Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Gondola plan unveiled for Franz Josef Glacier

A helicopter landing on Franz Josef Glacier where Skyline Enterprises has plans to build a gondola
A helicopter landing on Franz Josef Glacier where Skyline Enterprises has plans to build a gondola

Plans to put a gondola up the Franz Josef Glacier have got the thumbs down from a conservation group that is worried at the growing strain on New Zealand's national parks.

Skyline Enterprises says the gondola system would run next to and above the glacier, which has been retreating in recent years.

The towers would be anchored to land and rock, not the ice, Skyline says.

It has had preliminary discussions with the Department of Conservation and "other parties," and will now fully study the installation of a gondola which it says will make public access to the glacier easier and more affordable.

But Forest&Bird says the plan reflects the pressure that is building on national parks and conservation land throughout New Zealand as tourism booms.

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT A GONDOLA AT FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER? SEND US YOUR THOUGHTS

"It poiints to a bigger problem around our special places like national parks coming under increased threat,'' said Jen Miller, Forest&Bird's Canterbury-West Coast conservation manager.

''The Government treats tourism as a commodity not unlike dairy and is using the Department of Conservatin as some sort of default tourism company.'' said Jen Miller, Forest&Bird's Canterbury-West Coast conservation manager.

Skyline says It does not yet know whether the project would be permitted in the sensitive area though.

The company runs helicopter tourism operations based at Franz and Fox on the West Coast and says it is well aware of the changes to the glaciers, which significantly limit public access.

"The Franz Josef Glacier was in a state of advance until 2008 when it began retreating. Following a spectacular collapse of the terminal face in 2012, it is now only accessible by helicopter to land and walk on the glacier," said Skyline chairman Mark Quickfall.

This stopped many visitors from experiencing the Glacier up close - outside of viewing from the base - unless they took a flight.

This was not always an option due to weather conditions and cost.

The investigation will take into account a number of factors and is dependent on satisfying considerations including environmental mitigation, plus technical and economic feasibility.

Skyline will consult a wide range of stakeholders in this regard, including Te Runanga o Makaawhio, Ngai Tahu, Franz Josef Community Council, West Coast Tai Poutini Conservation Board, Westland District Council, alpine groups, recreational users and all other relevant parties.

He said this would take "time, commitment and patience," Quickfall said.
Positive flow-on to the Franz Josef and West Coast communities and the New Zealand economy would be balanced against the environmental impacts.

Skyline would continue to engage with DOC on the Westland National Park Management Review to determine if the gondola system can be permitted, should all environmental issues be satisfied.

"Until significant progress has been made with the technical and economic viability, and further engagement with the Department of Conservation, local runanga and conservation board, Skyline is not in a position to provide detailed information," the company says.

Information sessions would also be held in Franz Josef in October.

Other companies have recently released plans for gondolas at The Remarkables and on Mt Ruapehu.

- NZ Herald

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