Spread the tourists out - DoC

Milford Sound (Getty)
Milford Sound (Getty)

The head of the Department of Conservation wants tourists to be nudged off the beaten track to give our most popular national parks a breather.

"We've seen some of those places grow to a million visitors," director-general Lou Sanson told Paul Henry on Friday.

And with tourism booming, the risk pristine environments could be ruined is growing by the day.

"We're only at 3.2 million [annual tourists] now, and we're going to go to about 5.5 million by 2025. We've got to think about how we spread that load - how we get people into Northland, how we get people into Taranaki."

It's a good thing then saving the environment has "gone mainstream". Mr Sanson says the response to this year's Conservation Week has been "fantastic".

"It's on a roll. People really believe in conservation, people believe in this country.

"Farmers are out there killing stoats, rats and possums - 15,000 people out there at weekends. The Gulf islands, thousands of volunteers are restoring those islands. Tiritiri Matangi is the biggest tourist attraction on Tripadvisor in Auckland."

The annual awareness week ends this Sunday, but the fight goes on - particularly for our native birds.

"We've got one of the highest number of threatened species in the world, and it's a real challenge to bring that back," says Mr Sanson.

"We can see more birds in Wellington city than in many of our national parks."

Going predator-free by 2050, as the Government has pledged, will help fix that.

Despite some saying New Zealand's lost its clean-and-green shine, Mr Sanson reckons we're doing just fine in the eyes of the world. He says we already have predator-free land covering an area the size of Switzerland.