspaper story claimed that walkers and landowners along the trail fear its reputation will be jeopardised by "irregularities" - gaps that are often filled by helpful locals. Not a single landowner was quoted; instead the comments from Whangarei locals (in the longer, online version of the story) illustrated the kind of heart-warming, old-fashioned hospitality that makes me happy to be a New Zealander.

Being offered a morning's fishing out with a local, who then drops you across the harbour to your trailhead? That's the type of encounter-with-locals all travellers remember forever with considerable affection.

But if New Zealand was a hotel, the "No Vacancy" sign should be out. Already there are people double-bunking and asleep on the tables in the dining room.

Why, as a country, are we so bad at planning? Our tourism industry - now our single biggest earner of almighty export dollars - is a prime example of an activity that desperately needs co-ordinated, high-level planning and management. It's up there with land use, immigration and housing.

For nine years, the National government sat back and let the market take care of things. Who wants regulation or planning to get in the way of making money? Not the rich and self-satisfied, out to look after themselves and their apex peers. Here's yet another example of unbridled capitalism given its head, and look at the mess.

Decisions need to be made about tourism that take into account hard environmental limits as well as social license to operate. That social license is being sorely tested and that's bad news for the tourism industry, as well as our guests.


Tourists used to be a novelty, which you'll only understand if you remember life before the internet. It was interesting, exciting even, to meet people from the other side of the world, which we didn't know quite so much about.

New Zealanders have become more than a little jaded since then, as the trickle of visitors has become a horde. There's fewer than five million of us and yet 3.8 million people arrive each year on holiday. It's remarkable the spin the TIA (the tourism industry body) puts on data it collects twice a year about Kiwi attitudes towards tourism.

In the latest survey (a representative sample taken in November), a huge 39 per cent of New Zealanders thought that international tourism put too much pressure on New Zealand - that's more than doubled since 2015. (If you live in Queenstown, that number soars to 65 percent.)

Yet the TIA, searching for a positive angle, says it's good because that upward trend is levelling off. A year ago it was 40 percent.

Meanwhile, news websites and social forums are overrun with complaints about tourists freedom camping, littering, polluting, being variously anti-social, filling up tramping huts, clogging tourist attractions - and of course driving badly. (That last complaint is debatable, given we New Zealanders don't drive nearly as well collectively as we think we do and familiarity with our gnarly roads too often breeds recklessness.)

Anyway, keep a close eye out when you're driving south towards Bulls. This highway section of Te Araroa is a tough, hot walk with little to recommend it and it's dangerous. Walkers also please note: the bus to Palmerston North leaves every day at 8.15am.

Locals at Turakina claim there have been dozens of near misses as walkers negotiate the Turakina Bridge and cross the state highway. So be careful, give people room. And hey, offer folks with backpacks a lift, if it's safe to stop and ask if they'd like a ride because our expressions of hospitality are truly a precious thing.

Rachel Rose is a Whanganui-based writer. More info and links at www.facebook.com/rachelrose.writer.