There’s no doubt the Bay of Plenty is home to its own ‘wonders of the world’.
The region boasts some of the nation’s greatest beaches, trails, waterfalls, natural hot springs, lakes, rivers, marine volcanoes and forests.
And it’s pretty common for those of us who live here to skite about having ‘been there, done that’ which might seem like enough validation, however it seems nowadays unless you document it, did it even happen?
This is the driving logic behind a new breed of tourism which is sweeping throughout locations not only here in the Bay, but throughout the world.
A term I can only imagine has been coined fairly recently describes this as ‘selfie tourism’ which describes “tourists who travel to destinations and perform experiences in front of the camera in order to display economic power and attain or maintain social status”.
In a nutshell, that’s basically every single person with a smart phone and an Instagram account, wanting to look cool.
A quick Google search of the term returns horror stories of selfie-loving tourists who completely destroy archaeological sites, local nature and the environment.
Tourists get condemned by priests, arrested for insulting local culture and people, and at the most serious level, killed.
There’s plenty of examples of it in action too. Take the Phi Phi islands in Thailand, which is on the verge of closure due to tourism damaging the reef.
Or the Waitakere Ranges, a similarly beautiful location which is facing permanent closure after a temporary rahui was placed over the forest by local iwi, banning visitors from the area in order to prevent the spread of Kauri dieback disease and to allow the forest to heal.
It’s clear the Bay of Plenty sits on the less extreme side of these examples, but many locals will agree there is some evidence of the impact of this type of tourism.
Like one of our most iconic sites, Mauao. The historic reserve is jointly owned by local iwi Ngai Te Rangi, Ngati Ranginui and Ngati Pukenga in the form of the Mauao Trust; and it is managed by Tauranga City Council under the direction of the Nga Poutiriao o Mauao joint administration board.
Ngati Ranguinui spokesperson Buddy Mikaere says it is one of the Bay’s most unique landmarks.
“One million people walk up Mauao every year and we love that people are able to do this. We welcome everyone to come and enjoy the spectacular views from the top.
“Mauao is very unique and holds strong cultural significance. We are one of the only places that has a mountain at the entrance to our harbour. It is a gateway and a marker and when you see it, you know exactly where you are.
“That being said, there is activity which happens up here which offends many of us.”
He names one of these things as paragliding. Mauao is a popular local spot, where many paragliders are known to launch from.
“From a safety point of view, it is quite a dangerous activity,” he says. “I can’t see the sense in it myself.”
Buddy says the recent death of 28-year-old paraglider Joshua Tingey highlights this.
“We’re naturally sympathetic to his family, and offer our deepest condolences. However, the matter says to me someone needs to review the safety behind it all.
“There’s also the commercial aspect behind the activity that’s offensive to us. Why are these companies allowed to run their business from a public reserve and no other businesses can?”
He says rock climbing is also of concern to those who manage the reserve.
“Apparently someone put a list online of ‘iconic places to rock climb’ and Mauao is on it, which means there’s often a lot of people who visit the reserve for that purpose,” says Buddy.
“As well as that, rather than sticking to the dedicated walkways already in place, people have also made their own tracks.
“The problem in this is, when it rains, these new tracks become channels for the water which exacerbates erosion on the reserve.”
Buddy says visitors should appreciate what is already there.
“There are lots of things happening here all by themselves. Mauao and its surroundings provide a sanctuary for many native birdlife and we are in the process of restoring the mountain to ensure we protect these ecological sites.
“It’s a great climb, so enjoy it and don’t turn it into a race. Take the time to appreciate the views.”
His comments resonate with those given by registered psychologist, coach and yoga teacher Kati Ludwig.
“Being amongst nature is a very good way to facilitate being in the present moment and not anticipating anything other than embodying your current experience,” she says.
“That being said, we all run around with our own agendas in mind.
“So when it becomes more about what you can get out of your experience, for example what photos you can take or how you can get the best views for them, that’s the moment when you come out of that former state, you have an agenda and you are no longer in the moment.
“It’s a very ego-driven approach to the experiences we’re making and it almost means you’re missing the experience altogether.
“The more you feel you have to perform, or express yourself in a certain way, the more you feed your ego.”
Someone who experiences selfie tourism first-hand is Instagram blogger, Robert Mylie, who runs the popular account @welivewild
He says he is often faced with the dilemma of sharing locations which are often sought after by selfie-loving tourists.
“I’m in two minds about it all,” says Rob. “I actually enjoy sharing locations – I feel like it gets people active and interested in getting out and enjoying life.
“But then there’s also social media flooding where magical places become common.”
He identifies the popular Omanawa Falls on the edge of the Bay of Plenty as one of these locations.
Omanawa Falls is owned by Tauranga City Council and is closed to the public for safety reasons.
“Two years ago you could climb down into one of the most beautiful paradises in the world and be completely alone on a Saturday.
“You could skinny dip, spend your whole day there and not see another soul – it was your paradise.
“I miss the privacy of secret spots and the serenity of bathing alone at places without rubbish floating down the river. But I also feel like, why shouldn’t others be allowed to enjoy the same things I do?”
He says overpopulation is not the only factor disturbing local spots.
“It’s not so much about the amount of people visiting these places, it’s the type of people.
“Tourists don’t care about New Zealand, why would they? It’s not their country, there’s no incentive to not make a mess as you go and New Zealand hardly has the infrastructure to accommodate the volume of people visiting this small country.
“But you’ll find locals are just as bad, if not worse, culprits, which is really sad.
“There’s also this weird culture around nature and social media right now where people want to look like they’re involved with nature and adventure, but once they’re home and they’ve posted the photos on Instagram or Facebook, that’s where it ends.
“The Waitakere Ranges is a great example of how people have no idea about their effect on the environment.”
Department of Conservation regional communications advisor Steve Brightwell says he sees no evidence to suggest harm has been caused locally from selfie tourism.
“Our rangers advise that we have no Bay of Plenty locations where we are concerned about selfie activity leading to degradation of the site from either ecological, historical or cultural perspectives.
“As far as respectful visitation goes, the Department promotes ‘Leave No Trace’.
“In general, improving knowledge of native plants and animals, geology and the cultural and historial stories, which are often hinted at through place names, is a great way to increase appreciation of places and to understand why it is important to behave in the right way when visiting them.”
More advice can be found on the DOC website: www.doc.govt.nz