Arguments for and against the Fiordland Monorail

September 17th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Bob Robertson puts the case for his proposed Fiordland monorail:

Tourism directly and indirectly employs more than 180,000 people and is worth $10 billion to our economy each year. We need to continue to innovate in our tourism offering and deliver on our marketing promise. We need new initiatives, ideally three or four of them, or we will lose our competitive edge.

The Link Experience is one such initiative. Through a three-stage trip via catamaran across Lake Wakatipu, off-road vehicle on existing backcountry roads and monorail to Te Anau Downs, it would open up an area of spectacular beauty for people of all ages and all abilities.

It would show off the pristine Fiordland National Park without actually entering it, contrary to the perception opponents have deliberately fostered.

This is a key point, that I for one was surprised to learn.

We only need to look across the Tasman to see how a tourism development can be successfully achieved in a World Heritage area.

When the Cairns Skyrail was being proposed for the Barron Gorge National Park in the 1990s there were marches in the street and protesters attempted to block construction.

And the Skyrail today is one of the most popular attractions in the area. I’ve used it twice to see their magnificent park.

In New Zealand, there is an elitist sentiment among some that we should lock up our conservation estate for the few who are capable of physically reaching it. They believe business has no place in nature.

In reality, 44 per cent of the South Island is in the conservation estate and hosts about 2800 commercial concessions, including roughly 500 that are tourism or recreation-related.

It isn’t a question of either business or conservation. They can and do co- exist.

Even the Milford Track has huts on it, you don’t require people to sleep in tents.

We would not be committed to the Fiordland Link Experience if we did not believe the construction and operation could be achieved with only minimal impact on the environment and recreational users.

The reasoning is simple – we want to celebrate our nature and show it off. It is in our interests to protect nature, because that’s the experience we’re selling.

As a hunter and fisher who has spent thousands of hours in the surrounding area, I know there is room for a world- class tourism experience.

It will reinvigorate the tourism market in Fiordland, stimulate the economy, bring jobs and enable us to market the entire region, including Te Anau, to the world. All without a cent of taxpayer money.

I like the last point.

Bill Jarvie argues against:

The “experience” would not reduce the travel time for Milford Sound tourists. Once off-loaded from the monorail they would be bussed for another 1 1/2 hours to Milford. In one day they would endure a minimum of 12 changes of transport in a convoluted return trip.

That to me is not a reason to refuse consent. That’s a commercial issue for the operator. If few people want to change transport that often, then they won’t get many customers.

What has changed from inception is that the intended destination of the monorail is to the company’s hotel/restaurant site at Te Anau Downs, avoiding tourist-dependent Te Anau.

Te Anau is vibrant and superbly set up with international class hotels, award-winning motels and restaurants. It is the most appropriate destination en route to Milford Sound.

Again, that is a commercial not a conservation decision. The opposition is sounding more like economic protectionism than conservation.

In order to achieve the numbers, Riverstone would construct more than 29 kilometres of elevated concrete and steel monorail plus permanent parallel construction-maintenance roading through remote World Heritage forest and river valleys.

What Jarvie doesn’t say is that it doesn’t pass through the Fiordland National Park itself, and only around 2 hectares (a minuscule amount) of World Heritage area is impacted.

MR Robertson’s comparison with the Cairns Skytrail is amusing. The Skytrail is a leisurely traverse of the tree tops through what was already a developed landscape. Trees were specifically avoided, not felled.

Passengers can step out at mid- stations to experience the forest interior from boardwalks and lookouts, and spend time in an interpretation centre.

To meet its timetable the monorail ride would be at speeds up to 90kmh through a blur of forest interior.

Again, that to me is a commercial not a conservation decision. If people don’t want to travel on a fast moving monorail, they won’t.

There are already better means for tourists of all capabilities to experience what sets us apart from the rest of the world.

There are hundreds of non- destructive concessionaires, many of whom have been vocal in their opposition to this proposal.

Which again suggests to me, that economic protectionism is what appears to be driving some of the opposition.

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36 Responses to “Arguments for and against the Fiordland Monorail”

  1. Bill Ted (80 comments) says:

    I admit I’ve been following this pretty closely because I’m reasonably supportive of the monorail proposal. I think it has potential. Jarvie seems to have lost the plot a bit. He doesn’t actually put up any real reasons other than he’s worried Te Anau doesn’t have the chops to attract tourists if this goes ahead. That’s pretty defeatist really. Te Anau Downs is about 30km away so Te Anau really should be the key benefactor if they make an effort.

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  2. scrubone (3,048 comments) says:

    I’m always incredulous that people can talk about something with such a small footprint ruining everything.

    Have they even been in our vast wildernesses? There’s plenty to go around.

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  3. wreck1080 (3,733 comments) says:

    I like the monorail idea.

    But, such ideas usually get squashed by maori who appear to object by default to anything not lining their own pockets.

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  4. Bill Ted (80 comments) says:

    And where he gets his ‘facts’ from I’m not sure. 12 changes? From a quick look on their website the Fiordland Link Experience requires two changes each way, so that’s four. If tourists choose to go on to Milford that’s up to them, but I still don’t know where he’s found another eight changes from. Bizarre.

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  5. leftyliberal (642 comments) says:

    Sounds like it’s more of a Shelbyville idea.

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  6. Jim (400 comments) says:

    Lol. Beat me to it. Lyle Lanley would know.

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  7. Steve Wrathall (243 comments) says:

    And multiple changes of transport is actually a great tourist experience. e.g. Lake Manapouri-Doubtful Sound. Build it

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  8. Yoza (1,547 comments) says:

    I swear it’s Springfield’s only choice
    Throw up your hands and raise your voice

    Monorail
    What’s it called?
    Monorail
    Once again
    Monorail

    But Main Street’s still all cracked and broken
    Sorry, Mom, the mob has spoken

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  9. Yoza (1,547 comments) says:

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  10. Alan (1,064 comments) says:

    Is there an economic monorail anywhere in the world ? I was woken last night by the Sydney one being ripped out.

    In terms of this one, don’t really care as long as I don’t need to pay for it.

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  11. Gaharis (2 comments) says:

    Going right back to the 1980′s the arguments about alternative access from Queenstown to Milford Sound have had more to do with the various vested financial interests than environmental issues. Simply if there is an alternative means of getting from Queenstown to Milford Sound some tourists will take it and the loser in every proposal (if my memory is correct) is Te Anau. Its not in the interests of Te Anau for there to be any alternative route so that Milford Sound can only be reached by those willing to travel via Te Anau or able to fly in from Queenstown. Milford Sound is one of the reasons tourists want to visit Queenstown and Te Anau is largely irrelevant in those circumstances, except of course for those with a vested interest in Te Anau.

    As you have suggested many of the so called environmental issues are not that at all.

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  12. Sir Cullen's Sidekick (788 comments) says:

    I am sure the new PM David Curryleaf will make this happen….

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  13. Johnboy (14,998 comments) says:

    If the windows open, you have a rest for your rifle and a GPS signal for the lackeys to go and collect the carcase, I can’t see the problem! :)

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  14. Colville (2,082 comments) says:

    Johnboy, I have read that there will be a no shooting zone of 2 kms (?) eitherside of mono if it happens.
    Hunters obviously hate the idea.

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  15. Colville (2,082 comments) says:

    Gaharis.

    Having only lived in NZ all of my 46 years and I have never been to Te Anau , the only reason to go there is if you want to go underground at Manapori?

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  16. Johnboy (14,998 comments) says:

    I suppose the bastards won’t supply a socket for a blokes spotlight either?

    Fukem! :)

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  17. noskire (832 comments) says:

    Queenstown and Te Anau are two very seperate tourism markets.

    As it is, the majority of coach/tour companies from Queenstown bypass Te Anau anyway, down Sandy Brown Road. The rest only stop in Te Anau for a toilet/tea break.

    Te Anau is is quite a different tourism destination – it appeals to “freedom travellers”, as a base to walk the Kepler, Milford or Hollyford tracks. Typically this means they are low spenders. Te Anau will lose nothing from the monorail.

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  18. Colville (2,082 comments) says:

    Johnboy. Its DOC land . It would be quite illegal to use a spotlight!

    Bad boy!

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  19. Wynston Cooper (3 comments) says:

    In the words of Mark Twain “First get your facts right, then you may distort them as you choose”.
    If the monorail neither passes through nor beside Fiordland National Park, how can it “show off the pristine Fiordland National Park”?
    The monorail would cross 29.5 km of conservation land, all of which forms part of the Te Wahipounamu – South-West New Zealand Heritage Area. Even if it were to only require a strip 6 metres wide that would involve 17.7 hectares, not 2! Then there is also about an equivalent area required for the construction/access road.
    Given that beech trees, red beech in particular, are very susceptible to wind damage and windthrow, there is no way that the clearance will be able to be confined to the width Mr Robertson claims, not if he wants to avoid damage to the structure and/ or the monorail vehicles. This could mean a strip of anything up to 60+ metres wide needing to be cleared. The application states that some 19,000 trees of varying sizes will need to be cleared for the minimal proposal. I hate to think what would actually be required.
    Finally, “Bill Ted” needs to not take everything he reads at face value. To get from Queenstown to Te Anau Downs (the site of hotel/motel/backpacker accommodation owned by the applicants) would involve getting on and off a boat, on and off a 4wd bus, on and off the monorail. Then, if the passengers wished to go to Milford Sound (the very reason that the whole proposal is being advocated) they would need to get on and off a bus. Once at Milford they would almost certainly want to have a trip on the sound so would need to get on and off a boat before returning to Queenstown the same way!

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  20. lolitasbrother (482 comments) says:

    Yes,as a South Islander I would like to see a rail go through.
    I often go to Glenorchy and I can tell you the opposition to the trail is intense,
    It is intense, they do not want it.
    You New Zealanders allowed the RMA to be passed, so suck this, the locals will not allow it.
    Go to Glenorchy and see the signs for yourself.
    They want nothing of Asian tourists.
    That is the way it is , and if you go down there tyou will see their point.
    Tourists suck, every where they go they suck ,they leave crap,
    especialllly Europeans thay suck .
    Forget about the mono rail we have decided .

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  21. lolitasbrother (482 comments) says:

    Yes,as a South Islander I would like to see a rail go through.
    I often go to Glenorchy and I can tell you the opposition to the trail is intense,
    It is intense, they do not want it.
    You New Zealanders allowed the RMA to be passed, so suck this, the locals will not allow it.
    Go to Glenorchy and see the signs for yourself.
    They want nothing of Asian tourists.
    That is the way it is , and if you go down there tyou will see their point.
    Tourists suck, every where they go they suck ,they leave crap,
    especialllly Europeans they suck .
    Forget about the mono rail we have decided .

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  22. Johnboy (14,998 comments) says:

    The bloody South Island survives on tourists spending their dollar lolitasbrother.

    No use getting all racist about it now when you have been happy to take the Asian money for years.

    Maybe you should get onboard the money revolution and open a driving school to teach the dickheads what side of the road we drive on here instead of bloody moaning! :)

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  23. noskire (832 comments) says:

    @Johnboy

    Whilst I agree with you giving lolitasbrother a serving, I have to disagree about your statement to a degree. The South Island doesn’t rely on tourism, the bulk of the SI economy is primarily export-driven – dairy, wine and aluminium. If anywhere in NZ, it would be Auckland that relies on tourism.

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  24. expat (4,048 comments) says:

    ALU now there’s a growth sector.

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  25. noskire (832 comments) says:

    My bad, inbound tourism is counted as exports as well.

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  26. expat (4,048 comments) says:

    Geez monorail would look great in a national park half built / with a new “visitor centre”/hotel at the half way point/insert other route here.

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  27. expat (4,048 comments) says:

    It ain’t gonna fly.

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  28. Kea (11,878 comments) says:

    In New Zealand, there is an elitist sentiment among some that we should lock up our conservation estate for the few who are capable of physically reaching it.

    This is not a good argument. Would the monorail be free, so as not to exclude the elite few with enough money ? Should we all be allowed to play for the All Blacks, not just those physically capable ?

    However, I am for the monorail and it will do no real harm to environment. They can use it to ferry hunters around, who will of course ride for free. The hunters will keep the deer numbers down offsetting any possible environmental concerns and eliminating the need for 1080. Johnboy can spotlight at night and the train can be kitted out with lights for that purpose, along with a stop button only available to shooters. Greenies will be welcome too and some WWII era box carts can be provided for that purpose.

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  29. Johnboy (14,998 comments) says:

    I like the way you’re thinking Kea. We just have to keep campers/trampers/greenies outside the spotlight zone. I suggest an electric fence at say 33kv using up some of that spare Meridian power as Tiwai winds down! :)

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  30. Kea (11,878 comments) says:

    Johnboy , greenies can retrieve the shot deer from the night before as they count insects and molds in the leaf litter. Meanwhile vast flocks of Kea will dismantle their polluting cars back at the road end. I have thought of everything :)

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  31. Bill Ted (80 comments) says:

    Wynston Cooper, aka Bill Jarvie, you clearly don’t know where the end destination is do you? Te Anau Downs looks out directly at the Fiordland National Park – that’s the entire point. So you’ve decided to add in an additional eight changes of transport that have nothing to do with this project. Why not add in the flights as well? If they’re coming from China, that’s at least another six changes, throw in a few taxis and we’re really talking. If tourists want to get on it, let them. There are ways to limit the environmental impacts and no doubt that’s the only way this will be approved.

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  32. Wynston Cooper (3 comments) says:

    Bill Ted, I suggest you read the application. The stated purpose of the proposal is to provide an alternative way for people to get from Queenstown to Milford Sound.
    As to Te Anau Downs, the hotel/motel/backpacker accommodation owned by the applicants is on a leased area of open and largely grassed land within Fiordland National Park. The outlook to the west is across Lake Te Anau to the Murchison and Stuart Mountains all of which (including the lake) is in the national park.
    Unless one is intending to take the boat up the lake to the start of the Milford track and/or walk the very short Lake Mistletoe track there is virtually nothing else to do at do at Te Anau Downs, so why would anyone want to just stop there?
    Finally, I take total exception to your inference that I am Mr Jarvie writing under another name! Unlike you I have the courage of my convictions to write under my own name, not hide behind a nom de plume!

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  33. Bill Ted (80 comments) says:

    I take your point Wynston, however where tourists choose to go and what they do after they get to Te Anau Downs is up to them. It’s called freedom. If they decide to go to Te Anau would you be opposed to that? Your opposition is clear – you don’t want people going to Milford Sound without passing through Te Anau. You want the status quo of buses lining the roads choking up the air with their exhaust fumes on a 10-hour return trip, just so they can briefly stop off for a bite to eat and a drink. That’s a fair objection, but it’s also protectionism so it’s irrelevant. I’ve been to Te Anau, it’s pretty, but it’s also incredibly boring. If it’s forced to up its game by the monorail then that’s a good thing.

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  34. Wynston Cooper (3 comments) says:

    No, my concern is the potential ecological impact on the part of the Snowdon Forest that would be involved and the loss of the Kiwiburn Track which is “valued by “the community as one of the best backcountry, ‘first time overnight’ experiences in the region for young families and new trampers.” (Southland Murihiku Conservation Management Strategy 2014-2024, Department of Conservation, DRAFT June 2013).
    Very few Queenstown-Milford Sound buses stop at Te Anau for “a bite to eat and drink”. Most are going like the clappers to get to Milford so the passengers can ‘enjoy’ their boxed or smorgasbord lunch on board the boat during their trip on the sound.
    Given that the total trip would be actively promoted as a Queenstown to Milford Sound package (businesses in Queenstown would be totally anti to anything other than that) one can rest assured that the vast majority of people would take it as just that.
    Finally, should the proposal go ahead there will still be plenty of “exhaust fumes” about from the boat on the 25km across Lake Wakatipu, the 4wd 40 seater buses (four at a time if the monorail is to be filled) on the 45km trip along gravel roads from Mt Nicholas to the Kiwburn, and then on the 90km bus trip from Te Anau Downs to Milford Sound.

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  35. Bill Ted (80 comments) says:

    Wynston, if you are opposed to any sort of development in the forest then that’s an entirely legitimate position to take, there’s no need to dress up the Queenstown – Milford argument because that’s purely commercial. If it works it works. I’m comfortable with the monorail taking up only a tiny fraction of the forest (22ha out of 47,000) and knowing DOC the developers will get hammered with conditions and costs. If they can make it work and DOC gets what it wants then why not? Sure a couple of hundred recreational users will be impacted, but taking into account the entire World Heritage area is 2.6 million hectares, there’s no shortage of space down there. These guys are willing to invest something like $180 million dollars in our economy. It might take some getting used to but it seems like a no-brainer really. Obviously there’s no changing your mind, and that’s fine.

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  36. TM (98 comments) says:

    If they are allowed to build it they should be forced to provide a deposit to cover the dismantling of the monorail if they go bankrupt.

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