Arguments for and against the Fiordland Monorail

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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