DoC prioritises managing visitor numbers over waahi tapu

By Taroi Black

The Department of Conservation has acknowledged the importance of a working relationship with iwi, hapū and whānau to help protect the environment and practise sustainable tourism in Aotearoa - the country's biggest money earner before Covid-19 hit.

The strategy is part of Doc's new report Heritage and Visitor Strategy to manage visitors to protect and enhance the value of New Zealand’s natural, cultural and historic heritage. 

The strategy also recognises the need to engage with a diverse range of groups, as well as giving effect to the Treaty principles in all its work and its partnership with tangata whenua - iwi, hapū and whānau - to achieve a healthy outcome.  

Tuhourangi Tribal Authority board member Deliah Balle says there are elements in this strategy that align with visitors and sustainable management. 

In particular, to Tuhourangi waahi tapu managed by DoC , where visitor activities have been a challenge to manage. 

"The key elements of this strategy over the co-designing and implementing of sustainable initiatives is important for us."

"In the past we've seen numbers flock to our lakes. The management of those numbers and protecting our sites have been difficult."

Conservation Minister Kiritapu Allan says the report plays an integral role in understanding the interests of tangata whenua, whose main priority is kaitiakitanga.  

"Te Papa Atawhai has an undertaking to work alongside the mana whenua there to achieve the aspirations," Allan said.  

But, while the tourism sector is facing challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic, the strategy does recognise how visitor experiences can contribute to the pressures on the conservation estate. 

"We see the tourism sector has a critical role to play in the way we pivot and focus on a sustainable future for the tourism environment." 

Although Tourism Industry Aotearoa supports the report, it doesn’t go far enough, TIA chief executive Chris Roberts explains. "It doesn't give sufficient recognition to what tourism operators can do. They can play hugely a beneficial role working with the department."