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Outdoor outlooks

Dr Anna Thompson

Anna - sittingWe need to promote a broader view of who participates in general outdoor recreation.

It’s time to rethink stereotypes when it comes to planning for outdoor recreation, says Dr Anna Thompson (Department of Tourism).

Thompson, co-director of the Centre for Recreation Research, says policy-makers are not always giving enough consideration to the diversity of cultural preferences for the outdoors.

“Think outdoor recreation and the images that spring to mind usually involve relatively affluent European/Pākehā males enjoying individual activities,” she says. “But it’s also important for families and groups, such as Māori and Pacific Islanders, who don’t get much of a mention in the policy or research literature.”

Sport and Recreation New Zealand funding enabled her to investigate diverse family groups’ experiences of, and attitudes to, recreation in the great outdoors.

Thompson (Ngāpuhi, Ngati Ruanui), and Dr Arianne Reis interviewed families in Wellington, Dunedin and Twizel, providing a range of urban and rural locations. Their findings are now published in a booklet Planting the Seed: family preferences, experiences and benefits associated with outdoor recreation in Aotearoa/New Zealand (available at

“I think people hold stereotypical ideas about what outdoor activities different cultural groups are partaking in,” says Thompson. “There’s an assumption that different cultures do different things. We’ve found there are more similarities than differences.

“Pacific Islands families were found to be visiting national parks and going camping in large family groups – often as part of an annual holiday rather than on a regular basis that can be common to regular outdoor participants.

“Māori family members are often fishing or hunting and can partake in tramping and kayaking as secondary activities.

Anna - standing“Their stories don’t appear in research that local or national government policies are based on and minority groups are often overlooked. We hope that Planting the Seed is just the beginning of giving these marginalised groups a voice so they can be heard.”

Thompson’s research did identify different cultural perspectives on experiencing the natural world. Pacific Islands and Māori families tended to consider the outdoors as a place for food gathering or socially-focused activities rather than adventure.

Family group outings were common, yet there was a distinct lack of published research into the outdoors experiences of families rather than individuals.

“Conservation, national and maritime parks have great appeal for many family groups from all cultures - Māori, Pacific Island and Pākehā - but we largely see reference to individual adventurers and individual activities in academic or contract research, and so planners tend to cater for them.

“Lower socio-economic groups are poorly represented, yet access to natural outdoors areas is important to them for activities like walking or hunting because they are the people who can’t afford elite and expensive activities that are reliant on equipment needs, like skiing.

“These groups need to be considered when taking decisions about the experiences they can afford.

“It’s important to encourage families to enjoy the outdoors, no matter what their culture or their reasons for being there.

“We need to promote a broader view of who participates in general outdoor recreation.”

Sport and Recreation New Zealand