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Interactions between tourists and the natural environment : impacts of tourist trampling on geothermal vegetation and tourist experiences at geothermal sites in Rotorua

Ward, Jonet C.
Burns, B.
Johnson, V.
Simmons, David G.
Fairweather, John R.
Fields of Research
ANZSRC::1506 Tourism
The main objective of this research was to evaluate tourist impacts on geothermal vegetation and to examine visitor's attitudes towards their impacts on vegetation. Two commercially operated sites near Rotorua were selected for research and a controlled trampling experiment was carried out on another geothermal site. Changes in vegetation cover were assessed using archival photographs and a sequence of aerial photographs. Short transects were applied to informal tracks in order to assess vegetation characteristics. Interviews and observations were used to record tourist behaviour. Overall the results show that the study sites provided a positive safe experience for visitors, which has minimal environmental effect. Geothermal vegetation is highly susceptible to trampling and the effects of trampling extend at least 30cm into the surrounding vegetation on either side of the tract. However, track management at the two sites appears to be adequate to ensure that there is only minimal damage to the surrounding vegetation. Regeneration of geothermal vegetation is likely to be slow because of the low productivity of these species, particularly after track compaction, but high soil temperatures are unlikely to encourage the spread of weed species into the surrounding vegetation. Management of the study sites may need to consider visitor education. The sites studied in this research can be used as an example of how to achieve access to sites while at the same time protecting the environment.