Travel news and advice

New Zealand asks locals to help save foreign hikers’ lives after spate of accidents and incidents

  • New Zealand is a magnet for tourists with its natural beauty and rugged countryside, but many are unprepared for the dangers when hiking
  • The Department of Conservation and police are asking Kiwis to share their local knowledge
PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 October, 2018, 6:48pm
UPDATED : Monday, 29 October, 2018, 6:47pm

New Zealanders are being called on to talk to tourists in hotels, pubs and shops to educate them about the dangers of the nation’s countryside, after a spate of emergency rescues and fatalities.

Police and the Department of Conservation have taken the unusual step of appealing to Kiwis to tap into their famed friendliness and share their local knowledge with visitors, after an Indian man died this month on the popular Tongariro alpine crossing, the second preventable death in the area in weeks.

Wild kiwi experience in New Zealand’s Stewart Island

New Zealand is experiencing record high tourism numbers, with many visitors heading into the bush ill-equipped to deal with the extreme New Zealand environment, memorably captured in the Crowded House song Four Seasons in One Day.

According to the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council, 57 hikers, or trampers as they are called in New Zealand, died in the 10 years up to June 2017, with international tourists making up close to half.

Last year, 600,000 international visitors went hiking in New Zealand, a 34 per cent rise on 2014.

There has been an 83 per cent increase in related injuries over the past 10 years, with an average of 4,000 injuries a year. More than 500 search and rescue operations for lost hikers are carried out every year.

Senior constable Barry Shepherd of Taupo police says locals need to “intervene” and share their local expertise with tourists, to minimise avoidable deaths.

“Talk to visitors who are in your shops, service stations or hotels. Ask them their plans, tell them about the New Zealand weather – what cold really means here, what rain really means here,” Shepherd says.

“Tell them that jeans are not acceptable in any hiking situation. Let them know a torch can help save their lives. We have a collective responsibility to help care for our visitors. We need our visitors to thrive in our country, not just survive.”

New Zealand’s Milford Track being spoilt by hiking hordes

Stacey Faire, who works for the Department of Conservation in Tongariro, says chatting with a local is the best form of advice for tourists. Visitors are far more likely to listen to warnings from a Kiwi than pay attention to signs or hiking guides and websites, she says.

Don Bogie, the department’s visitor risk adviser, says social media shots of New Zealand tourists in dramatic locations are encouraging people to push themselves into terrain and conditions they are unprepared for. “All those really neat photos don’t really show you the hazards,” Bogie says.

The cost of emergency rescues is paid by the taxpayer and rescues of hikers in peril are largely undertaken by volunteers.

The most common issues for visitors hiking in New Zealand are underestimating the challenges of the rugged environment, failing to take enough warm or protective clothing, getting lost and sudden, dramatic changes in weather.

In the year to September 3.8 million tourists visited New Zealand; 1.3 million more than a decade ago.

This year the government announced it would introduce a tourist tax of NZ$25 (US$16) to NZ$35 per visitor, which will be directed towards tourism infrastructure such as public toilets and conservation in the country’s national parks and conservation areas.