"Summertime and the livin' is easy' . . . at least if you are one of the increasing number of folk who have enjoyed the southern weather and the campgrounds managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) over the holidy period.
Due to the stunning weather in the South, and to families choosing to holiday locally, many of the 19 DOC campgrounds in Otago have experienced one of their busiest summers yet. Visitor numbers at campgrounds near Queenstown and Wanaka, including 12 Mile Delta, Moke Lake, Boundary Creek and Cameron Flat, more than doubled compared to the previous summer.
Campgrounds on the coast were also busy, with the upgraded DOC campground at Papatowai in the Catlins attracting more than 600 people, especially
families and overseas visitors, and more campers staying at Tawanui. Skippers Campground near Queenstown also saw an increase in families with young children enjoying its unique history.
As well as more locals, it appears more overseas visitors stayed at our campgrounds. At Cameron Flat campground near Wanaka, 741 overseas visitors stayed between December 2011 and February 2012, compared to 422 in the same period the previous year. A total of 316 New Zealanders stayed, compared to 172 the previous year.
We'll be continuing to improve facilities at some campgrounds-we know that creating opportunities to recreate on the land that we manage on behalf of the New Zealand public is a critical part of our responsibility, and that camping is important in allowing New Zealanders to connect with our unique environment.
Another important responsibility, fire management, kept us and the NZ Fire Service busy this season. The fire risk, particularly inland, reached extreme on numerous occasions. Fire crews were on standby whenever the risk became 'very high', allowing for a more immediate response. Good advance fire risk management by DOC and NZ Fire Service firefighters, and some luck, saved at least one home from a fast-moving fire at Wanaka's Mt Iron Scenic Reserve in January. The fire raced through 2 ha of bush at 4 am, coming within 2 m of one home and sending several families fleeing to safety. The risk of fire on Mt Iron has been a concern for several years and DOC and the local brigade are working together to inform residents about ways to reduce risk.
We're always trying to improve our management of fire. Currently, DOC staff are investigating a pager system to alert residents of impending fire threats. The public's help is essential to limit the risk and the potential devastating effects of wild fires.
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