21 Feb 2024

EZE director responds to DOC track toilet woes

From Checkpoint, 5:53 pm on 21 February 2024

A virtual honesty box is being suggested to help fund the upkeep of walking tracks around Aotearoa.

Earlier this week, the Department of Conservation (DOC) was forced to close the popular Mueller Hut Route on Aoraki Mount Cook to day walkers because the toilets were almost full.

In a briefing to the government, DOC repeatedly sounded the alarm over funding saying it could not afford to maintain its assets. It said visitor congestion was an issue and it was time to consider more user charges.

Some listeners told Checkpoint they had tried to leave a koha or donation for trail upkeep, but there was no easy way to do that.

Local business EZE director Wayne Campbell said his solution could be the answer.

Campbell told Checkpoint about his "really simple user-pays system that allows visitors to go up to the start of a track, scan a QR code on their phone and then pay a small donation or fee to use the services".

He said the donation amount would not be fixed.

"It could even operate for visitor buses and visitor vans, where the driver could go in and select the number of passengers that he's got on board to pay for their access into the park."

He said it was like an honesty box, but a little different to the ones that had the potential to be stolen.

Instead, it was a simple phone app.

The system was already successfully being used by other businesses, Campbell said.

"So if you're a visitor to a local golf club that you're not a member of that golf club, you can just go to the golf club and scan the QR code at the club, pay for your round the golf and off you go.

"We've got roadside stalls if you want to buy some honey, you can just scan the QR code, or buy some plums

"So really what we're trying to do is to change our culture to some extent. I mean, who would have thought 10 or 15 years ago that the Kiwis would pay for water?

"We think there's the need for a culture change here and we can make that happen."

As for cellphone reception in remote locations, he said mobile service providers were looking at "satellite coverage".

Mueller Hut in Aoraki National Park.

Photo: Francisco Siller / Creative Commons

"At Mount Cook, where this particular problem is at the moment, we have coverage," Campbell said.

"But obviously if we're talking about taking the service to farm owners and other property owners who want to charge for fishermen or mountain bikers to come onto their land, then we may be a little bit restricted at this stage, but in the not-too-distant future we'll have that covered as well."

Campbell said the user-pays system did not require an initial investment from the account holder, in this case, it would be DOC.

"The user pays a small fee, so depending on their method of payment, by internet banking, or by credit card, and then there's a small processing fee as well."