Warning issued to Great Walks tourists as Department of Conservation gears up for busy summer

The Department of Conservation (DoC) is gearing up for a busy summer with Kiwis and overseas tourists flocking to our Great Walks.

DoC figures show summer bed-night bookings have increased 47 percent compared to last year. 

And that resurgence in tourism comes with a warning - to look after our precious nature.

Awe-inspiring landscapes and premier walking tracks are what Aotearoa is world-famous for. 

"It's being in nature, seeing birds, and the diverse species that we have here in Aotearoa New Zealand," Conservation Minister Poto Williams told Newshub.

And it seems overseas tourists are keen to get amongst it following a two-year hiatus forced by COVID-19. 

"They're really good numbers, and the numbers are recovering. A lot of our Great Walks are booked out, or getting close to it."

DoC figures show that 110,000 bed-night bookings have been made on our Great Walks so far, and 25 percent are international bookings, compared to just 2.6 percent last summer.

It's not quite back to pre-COVID levels though - in 2019 41 percent of bookings were international visitors.

Chief executive of Tourism Industry Aotearoa Rebecca Ingram told Newshub "there's not bounce back to 2019 expected".

"It'll be two to three years before we find our new normal."

But despite that, DoC huts are filling up, and if you're hoping to spend a night on the Milford Track, it's already fully booked.

Some local towns are set to get pretty chocka too. 

"Please book ahead, if our tourism industry knows you're coming we can be prepared for you," Ingram added.

Sustainable travel advocate David Bamford has a warning as bookings surge.

"I think we should be worried about it from a climate perspective and the crowding of our areas." 

Border closures due to COVID-19 gave our Great Walks a break from visitors. And for the past two years, the tourism industry has been focused on regenerative and sustainable travel. 

Bamford said we should be doing more to protect our whenua as international travel resumes.

"We need to be better managing areas like Milford, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and having instruments like shuttle services etc, to reduce the impact."

The Conservation Minister said it's front of mind for her department. 

"We want to make sure that people are responsible about how they use their vehicles and their boats in particular. You can also be kind to the land by taking rubbish with you."

A clear message to tread lightly this summer.