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New Zealand it’s time to review your image!

March 29, 2010

Take a drive in rural New Zealand through the late January or early February and your eyes are often struck with the beauty of the countryside: verdant pastures, striking backdrops, mountains high and valleys low. Depending on the time of the day when you pass through these idyllic areas, you will come across farm animals. Cows and sheep scattering here and there lazily chomping on grass or wasting the day away under a shady tree. Drive further into rural New Zealand and the scene changes again. Crowded paddocks housing cows ready for their next milking, or dairy cows, one by one, moving to and from sheds.

It wasn’t that long ago when these sights were rare, a special visual treat on a sheep dominated landscape. But things have changed and dairy has taken over the New Zealand landscape and economy and air.

Keep driving through this bovine rich land during January and February and your senses encounter the side effects of dairying. A slight smell begins to waft through the car increasing in pungency. You’re probably accused of creating this smell — a fragrance you cannot for the life describe what it is or where it comes from. There is nothing pleasant about this odor, but it’s everywhere outside and moves in and out of the car as the wheels continue to roll down the road.

To those who live in the region the smell is a part of the season — silage season. Fermenting hay packed down into piles under plastic sheets, silage is used as a winter feed for cattle and sometimes sheep. It’s unpleasant smell is unavoidable as the nitric oxide gases release and waft into the atmosphere during the fermentation process.

How many is too many?

With each visit back to New Zealand’s shores I’m struck at the increasing number of dairy farms and animals, the increase in silage pits, effluent runoff, methane emissions and the continual drive in building up an already giant industry. And I grow more disillusioned with a country that once was — unquestionably beautiful — because of unsustainable practices.

This may be a boost to the country’s economy, after all New Zealand is the fifth biggest dairy producer in the world, but is it destroying its 100%  pure image?

Add proposals for large-scale intensive farms in some of the country’s pristine areas (MacKenzie basin), along with increasing deforestation and you begin to get the bigger picture. Sadly, though, farming is just one factor in the growing image issue.

Spray for me — the battle for pest control

New Zealand’s near perfect green image has bothered me for sometime. Like many New Zealanders I’ve seen the once subtle changes in nature become glaringly obvious while the marketers and image makers continue to portray the country in a pure white light. I’ve read accounts of travellers, expats and immigrants disillusioned and angry with the misguided claims of being environmentally friendly. Where sprays have landed on hikers skins, effluent continues to seep into groundwater and rivers, wetlands have been drained for more farmland — and a conservation department’s (DoC) stubborn drive to drop insecticide pellets into national parks, reserves and bush. An insecticide (1080 or sodium fluroacetate) banned in numerous countries excluding Australia is heavily used here. There are also claims that New Zealand uses 90% of this insecticide. The country isn’t that big. So where does all the 1080 poison go?

Native birds have been poisoned, even subcontractors have been sprayed all the while officials have simply gone oops. Nothing has changed. Even after a governmental review of the insecticide effects, the pellets continue to drop from the skies, and locals continue to fight.

Seven native Keas were killed by 1080 in 2008

Pest control methods, no matter where, will have some impact on innocent wildlife, but in its efforts to eradicate pests and create a pure habitat for native species has New Zealand lost sight of the meaning behind clean and green?

Visitors to New Zealand National Parks

If you are planning to hike in the national parks and reserves, be informed. On the Heaphy Track in January 2010 a Brazilian couple claimed to have been sprayed from fall out of a DoC spraying programme. Do ask the visitor centre if spraying is occurring, when and where. And if you are a victim of spraying seek medical help and tell the local DoC office.

Hi ho, hi ho its off to work I go

There was one a time in New Zealand history where residents could proudly boast of living in a country with tightly enforced regulations designed to keep business out of its national parks. Like all things good and bad, times have changed.

If you read the Economist online last week, you would have come across an article directed at New Zealand’s image problem. Personally I was happy to see a magazine of this size address an issue that has been raised by New Zealanders but continues to be swept under the mat by tourism and public officials. Mining on government conservation land has been re-introduced despite the growing opposition by the publc. In New Zealand the psyche has always been hands off conservation land!!

Over 7000 hectares of land are to be opened up for mining, the government actually proposed more land to fall under the pick and axe until environmentalists forced the issue. The country may have slackened in its environmental polices but the ever vigilant environmental watchdogs remain strong.

If New Zealand had claimed to be simply a developed country with abundant natural beauty for all to enjoy, then nothing could be said about the practices within the country. But New Zealand has promoted itself as being Pure, 100% to be exact, a slogan used against backdrops of mountain rivers and boulders, mirror lakes and snowy peaks. A country perfect for the eco-friendly holiday, to immigrate to and retire in.

The reality is very different. The gap between clean and unclean has grown and people are noticing. It’s time to review your image New Zealand, before the mirror cracks. And travellers, enjoy the country’s beauty but remember it has faults just like every country out there.

Caffeinated Traveller

  1. bill cox permalink
    March 29, 2010 9:15 pm

    hi that 100% pure nz is a lie and to advertise it as such should be banned, its a lie, i live on the sures of lake rotorua and theres is rubbish aleays being dumped around the roadsides. free campers allowed to camp anywhere they like. the lake itself is polluted and ofton has algae bloom. N.Z. Tourism is a fraud and should be taken to court. Also the person who came up with the slogan recently won an award. Its a joke. cheers bill

  2. March 30, 2010 1:34 pm

    Hi Bill
    it saddens me to think that Lake Rotorua is as polluted as it sounds. Free camping is a problem that has gone unpoliced for too long. I’ve seen the human waste left by campers in reserves close to waterways and have been disgusted by it. It’s often not New Zealanders that leave this waste but tourists who think that what is ok in their own country is good enough for New Zealand. There needs to be better regulations and like I said policing of freedom campers, rubbish control and water pollution. New Zealand has suffered at the hands of tourism but also with its farming practices and environmental neglect.

    Thanks for your comments


  3. travelforaircraft permalink
    April 1, 2010 9:16 am

    It is unfortunate but economics and environmental care often are at opposite ends. However, being less than honest is usually a short sighted strategy just as surrendering publically owned lands for the financial benefit of a few.

  4. April 1, 2010 10:54 am

    True Bear. The word sustainable comes to mind, but how sustainable is sustainable? Economics is crucial for a country’s development although I think NZ Tourism is kidding itself if it thinks it can continue promoting a false image.

  5. April 12, 2010 2:26 pm

    I spent 3 months in New Zealand 30 years ago and have nothing but memories of pristine environments. Sounds like there’s been changes afoot, but not for the better.

    It’s too bad that ‘progress’ and ‘economic viability’ so often mean environmental degradation. Perhaps influential magazines like the Economist will help get a dialog moving between the government and its citizens. Tourism is big business in a place like New Zealand and it can ill afford to have a tarnished image. Fortunately articles like yours if done often enough can be influential. Keep up the good work.

  6. April 13, 2010 8:10 am

    Leigh I can imagine how tranquil NZ must have been back then, but the food would have been pretty tasteless. Meat and three veg type. Progress is needed for advancement for sure but I think it’s type NZ tourism stop deluding itself about how green the country is. I for one intend on pushing this issue, and hopefully other bloggers will as well.

    Thanks for your comment.

  7. bill cox permalink
    April 13, 2010 4:01 pm

    hi I first came here from sydney in 1974 and it was crowds,slow old cars and 16cents for a handle of beer! The food was basic but good, a meal at a cafe cost about $3. The country had no tagging and no rubbish along the roads. But thats history and some people say we are now better off, im not convinced.I have been here about 35 times now and now live here permanently for the last 20 years. Cheers Bill

  8. April 13, 2010 5:20 pm

    Hi Bill

    you story rings true for many New Zealanders both newcomers and oldcomers. Everytime I return to NZ I notice more trash, traffic, more human effluent along walkways and picnic spots. Progress has to be monitored but I’m not sure who is doing the job.

    16 cents for a handle of beer!! Wonderful.

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