Family at lake
Image: Benhi Dixon | Creative Commons

Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


COVID-19 has impacted visitor patterns across conservation areas but all indications point to more New Zealanders getting into their great outdoors this summer than ever before, DOC data shows.

Date:  23 December 2020

DOC’s Director-General, Lou Sanson says many New Zealanders are looking to nature for escape and relaxation during these unprecedented times.”

“As we say goodbye to 2020, DOC is working to ensure everyone can have fantastic and restorative experiences outdoors over the summer and asks that people ensure they are also putting in the effort to prepare well for their trips, visit respectfully and keep themselves and their families safe.

“Some regions are busier than before COVID-19 - notably those within three hours’ drive of major population centres. Some places, such as Northland and Coromandel, are experiencing high visitor growth despite no international visitors.”

Northland’s Uretiti Beach Campsite was the most visited DOC campground in New Zealand during the past few months and Pinnacles Hut in the Coromandel was the most visited DOC hut.

“DOC facilities are already busy but there are still lots of options for people wanting to stay in conservation huts and campsites over the holidays and beyond—you can even bag a popular Great Walk especially if you’re happy to camp,” Lou Sanson says.

“And while many places and experiences are busy over the holidays, we are seeing lots of space for people to book outside holidays and weekends.”

Across conservation areas there are mixed results for busyness and many parts of New Zealand have been hit hard by the loss of international visitors. More remote, high-volume internationally renowned destinations in national parks saw a huge decline in visitation over September and October 2020 compared to last year, including Milford Sound/Piopiotahi (down 72%) and Franz Josef Glacier (down 66%).

“Acknowledging how tough the last year has been for many local economies, it was great to have been able to open the popular Milford and Routeburn tracks in Fiordland in time for the holidays, to support domestic tourism in the region,” Lou Sanson says. 

“New Zealand has a wealth of breath-taking conservation experiences and the coming break gives many of us the opportunity to get further out into these and really make the most of our incredible country.”

With reports of litter and human waste already coming in from the public and rangers, Lou Sanson hopes to see this trend reversed over the summer break and that Kiwis will lead the way in showing respect and care for Aotearoa.

“Sadly, we’re still seeing people doing things that put our unique species at significant risk such as feeding kea and disturbing seals, dolphins and penguins.

“We need to be mindful that 2020 has been very tough for many, it’s even more vital this year to keep the place clean and tidy, stay home if you are unwell and demonstrate kindness and consideration to others.

“Most of all we want people to have an exceptional, relaxing break in nature and to stay safe out there.”

Expectations for summer

Great Walks

  • There is strong demand for Great Walks—with occupancy rates currently at an average of 83% over all Great Walk huts this summer.
  • The Milford Track is at full capacity over summer.
  • Looking specifically at hut occupancy (rather than huts and campsites), Rakiura, Kepler and Abel Tasman huts are close to full capacity.
  • While the Paparoa Track may have fewer bookings compared to other Great Walks, the Pororari Hut and Moonlight Tops Hut are at full capacity this summer.
  • The Abel Tasman Coastal Track remains popular and will be the busiest Great Walk over summer with more than double the bookings of any other Great Walk.

Where are people camping this summer?

New Zealanders are going to be camping at large, coastal campgrounds at kiwi summer hotspots such as Northland, Coromandel and the upper South Island.

Auckland’s neighbouring regions (Northland and Coromandel) have a high number of bookings – most likely due to the proximity to Aucklanders and coastal scenery.

Tōtaranui Campground (near Abel Tasman Coast Track) has the highest number of bookings out of all DOC campgrounds in New Zealand this summer. Waikawau Bay (Coromandel) and Otamure Bay (Northland) campsites are popular too.

While DOC is expecting a busy season there is still lots of space over summer across the hundreds of conservation campsites, including campsites on Great Walks.

Most popular campsites

Number of bednights booked between 1 December 2020 and 28 February 2021:

  • Tōtaranui, Nelson/Tasman – 42,170
  • Waikawau Bay, Coromandel – 17,580
  • Otamure Bay, Northland – 16,710
  • Uretiti Beach, Northland – 11,770
  • Puriri Bay (Whangaruru), Northland – 9,190
  • Momorangi Bay, Marlborough – 8,630
  • Urupukapuka Bay, Northland – 6,430
  • Waikahoa Bay, Northland – 5,100
  • Port Jackson, Coromandel – 4,420
  • Cable Bay (Urupukapuka), Northland – 2,430

DOC campsites with good availability* from mid-January:

  • Northland - Uretiti Beach campsite
  • Auckland/Hauraki Gulf – Motuihe Island/Te Motu-a-Ihenga and Home Bay (Motutapu Island) campsites
  • Coromandel - Kauaeranga Valley, Broken Hills and Port Jackson campsites
  • Waikato - Arohena and Pureora Forest Park campsites
  • Central North Island - Mangahuia and Lake Rerewhakaaitu campsites (Ash Pit Road and Brett Road)
  • Wellington/ Kāpiti - Catchpool Valley Campsite
  • Marlborough/Nelson Lakes – Kenepuru Head, Whatamango Bay and West Bay campsites
  • West Coast - Lake Mahinapua and Welcome Flat campsites
  • Canterbury - Craigieburn Forest Park, Arthur's Pass and Awaroa/Godley Head campsites
  • Southland – Papatowai, Pūrākaunui Bay and Milford Road campsites

*To avoid disappointment book online in advance.

How was spring?

From late October to late November nearly three quarters of New Zealanders got outdoors. Visitor activity at coastal destinations and places near urban areas went up. Many high-volume internationally-renowned destinations in national parks saw a huge decline in visitation over September and October 2020 compared to last year.

Coastal destinations

Increased activity compared to last year:

  • Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway (Northland) – up 101%
  • Wharariki Beach and Te Waikoropupū Springs (Nelson/Tasman) – up 29%
  • Castlepoint Lighthouse (Wairarapa) – up 14%

Places near urban population centres

Visitor growth experienced compared to last year:

  • Awaroa/Godley Head, Pilgrams Way, Christchurch – up 119%
  • Te Henga Walkway, Auckland – up 61%
  • Wairenga/Bridal Veil Falls, Hamilton – up 17%.

Island destinations

With border restrictions in place, there was also a rise in numbers visiting island destinations within New Zealand such as:

  • Post Office Wharf, Ulva Island/Te Wharawhara - up 93%
  • Trig Track, Kāpiti Island - up 83%
  • Kaitoke Hot Springs Track, Aotea/Great Barrier - up 64%

Iconic places

Iconic places that have been hit significantly include:

  • Milford Sound/Piopiotahi – down 72%
  • Franz Josef Glacier – down 66%
  • Hooker Valley Track – down 52%
  • Roys Peak and Ben Lomond tracks - down 42% and 31% respectively


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