Lynley Bilby is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Fears of 80 helicopters a day over Fiordland

Increasing the number of helicopters that have access to Fiordland National Park has recreational mountaineers and trampers fearing the worst. Photo / Mark Watson/Highluxphoto
Increasing the number of helicopters that have access to Fiordland National Park has recreational mountaineers and trampers fearing the worst. Photo / Mark Watson/Highluxphoto

A pristine, remote landing site high in Fiordland National Park is about to have its daily limit of helicopter landings soar from 10 to potentially 80 a day.

The Department of Conservation (DoC) is looking to increase the number of tourist helicopter flights landing on the Ngapunatoru Ice Plateau underneath the highest peak in the Darran Mountains.

There are currently nine helicopter companies that have an ability to use the glacial landing site, though not all companies fly into the area at the moment.

But moves to raise the limit has recreational mountaineers and trampers fearing the worst, saying if all companies take up their allotment there will be the non-stop buzz of helicopters throughout the day.

Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand president Robin McNeill said the major concern centred on the flight path the tourist helicopters would take over a protected wilderness range.

"It's not the landings that are the problem but the overflights. We face having two helicopters in the air at any one time flying over the Harrison Valley in the Pembroke Wilderness Area."

He said the area needed to remain protected and there were plenty of potential landing sites elsewhere in South Island national parks that could provide tourists with a memorable wilderness experience.

"There's aircraft like crazy up on the West Coast and Mt Cook. Do you really have to be on virgin snow?" asked Mr McNeill.

"We've drawn a line in the snow in this one and don't want to see more landings here."

Mr McNeill said the eventual reality could be far worse than feared with helicopters rivalling the Milford Sound sandflies and a daunting prospect of up to 160 daily flights flying across the back country.

The organisation had met with the government department before Christmas and had lobbied for alternate landing sites. The FMC had also called for a more democratic approach into any proposed flight changes through a national park management review.

New Zealand Alpine Tramping Club executive committee chairman Geoff Gabites said the organisation was also concerned how a sudden surge in flights would impact the environment.

"If everyone took up their allotment there would be a continuous stream of take offs and landings. It would certainly impact it.

"The view that we would have is that there would be considerable concern, firstly about the number of potential landings and, secondly, the lack of consultation in that matter by DoC."

He said the national alpine club was not aware of consultation with the wider recreational community.

He said people went into the wilderness to get away from the noise and clutter of city life and to be subject to the constant drone of helicopters would defeat the purpose of the escaping to the great outdoors.

Tourism Industry Association of New Zealand chief executive Chris Roberts today accused some in the outdoor lobby of scaremongering, saying DoC was always mindful of balancing the need for conservation with tourism.

Part of its role was to encourage people to get out and experience the natural landscape.
"To suggest if you closed your eyes it would be like the Auckland motorway is clearly a significant exaggeration of a circumstance that is going to occur," he said.

Most New Zealanders and overseas tourists did not have the expertise or luxury of time to strap on a backpack and go bush for days at a time.

"The reality is that's not the only way to experience it and for many people a helicopter is going to be the best way to do that."

He said the Mt Tutoko glacier was a vastly underestimated natural attraction but growing in popularity alongside the already famous Fox and Franz Josef glaciers.

Increasing the flights was a great initiative by DoC to allow more people to visit and experience the stunning wilderness landscape.

A growing number of people were taking to social media to express how troubled they were by the proposal.

Wrote Julie Burton of Facebook: "As a regular visitor to NZ, I find this deplorable. NZ's biggest appeal (for me) is it's purity, serenity and majesty. You have a unique country with all those beautiful wild areas. Please don't spoil this through over-commercialisation.

"So so shortsighted. I go into the wilderness to enjoy the serenity, the peace and quiet, the birdsong, the rustling of the trees, the sounds of water -- not the roar of 10 helicopters an hour flying overhead -- more than that cos the 80 don't include those flights that don't land," wrote Stephanie Grace Berry.

The Department of Conservation was approached for comment but has yet to respond.

NZH

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 20 Jan 2017 21:36:25 Processing Time: 562ms