A proposed gondola to the Franz Josef Glacier is winning early support from West Coast interests, but the project could take five years to get off the ground, the company behind it says.
Queenstown-based tourism giant Skyline Enterprises announced yesterday it was investigating building a gondola that would run alongside and above the 12km-long glacier in Westland Tai Poutini National Park.
Skyline chairman Mark Quickfall said the major collapse of the glacier's terminal face in 2012 had restricted the ability of visitors to take guided walks on the glacier.
Apart from walking to the glacier's base, the only way to see it up close was with a helicopter landing, which was a much more costly option for visitors and subject to weather.
''The bottom line is that a gondola would make it far more accessible, pretty much 365 days of the year.''
Skyline's vision was to offer visitors a high-quality experience that was environmentally sensitive, Quickfall said.
''We don't want to be a blot on the landscape.''
The company had discussed the proposal with the Department of Conservation (Doc), the Government, Opposition and a ''wide range of people''.
Tourism West Coast chief executive Jim Little said the idea was absolutely fantastic and would prolong the life of the glacier as a tourist attraction.
''This would open up access for many more people.''
A proposal for a gondola near Franz Josef glacier was investigated in the 1980s by Christchurch engineer and businessman Peter Yeoman, who died in 2001. It would have accessed a viewing lounge on Roberts Point, above the glacier.
West Coast Tasman MP Damien O'Connor said Yeoman did a lot of work to try to get the gondola ''off the ground''.
At the time it was seen as a step too far but with the growth in tourism it would be a great asset to tourism in Westland.
''It was a visionary concept in the '80s and its time has come.''
Quickfall said the company announced its intentions yesterday because a 10-yearly review of the Westland National Park's management plan was under way.
Building a gondola at either Franz Josef or Fox Glaciers was not permitted under the park's existing plan, so the company was preparing a submission requesting the new plan allow a gondola to be considered.
The deadline for the first phase of public consultation on the review was October 21. The company wanted to begin technical feasibility work.
''So we thought we'd front-foot this and make people aware what our intentions are.''
It was a visionary concept in the '80s and its time has come.
Skyline would consult many groups including the local runanga, Ngai Tahu, the Franz Josef Community Council, West Coast Tai Poutini Conservation Board, the Westland District Council, alpine groups and recreational users.
It would hold public information sessions in Franz Josef next month.
Doc director of planning, permissions and land Marie Long confirmed Skyline had formally approached the department about the idea.
Glacier Valley sat within Westland Tai Poutini National Park, and its management plan did not allow for such a structure to be built, Long said.
A change to the plan would need to be made to allow that.
Quickfall said if the plan allowed for a gondola, the next step would be to apply to Doc for a concession.
However, the project would be a ''marathon not a sprint''.
''We'll just keep working away at it - I would say this could be anywhere up to a five-year project.''
- Otago Daily Times