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Credit: Malcolm Anderson | DOC

Giving back to nature - Insights from the Queen Charlotte Track

September 22, 2022

Research released by DOC identifies two types of visitors when it comes to connecting with nature on the Queen Charlotte Track: ‘spectators of nature’ and ‘participants in nature’.

It’s important to consider how we might better engage both groups in giving back to nature, the Department of Conservation (DOC) says.

“The report is part of DOC’s work to provide recreation activities where our culture, nature and communities are celebrated and gain benefits from visitors. We’ve been exploring how we might do this using the popular Queen Charlotte Track, in the Marlborough Sounds, as a test case,” says Heritage and Visitors Director Tim Bamford.

Drawing on qualitative research interviews during the 2020-2021 summer, the report ‘Giving back to nature: Insights from Queen Charlotte Track’ finds two groups of visitors:

  1. ‘Spectators of nature’ who focus on the activities they do on and around Queen Charlotte Track, such as walking, mountain biking, kayaking. Nature is a backdrop to their activities.
  2. ‘Participants in nature’ who focus on nature itself as they walk Queen Charlotte Track. Nature is at the centre of their experience.

“While many will identify with elements from both groups, the people we talked to tended to fit into a spectrum between ‘Outward’ (spectators) or ‘Inward’ (participants) in the way they connect with nature,” says Tim Bamford.

“’Outward’ tending visitors look for an energetic or social holiday experience, nature is a playground to have a stimulating experience. At the ‘Inward’ end, people focus on their internal and personal world. They are likely to be keen on birdlife, cultural history and heritage.”

Both the New Zealand Aotearoa Government Tourism Strategy and DOC’s Heritage and Visitor Strategy make strong commitments to ensuring that domestic and international visitors benefit the places, nature, heritage and communities they come to experience. It’s something the wider tourism industry is also striving for, says Tim Bamford.

“Better understanding how people connect with the natural world and New Zealand’s heritage, is valuable for DOC to ensure we provide enjoyable, meaningful recreation opportunities.”

“There’s also an opportunity to encourage visitors to play their part in protecting and restoring the mauri of the environment in the places they visit through ‘giving back’ activities. This would help visitors have a more meaningful and memorable experience, and over time it might nudge visitors to care more deeply about the places they visit.”

“Simply put, ‘giving back’ means visitors leave the place in a better state than when they arrived.”

The report finds that while there were differences in how the two groups thought they might ‘give back’ to nature, both spectators and participants wanted to do so. The key is to make sure the way of ‘giving back’ fits with what visitors are interested in, says Tim Bamford.

“‘Spectators of nature’ tend to choose financial contributions: donations or higher fees. Whereas ‘participants in nature’ lean towards ‘giving back’ activities at the place or region they’re visiting such as planting native trees, pest trapping, removing wilding pines and weeds.”

“This work will be used to inform how DOC designs and improves attractions and facilities that offer people a chance to give back to nature – particularly through collaboration with mana whenua, tourism operators and communities.”

Read the report below:

Find out how you might give back to nature: