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Tourists Prompt Back-Country Research

From the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology

For immediate release

Tourists Prompt Back-Country Research

Tourists’ love of New Zealand’s remote back country has prompted research into how wilderness tourism might be better managed.

The back country is becoming popular because the “front country” – that part of the conservation estate that can be reached on a day trip – is sometimes crowded, according to University of Otago researcher Geoff Kearsley.

“One-in-six people who have gone to the ‘front country’ say they will go to remoter places next time,” Professor Kearsley says. “That raises questions for the tourism industry, conservation and local authorities, about how this can be managed – that the front and back country can be visited and enjoyed yet not suffer any great damage.”

He says the back country – mainly in the South Island – is the last easily accessible refuge of New Zealand campers and trampers who want to avoid overseas tourists. But more tourists are staying in New Zealand’s back country for more than one day.

“They’ve done the well-known tracks like the Routeburn and the Heaphy, and they want to go further. They’re driving a back country boom,” Professor Kearsley says.

He says that while wilderness and natural areas are not necessarily direct earners of revenue, they are fundamental reasons for people coming to New Zealand as tourists.

“The back country is the image many visitors think of and talk about when they decide to come to New Zealand. While scenery may not generate large revenue by itself, it has a substantial spin-off when tourists do other things, such as bungy-jumping or jet-boating, and when they stay in accommodation or travel around the country,” he says.

The research project by the university’s Tourism Research Centre began in 1995 and is funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. Findings have provided useful information to the Department of Conservation and tourism groups.

“We’re providing detailed breakdowns of visitors’ experiences, for example, so wilderness managers can identify choke-points – where the pressure is on huts, for example, or where people are most noticing aircraft noise. We’re providing management information on a national scale. It’s up to wilderness managers how they use it – it’s giving them the evidence to back up the anecdotes,” Professor Kearsley says.

He says it’s important that tourism promotion matches reality. Many visitors are encountering plenty of people in the back country, where they didn’t expect to.


- Professor Geoff Kearsley, School of Social Science, University of Otago, Dunedin. Ph: (03) 479-8519; email:

- Peter Burke, Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. Ph: (04) 917-7809; email:; web:

- Prepared on behalf of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology by ID Media Ltd.

Contact: Ian Carson (04) 569-1742;,

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