Geoff Cumming at NZ Herald reports:
It is the holy grail of New Zealand tourism: easing the path to Milford Sound for domestic and international tourists without destroying what lures them there in the first place – its scenery, ecological value and remoteness.
For decades, tourism entrepreneurs have laid schemes at the door of the Conservation Department without quite prising it open, from a coastal road defying engineering conventions to a gondola.
Now, DoC has allowed two proposals a foot in the door – one a bus-only tunnel with approach roads through two national parks; the other a “back-country experience” involving boat, 4WD bus and monorail. Both promise to cut in half the circuitous 4hr road journey from Queenstown to Milford around Lakes Wakatipu and Te Anau. The applicants plan international marketing to bring an estimated 20,000 extra visitors a year to New Zealand, targeting time-poor tourists who want the greatest hits at speed.
I would have thought environmentalists would be keen to support a tunnel that means that you don’t have scores of buses driving several hundred extra kms a day. But the reality is that many of them are preservationists – they oppose all change.
Opponents argue that getting there is half the fun: the existing route takes in outstanding natural landscapes
It’s simple. If there is a choice of routes, then everyone can be happy. It is true there are some good stops on the way, but the four hour trip back doesn’t see anything new. Some operators could do a loop – drive down via Te Anau but come back directly. That would mean that tourists would gain an extra two hours in Milford itself.