Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Milford Gondola

The Gondola from Queenstown to Milford Sound has already caused a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Forest & Bird and the Federated Mountain Clubs are outraged, scandalised, shocked, stunned... and I think you get the picture.

Meanwhile ACT's Gerry Eckhoff is obviously lining up for a photo op on the Gondola's opening day although he must have written this press release before he saw ACT's latest poll rating. At the rate they're going he'll be too much of a has been to warrant an invite

Southland District Mayor Frana Cardo has been sounding increasingly shrill and has suggested that Milford will degenerate into Las Vegas or Disney... that is perhaps going a little bit far. But given that her community will be largely cut out of the goldmine that is Milford and probably stands to lose pot loads of dosh on her watch, the self interest is understandable.

Even more laughably, Skyline Gondola's Director grant Hensman attempted to brownwash the issue by declaring that

"We want everyone to have a totally good experience. It's about Mauri, (Maori for life force), we want people to feel the life force of this area, to really experience it."

I mean really, what a load of horse shit.

So people on both sides of the debate have tried to peddle some pretty amazing crap on the public already and there will be more to come as the gondola has to pass the obstacle course of DOC's concessions process, the Resource Management Act and no doubt the environment court. On top of that, a government that is behind in the polls and not too far from the next election might not be able to resist the temptation to get involved and shore up its support.

There are some serious misconceptions out there too. Perhaps its time to introduce some facts to the debate. Its been suggested that very few people would actually see the gondola. DOC hasn't been generous enough to give statistics on the Greenstone-Caples track, however according to DOC's figures The track up to Key Summit (a popular short walk near the proposed Milford Road terminus) gets 15,500 - 17500 walkers a year, and 10,000-11000 of them go on to do the Routeburn Track. A significant proportion of these people will use the Greenstone-Caples track and would possibly end up getting up close and personal with a pylon or a gondola full of waving tourists. It may be a "wind swept tussocky shithole" (to quote NZPundit ) but it's a popular wind swept tussocky shithole.

Similarly its been suggested (to paraphrase Kiwi Blog) that the project would significantly reduce the amount of large bus traffic along Milford Road and the environmental damage this causes and would allow far more people to see Milford without the normal increase in traffic congestion.

Well, yes and no. The congestion at Milford is not just about the sheer numbers of people it's the fact that they are all trying to catch boats at the same time at Milford Sound.

Congestion will be removed from Te Anau to the gondola terminus but it will remain congested from there to Milford including the Homer Tunnel, which they would surely have to upgrade if numbers continued to increase. It would do nothing to solve any congestion in Milford itself. No one is really worried about environmental effects from the buses, as far as I know its all about numbers.

So what about the environmental effects of the gondola? Well firstly its worth pointing out that we aren't exactly short of tussock and beech forest especially in that area. The damage will be pretty localised. The land that is cleared during construction will regrow in time, and the tourists will even be able to wave at deer or see genuine introduced weeds as they glide over the cleared areas.

The most important environmental issue is sewage. They'll need to come up with some method of dealing with the sewage from all these visitors unless of course they're going to make them hang on until they get to Milford.

The other big problem is that at the moment the area is pristine and when Skyline and Ngai Tahu have finished, it won't be. That is a simple fact. The gondola and more likely the road they'll need to service it will spoil people's views. Sure they've said they'll paint the towers and gondola cars green. Unfortunately a green painted metal tower just looks like a green painted metal tower and not at all like a tree! Besides the things that will really draw someone's gaze are the movement and the sun reflecting off the gondola windows.

Even more intangible than the gondola spoiling the view is the effect it will have on people's recreation experience. People go to that area to get away from it all and to experience nature. If they come face to face with a Gondola or two full of waving Japanese tourists or even some wires and a pretty green metal tower, then that recreational experience is changed. Plain and simple. Maybe people can go somewhere else...maybe not...the important question is, should they have to?

I'm going to put a few other questions to our readers, and I don't pretend to have the answers to all of them.

  1. Why should New Zealanders sacrifice their enjoyment of the outdoors and be displaced from their favourite areas for the benefit of wealthy foreign tourists?
  2. How much development is acceptable in a national park?
  3. How much is too much development?
  4. When Milford Sound gets too congested should other areas of Fiordland be developed to remove the pressure?

I look forward to your comments.