DoC considering fees for our parks

Department of Conservation (DoC) director general Lou Sanson has just returned from holidaying in South America, and it got him thinking about whether it's time for DoC to start charging fees for access to our national parks.

He says Patagonia's national parks are our biggest competition and we can learn from how they are managing high demand areas with fees.

It's timely because of a boom in tourism numbers - last year we had a record 3.5 million visitors.

"The minimum charge in a hotel in Torres del Paine national park is US$300 and then they had three campsites of 80 people which were free, and if you missed out on those you could go to a concessionaire and hire a tent for $90. And just to access the tracks was $60." 

The most you'll pay for a DoC hut here is $54.

Current legislation means DoC can't charge a cent for access to national parks, and former Prime Minister John Key didn't favour a change when asked last year.

But DoC's now readying itself for a 40 percent increase in visitors - half of whom will be foreign.

"We are going to have to have this debate about who pays for what and I personally favour a differential fee."

"The South American system really has quite sophisticated differential charges. So it's $33 for me in both parks, if you're an Argentinian it's half that and if you're from that province it's $4."

No passports are required. It's based on your street address - they take your word for it, and it's got Mr Sanson thinking.

"So there are four parks where we could consider an entry charge and that's Milford, Fox, Franz, Aoraki. The other parks it would be too difficult. Too many entry points."

But he wants Kiwis to pay far less than tourists and still favours charging for services like beds rather than access.

"So a Routeburn hut might cost you and I $50, and an international tourist double that."

Another option is to charge for services like parking and buses which provide access to the parks.

Every penny will be crucial - a report handed to John Key before he resigned estimated conservatively there's an immediate $100m dollar shortfall in infrastructure.