The Department of Conservation and Air New Zealand have struck a deal which will see the airline pay around $3m to promote and protect the country's nine Great Walks and the native species which inhabit them.

Under the partnership, announced today (Friday), Air New Zealand will promote the walks to international and domestic tourism markets.

It will also fly endangered species to new breeding sites around the country and invest in conservation programmes alongside the walks.

The Great Walks _ the Milford Track, the Routeburn Track, the Kepler Track, Abel Tasman Coast Track, the Heaphy Track, the Tongariro Northern Circuit, the Whanganui Journey, the Rakiura Track and the Lake Waikaremoana Track _ are experienced by about 50,000 people every year and return about $3 million.


Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe said the airline needed to take an environmental leadership position to ensure New Zealand's economic prosperity, given its reliance on tourism.

The national carrier would pay about $1m a year for the next three years.

"The great walks biodiversity partnership will enable important conservation biodiversity projects to take place in the vicinity of these walks and also help promote these gems in New Zealand's natural tourism crown to domestic and international tourists like never before,'' Mr Fyfe said.

A global competition called "the Great Walker" would also be launched, giving one person from anywhere in world the opportunity to complete all nine walks in nine weeks.

Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson said the partnership showed how conservation and tourism go hand-in-hand.

"For example, new biodiversity initiatives on the Great Walks network will boost protection for rare birds and plants. Money saved transporting threatened species will be directed into field work,'' she said.

Prime Minister John Key said the initiative showed how successful partnerships between the government and the private sector could be.

"The balancing act always for the Government is how do you get economic growth and do something in such a way that actually preserves the environment? This is a great example of that,'' he said.