Whangaruru campsite, Puriri Bay
Image: Brandon Koger

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


DOC is preparing for a busy spring and asks people to enjoy their great outdoors responsibly, as regions outside of Auckland move to COVID-19 Alert Level 2.

Date:  09 September 2021

Data from DOC’s 2020/21 visitor insights report, released today, confirms visitor trends seen throughout the pandemic, says DOC Strategy and Insights Manager Tim Bamford.

“Lots of us have been enjoying the outdoors but this wasn’t enough to prevent large declines at many iconic destinations,” he says.

“Our data shows more than three-quarters (78%) of New Zealanders got out into nature, particularly to the coast, between November 2020 and May 2021.

“What’s more, just under three-quarters (71%) of visitors reported they had a memorable, personally meaningful or life-changing experience outdoors.”

Looking at current bookings and previous visitor trends, the combination of spring and the easing of COVID-19 Alert Level restrictions is expected to bring a flurry of visitor activity across conservation areas, says Tim Bamford.

“DOC facilities are open at Alert Level 2, but the risk of COVID-19 being present in the community is still high. Although many will be eager to get out there, it’s vital people play it safe and look after themselves and others when outdoors.

“This Conservation Week DOC’s advocating we all take a moment in nature for our health and wellbeing. We also need to protect and cherish nature, so it can continue to sustain us.”

New Zealanders have been making the most of Aotearoa, but some behaviour leaves a little to be desired says Tim Bamford. 

Despite the absence of international tourism, New Zealanders consistently observed visitor impacts over the summer and autumn months. Littering was the most commonly noticed impact - either ‘a lot’ or ‘a fair amount’ (14%).

“DOC’s insights reporting shows issues like human waste, vandalism, irresponsible 4WD and jetski use, and people disturbing marine life or feeding birds were unfortunately common problems over summer, says Tim Bamford.

“Another regular issue has been people endangering wildlife such as kiwi and other vulnerable native birds, by taking dogs where they are not permitted. These are all extremely serious problems for our species and places and very disappointing to see.”

“DOC staff work hard to ensure everyone can enjoy New Zealand’s special wildlife, heritage and landscapes, but we should all be doing our bit for Aotearoa. This year we’ve introduced our Tiaki care code through which we’re directing visitors to protect nature, be prepared, keep New Zealand clean and respect others,” says Tim Bamford.

“Alert Level 2 means we can still enjoy the great outdoors, provided it’s done safely. It’s more important than ever to be kind others, be responsible for yourself and your group, prepare well before heading outdoors and take the correct equipment for activities in late winter into early spring.”

Further information

Key findings of the 2020/21 visitor insights report

The 2020/21 visitor insights report looks at bookings and activity counter data between 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021. It also covers visitor survey results undertaken between November 2020 and May 2021.

Popular sites

While iconic destinations including Piopiotahi/Milford Sound and Cathedral Cove welcomed many New Zealanders, the overall number of visitors to our iconic places was much lower. Places that have been most impacted include:

  • Milford Sound/Piopiotahi – down 73%
  • Franz Josef Glacier – down 72%
  • Roys Peak Track – down 67%
  • Tongariro Alpine Crossing – down 63%

Great Walks

Around 91,800 people experienced a Great Walk in 2020/21.

Great Walk bednight bookings for New Zealanders have increased again this year and are currently significantly higher than for the same time in previous years – up from 53,300 in 2019/20 and 122,200 in 2020/21 to 150,900 in 2021/22.

Despite international border restrictions, the Milford Track was at full capacity over this period. Routeburn, Kepler and Tongariro Northern Circuit huts were also popular. With by far the most accommodation spaces available, the Abel Tasman Coastal Track remains the busiest Great Walk over 2020/21.

Short Walks and Day Hikes

Although these remain some of the country’s most popular walking tracks, DOC’s Short Walks and Day Hikes decreased over 2020/21 compared with the average of the previous three years.

Day Hikes that saw the biggest drop include:

  • Roys Peak Track – down 67%
  • Tongariro Alpine Crossing – down 63%
  • Hooker Valley Track – down 61%

Short Walks located in the South Island were significantly quieter including:

  • Lake Matheson Walk, West Coast – down 63%
  • Cape Foulwind Walkway, West Coast – down 55%
  • Devils Punchbowl, Arthur‘s Pass – down 51%

Short Walks in Northland have become increasingly popular. Mangawhai Cliffs and Mount Manaia Track saw increased in visitor activity over 2020/21, up 31% and 9% respectively.


While the Great Walks network is popular, many other bookable huts experienced high visitor demand. Around 80,600 people stayed overnight at bookable huts (outside the Great Walk huts) over 2020/21.

The Pinnacles Hut (Coromandel) was the most visited hut in New Zealand over 2020/21, with more than15,000 people staying there and an occupancy rate of 62%. 


Around 171,000 people camped at DOC-managed bookable campgrounds over 2020/21 (July to June), with 63% of campers staying over the summer period (December to February).

Uretiti Beach Campsite (Northland) was the most visited DOC campground in New Zealand over 2020/21 with 24,250 visitors.

During the peak summer period, many campgrounds in Northland and the upper South Island were at or near full capacity including Waikahoa, Kerr Bay, French Pass, Puriri Bay and Urupukapuka Bay campsites – occupancy rates ranged between 88% to 100% from late December to early January. 


For media enquiries contact:

Email: media@doc.govt.nz

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