Northland boasts most popular Department of Conservation walk and campsite amid Covid

The Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway provides breathtaking views of the coastline where lucky hikers may catch glimpses of whales and dolphins. Photo / NZME

The pandemic years caused hikes around the country to be less trodden – except for one Northland walk which had the country’s only increase in visitors.

But the Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway wasn’t the only star of the show. Uretiti Beach Campsite, along State Highway 1, proved the most popular for the last 12 months from June this year.

The good news for the region was revealed in the Department of Conservation’s (DoC) annual 2021/22 visitor insights report released yesterday.

The report provides a snapshot of where people ventured across conservation areas nationwide, who they were, and the quality of their experience.

DoC heritage and visitor director Tim Bamford said the report showed a stark decline in visits to some of the country’s most famous natural landmarks compared to 2018/19.

Four out of five landmarks that experienced the largest drain in visitors were in the South Island.

Milford Sound/Piopiotahi, on the west coast of the South Island, fared the worst with an 86 per cent drop, followed by 85 per cent at Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, nestled between Westport and Greymouth.

Both Franz Josef Glacier and Roys Peak Track recorded an 83 per cent fall in visitors ahead of the only North Island location to feature – the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which was down by 79 per cent.

Shorter walks followed suit – except for Mangawhai’s scenic 9 kilometre round-trip, which recorded a 12 per cent increase in visitors compared to pre-pandemic levels.

DoC Whangārei operations manager Joel Lauterbach described the findings as “huge” for Northland.

He speculated that Mangawhai’s population growth in the past few years may have had a helping hand with the walk’s increased popularity.

“Again, I think we are seeing a lot of visitors [coming] from the local area, but also from far and wide, to experience Northland.

“[…] that proximity to Auckland is a really big carrot. I think Aucklanders look at Northland as an awesome to-go, an awesome place to connect with Papatūānuku, to get outdoors and really experience nature,” Lauterbach said.

While far fewer Kiwis were hitting the trails, many were still happy to pitch a tent at DoC campsites around the country.

According to the report, there was a 3 per cent dip in campsite bookings across the country.

Uretiti Beach Campsite remained the most popular bookable campground in 2021/22 as it attracted 17,760 visitors from a total of 164,000 campers nationwide.

The Uretiti Beach Department of Conservation Campground in Bream Bay. Photo / Michael Cunningham
The Uretiti Beach Department of Conservation Campground in Bream Bay. Photo / Michael Cunningham

The picturesque site on the coastline south of Waipū beat runners-up in Tōtaranui (Abel Tasman), Waikawau Bay (Coromandel) and a second Northland favourite – Otamure Bay in Whananaki.

“[…] it’s really awesome to see that we’re actually administering the only places in the country that have seen uplift,” Lauterbach said.

The campground’s 300 non-powered tent sites book out fairly early in the summer season, and he felt confident this year would prove to be another bumper with the return of international visitors looking for that “unique Northland experience”.

At a national level, Bamford predicted international visitors would return this summer, but not at pre-Covid levels.

“International visitor numbers have been climbing since the border with Australia re-opened,” he said.

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