Putting Nature First

by Ann Wheatley

Nature photographers love nature. Many are ardent conservationists and we’re the last people to want to see pristine wilderness locations damaged. But in this new age of smartphones, cheap travel and social media, nature photographers are unwittingly contributing to exactly what we’re trying to prevent. Before saying more about this, I’d like to offer a mini-geography lesson on New Zealand.

Aotearoa/New Zealand is the unsubmerged part of huge landmass, a microcontinent, that broke away from the Gondwanan supercontinent. Over the past 25 million years, ongoing plate tectonic movements and our location on the Pacific Ring of Fire have created the high mountain ranges within the interior of Te Waipounamu, the spectacular South Island, and the beautiful volcanic landscapes of Ruapehu, Taranaki, Ngauruhoe, Tongariro, Taupo, Okataina and Rangitoto in Te Ika-a-Māui, the North Island.

Aotearoa was the was the last large landmass on earth to be settled by humans. Polynesians arrived sometime between 1250 and 1300 CE and developed the distinctive Māori culture. The European, Abel Tasman, sighted New Zealand in 1642 but trading, whaling and colonisation commenced only after James Cook mapped the coastline in 1769. Today just under 5 million people live in a multicultural country about the same size as the United Kingdom. Te Waipounamu, the larger of the two main islands, has a quarter of the population, is dominated by dramatically beautiful mountain ranges, an incredibly scenic coastline, and is home to 9 of our national parks.

A track in the Kahurangi National Park, the second largest of New Zealand’s 13 national parks and one of two remaining locations where the highly endangered takahe, a native bird, is found in the wild. By Ann Wheatley.

Just south of Te Waipounamu, Rakiura aka Stewart Island has a land area of nearly 2000 square kilometres, and 85 percent of it is within the boundaries of Rakiura National Park. The North Island, Te Ika-a-Māui also boasts three national parks so it’s no surprise that many nature lovers aspire to visit New Zealand.

For many, the desire to visit New Zealand has been stoked by the entertainment industry. Touring companies offer trips to many of the locations featured in Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia whether reached by sealed or gravel roads, hiking tracks or helicopter. But films are not the only bait. The stunning photos of New Zealand’s most beautiful locations made by professionals, and increasingly by amateur photographers and tourists, also feed the desire to visit. The result of cameras in every hand plus social media access, is the transfiguration of many locations, once known only to locals, into tourist meccas with Instagram hashtags populated by thousands of georeferenced pictures.

In November 2018 the BBC published an article online about this very phenomenon. Entitled Form an orderly queue: Recreating the perfect Instagram photo in New Zealand, it features an image, first published on Reddit, of people queuing to take photos at the summit of Roy's Peak, in Wanaka, and the reaction of a spokesperson from New Zealand's Department of Conservation. She revealed that visitor numbers to Roy’s Peak had increased by 12% to 73,000 between 2016 and 2018, because the spot had become a "quintessential icon for the Wanaka region through social media.”

It seems the BBC article hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for visiting Roy’s Peak. I checked Reddit and found 239 images posted over the past four years, with the vast majority of them shared during the last 12 months. They included a timelapse video posted just a few days ago titled, Getting 'the shot' at Roy's Peak lookout. Meanwhile, the #royspeak hashtag on Instagram has over 56,000 images.

I’ve had personal experience of a similar situation at the beautiful and remote Wharariki beach... Read more

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