MOP’s masterplan recommends a raft of significant changes, many of which will affect operators at the destination.
Banning cruise ships, removing the Milford airport runway and charging international visitors for access are among the recommendations made by the Milford Opportunities Project’s masterplan.
The document, titled A Masterplan for Milford Sound Piopiotahi And The Journey, recommends a raft of changes including introducing a zero emission coach-based transport model, modernising infrastructure and developing multiple experiences along the Milford corridor.
It also recommends controlling access to Milford Sound Piopiotahi, a new governance model for the management of the area, stronger partnership with mana whenua Ngāi Tahu, a new innovative visitor centre at the destination, and a Te Anau hub to showcase the region.
The masterplan is not a statutory document and the final decision on any changes rests with the government.
It noted that some activities detracted from the area’s natural setting, including:
“The Milford Sound Piopiotahi aerodrome is not in a sustainable condition,” the document said.
“The runway floods at high spring tide, which will worsen as sea levels rise. The tarmac is also weakening due to decaying trees within the foundation, and the Cleddau River ground water is undermining the runway foundation.”
It wanted to phase out fixed-wing airplane flights and the aerodrome to “repurpose and reconnect place, enabling improved access to a range of services and attractions”.
The masterplan recommended requiring international visitors to pay a fee for entry into Milford Sound Piopiotahi to help fund infrastructure and operational costs, as well as local conservation initiatives. The fee would be collected as part of the booking process for accommodation or transport into the national park.
“Access for Aotearoa New Zealanders should continue to be free of charge but managed through a permit system,” the masterplan stated.
Tourism minister Stuart Nash said the plan marked another step to improved access and protection “of this jewel in our tourism crown”.
“Tourism at Milford Sound Piopiotahi cannot return to its pre-Covid state,” Nash said.
“Significant pressure from the 870,000 visitors in 2019 undermines cultural and environmental values and infrastructure. As a tourist experience, it was crowded, rushed, noisy and unsafe.”
He added that MOP’s masterplan followed four years of work by cross-agency representatives, mana whenua, commercial interests and the wider community.
“We acknowledge the work of the expert MOP group led by Dr Keith Turner. It has delivered a high-quality masterplan, underpinned by robust research. The project now moves to stage three, and a new governance structure is required to oversee next steps.”
A ministerial group covering tourism, transport and conservation portfolios would oversee the formation of a new establishment board to be chaired by Turner and supported by a dedicated unit.
Nash said the unit would work through the MOP recommendations, assessing them to ensure they were feasible and deliverable.
The project was launched in 2016 and has received millions in funding, including $3m in 2019 from the International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy to develop a plan, and $15m announced in May from the government’s Tourism Communities: Support, Recovery and Re-set Plan to help implement the masterplan’s recommendations.
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