I have learnt a little about tourism in New Zealand since we arrived eight weeks ago. This place is crawling with campervans and motorhomes and with backpackers. Many seem to be here for quite some time (months) while others are just here for a few days. Australians make up 40% of the visitor numbers to New Zealand, probably because they are close by, then Chinese and North Americans 10% each.
Take in Hokitita Gorge for free
Tourism here seems to be mostly about the natural world, the scenery. Mountains, rivers, lakes, caves and glaciers. And it’s also about what you can do with all those topographic and geographic features, climb up them, jump off them, dive into them, walk across or up them, zoom across them, fly over them by helicopter and ski them, and sometimes combinations of all these. The first part of this, gawking at scenery seems to be pretty much free, there is essentially no charge for enjoying the public estate, that part of the landscape owned by the people through the government. The second part, aside from bushwalking, or tramping as the locals call it, mostly requires one to engage a commercial enterprise to assist you in your active pursuit, that is you have to spend some of your hard earned money. Since buzzing around a glacier in a helicopter, tearing up a river in a jet boat or jumping off a 150m high bridge with a rope tied to my ankle doesn’t gel with my love of the natural world (perhaps I’m too old), we haven’t been partaking of these types of activities.
Enjoy Cathedral Cove for free
Better still, dig a hole in a hot water beach and make your own thermal spa for free
So we have very much appreciated that we can see so much gob smackingly beautiful countryside for free. Since most of the tourists appear to be foreigners like us, I wonder how the NZ people manage to keep all this open for free for non-nationals. I certainly think that the national estate should be free for citizens and I get peeved when I have to pay for entry to national parks etc in Australia. As I have already paid my taxes there for the upkeep of the national estate. If there isn’t enough money then raise the taxes. The user pays principal should not be applied to public good, that’s the governments explicit role. In Australia you have to pay to see “The 12 Apostles” on the Great Ocean Road, but in NZ you can travel the West Coast and Glacier Highways which are every bit as good and probably better, without having to pay to see any of the natural features, and the infrastructure provided everywhere is absolutely first class. Furthermore there are government information centres staffed with very helpful people everywhere you go. Even in extraordinary Milford Sound you can put your own boat in the water and paddle or motor about as much as you like without having to ask anyone. However, while it belongs to the people of New Zealand the visitors seem to be overwhelmingly from overseas. Although virtually all of these people pay for commercial cruises on the Sound, I don’t know how much these companies pay to the government for executing their commercial enterprise on the public estate, I guess they might pay an annual license fee or similar?
Visit a glacier for free
Drop your boat in Milford Sound and help yourself!
Should foreigners have to pay to enjoy New Zealands national estate? It would probably be a very complicated exercise to set up and collect money at hundreds of points around the country. Perhaps a one off tax on entering the country might make sense. With an international tourism expenditure of NZ$14b per year, maybe the tax collected is sufficient already?
The public estate should definitely be free to visit for the public, but just who is the public here?