There is massive potential for iwi investment in tourism but a proposed Rangitoto zipline attraction and gondola will need to stack up financially, says an industry boss.

James Brown, chair of Ngai Tai ki Tāmaki, revealed the plans today, saying it was important more people visit Rangitoto as well as Motutapu: "We want to make these iconic landscapes accessible so a zipline is possible and also a gondola."

James Brown with Rachel Hunter and DoC's Hazel Speed on Motutapu. Photo / Jason Oxenham
James Brown with Rachel Hunter and DoC's Hazel Speed on Motutapu. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Chris Roberts, Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive, said he supported iwi in their aspirations but the provision of big tourism infrastructure needed to make sense financially.

"It's good seeing iwi wanting to invest in tourism. The leading light in Ngāi Tahu with all their investments," he said, referring to the portfolio of Ngāi Tahu Tourism which includes the Shotover Jet, Guided Walks New Zealand, Dart River, Franz Josef Glacier Guides, Glacier Hot Pools, Huka Falls Jet, Agrodome, Rainbow Springs, Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters and its Earth & Sky joint venture.


"Tourism investments are long-term investments and they sit very well with Māori in terms of their inter-generational investments. There's still massive potential for iwi investment in tourism," Roberts said.

Read more: Auckland iwi Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki lays out bikes and beds plans for Motutapu
Read more: Rangitoto zipline, gondola rides suggested: iwi plan to make island more accessible

But developing large-scale tourism infrastructure needed detailed analysis, feasibility and business case studies, he stressed.

"It's not simply a matter of 'build it and the visitors will come'. You need to ensure it's the right infrastructure in the right place. In particular, ziplines and gondolas are something that are advocated in a number of locations around New Zealand. Where we do have them, they have been successful but not in other places. People have worked out it's not going to be a good investment so they would want to be careful," Roberts said of Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki's scheme.

Marie Long, the Department of Conservation's planning, permissions and land director, said any zipline or lodge application would need to go through the full process to assess the impacts on conservation.

"DOC hasn't yet received any applications of this nature for Rangitoto or Motutapu. We look forward to working with Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki on the future management of the islands," Long said.

On social media, critics said they hoped the Rangitoto scheme never eventuated because the island should not be spoilt by commercial operations.

"Sacrilege," said one Herald reader, while others called the scheme crass, stupid and intrusive. Some wanted just the zipline and not the gondola, while pleas were for the island to stay "unspoiled, undeveloped".

Ngāti Whātua Orākei's Ngarimu Blair backed the iwi plans and said there were
Ngāti Whātua Orākei's Ngarimu Blair backed the iwi plans and said there were "exciting ventures in the pipeline". Photo / Dean Purcell

Steve Armitage, GM Destination at Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed), said: "A key outcome of the Destination AKL 2025 strategy launched last year is developing cultural assets that encourage visitors to Auckland to stay longer and spend more.

"The zipline and gondola is an interesting concept which we would be keen to learn more about. It's great to see Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki continuing to show a strong interest in developing further tourism product in Auckland in a way which can showcase Māori culture and our natural landscapes."

Questions about the scheme were also put to Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage and Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis.

"Might as well build a four-lane bridge and a Maccas on the summit," said one opponent on the Herald's Facebook page.

Ngarimu Blair, a rangatira of Ngāti Whātua Orākei, backed the iwi plans for the two motu and said there were "exciting ventures in the pipeline".

Blair said: "Ngāti Whātua totally supports Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki as the ahi kaa and lead iwi at Rangitoto and Motutapu. We gave formal support in their legal case against the Crown and DoC in the early stages and fully congratulate them on their win in the Supreme Court to have their rights recognised."

A new Māori tourism strategy would be launched soon and the iwi had shared ideas. Blair hopes Tāmaki Makaurau would have "many authentic, sustainable Māori experiences" in future.

Ziplines - which are sometimes call a flying fox - have not been without dangers. In 2014, the Herald reported on how 53-year-old Kawakawa man Moses Tohu was killed when he plunged from a flying fox at a Christmas party.

That same year, a 10-year-old boy was in Starship Hospital in a serious but stable condition after seriously injuring his back when he fell 7m from a flying fox on Waiheke Island.