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Koro Carman: The challenge is managing visitor risk

20 Sep 2019  By Contributor

In our week-long special marking the 50th anniversary of Conservation Week, Footprints Waipoua manager Koro Carman tells the Ticker about helping to preserve some of NZ’s greatest taonga, coping with opposition, and dealing with visitors who put the environment at risk.

Koro Carman

Hokianga’s Footprints Waipoua experience offers people a journey through the eyes of a kauri tree. On that journey we celebrate the challenges that been overcome, we give thanks for the opportunities that they have created, and we admire the humility with which they tolerate. The karakia, waiata, mihi and the interactive engagement, as well as the silence, are all tools that help connect with those values.

A Kiwi visitor once encapsulated the Footprints experience perfectly when she described her experience with this Confucius quote: ‘Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, but involve me and I will understand.’

The Hokianga has always been predominantly a domestic destination with many visitors from Auckland. Our biggest international market is Australia and the domestic/international split is around 60/40. We’ve been operating for 15 years and during that time have focused on growing the international market.

We have seven staff currently and that fluctuates over the high season. Our staff are genuinely passionate ambassadors who have a deep respect for the forest and conservation. Critical to the experience is the cultural knowledge and personalities of our guides. They are the right people, telling the right stories, in the right place.

The kauri forest environment within which we work is an incredible theatre that speaks for itself and our role as guides is to weave stories, prayers, songs and thanks into the experience.

It is a matter for iwi Te Roroa, as kaitiaki of Waipoua Forest and the Department of Conservation to comment on kauri dieback. But I’d like to reinforce a message that I shared at TRENZ when I was part of the Tiaki Promise panel. We have and continue to be asked why we still operate tours when kauri dieback has been identified as being present.

Firstly, as a concessionaire, we don’t make these decisions. We support the decisions made by Te Roroa and DOC.

Secondly, our position is that we are even more relevant today than when we first started because our guides are present on the tracks almost every day and night of the year, and can monitor and manage any issues with visitor activity. We have had issues with people ignoring signs and I’ve even come across people who have dug up entire ferns and were walking back towards their vehicles with them. These people were Kiwis, not international visitors.

Thirdly, we are a vehicle to educate, which we do via our tours. We can inform people of the key conservation messages and increase awareness, understanding and prevention of the issues.

A big challenge for us is managing the risks that visitors present when they don’t keep to the tracks. Te Roroa have placed tribal member ambassadors on the main platforms to stop people from climbing over the fences to touch trees, spread ashes – there have been multiple issues.

The business has experienced consistent growth year-on-year, and this is in part due to all the partners who continue to invest in promoting Northland. I also think the growth is due to visitors seeking experiences that are new, different and conservation-focused.

We don’t have any new products at Footprints Waipoua, but I am involved with a new tourism product soon to be launching in Opononi called Mania Footprints of Kupe. It will be a heritage, cultural and education and tourism centre that will tell the story of Kupe and the beginnings of New Zealand.

The project is being run by a local trust made up of four local Marae and has been underway for 14 years, receiving some Provincial Growth Fund money last year. The project is going to be developed over seven acres and will be similar to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds centre. The visitor experience will be 75 minutes in duration and will include a guided tour of the grounds, a welcome ceremony and a 20 minute movie/live theatre performance.

The biggest challenge for Footprints is that we’ve never had a physical presence. We’re part of the Copthorne Hotel but the new Mania Footprints of Kupe attraction will be on the main road in Opononi and will become a catalyst to support existing businesses and encourage new ones. It will enable us to cross-promote our tourism experiences, encouraging visitors to stay longer and spend more locally – all positively contributing to destination development and the Northland proposition. Mania Footprints of Kupe will also provide greatly needed employment opportunities for our local community

One of the biggest challenges for Footprints is seasonality which is directly linked to other challenges like creating sustainable jobs for local people. And at the opposite end of the spectrum, we’re dealing with overtourism which causes issues around environmental sustainability – Tāne Mahuta sees 300,000 visitors per year.

There is a project underway called Aka Rangatirawhich is looking at new ways that visitors can engage with the kauri trees in the Waipoua Forest in the future as it is not sustainable in its current form. Something has to change.

Local community support has been another challenge for us over the years. We do have positive support for Footprints Waipoua but there have been some who are opposed, and this is something we need to talk about more from an environmental sustainability perspective as well as people sustainability. It is healthy to have different views but we’re not always going to be able to find solutions that please everyone, especially in a small community.

I’m very proud that over the 15 years that Footprints has been operating, we’ve changed some of the negative views – it’s encouraging. And in an area where there aren’t many employment opportunities Footprints, over the years, has employed many people and inspired them to go on and start their own businesses. We’ve changed mindsets by demonstrating that what we do is positive.

From an industry point of view, I think the main thing that needs to change is our attitudes to how we care for our environment. We need to make significant changes to improve the ways and means by which we protect our environment and that won’t happen until our attitudes change.


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