Geotourism, a specialised subset of ecotourism that focuses on geological and geomorphological aspects of the Earth and its formation, is growing worldwide. Promoted as a sustainable form of tourism, its central tenets incorporate the twin pillars of geoconservation and visitor education. Yet, little is known about how visitors interpret landscape features on their travels, what attitudes they hold towards geoconservation, or what role geology might play in their everyday lives. In the Catlins, I take a visitor-centred approach, using surveys and interviews, to explore these questions and other aspects of visitor geoheritage experience. The highly contextual nature of visitor experience requires that responses are situated within a wider socio-political and environmental context. To this end, I critically examine the assumptions that underpin geotourism and discuss its applicability as a vehicle for science communication, in Aotearoa-New Zealand.
Insight from the findings informs the design and content of a guide to the geology and landscape of the Catlins.