A Far North tour operator who has been given no option but to pay for a concession that he cannot use has appealed to Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage.
Peter Birchall told the Minister that his company, Fish Far North Ltd., based at Waipapakauri Ramp, had paid more than $1800 for the right to take tourists to Te Paki Stream and Cape Rēinga. It had also needed the approval of two iwi. He had told the Department of Conservation that it was highly unlikely he would be taking tours on 90 Mile Beach while the country's borders were closed, and asked that the licence, which was coming up for renewal, be put "on hold," as he did not wish to cancel it and then reapply.
The initial response had been sympathetic, DOC saying concessions issues around the country were being considered, but that changed last week.
The department told Mr Birchall it understood that Covid-19 continued to generate significant financial uncertainty for many businesses, including those with which DOC worked closely.
"We have worked with our colleagues across government to take an all-of-government approach to debtors that is grounded in equity, is within the legislation we must comply with, and provides prudent financial record keeping," it said.
"Having considered these factors, we are unable to agree to your request for additional financial assistance. You should have received emails confirming that DOC has extended payment terms for invoices due in April and May, to May and June.
"We thank you for your patience at this time, and we wish you and your whānau all the best."
The decision, it added, was open to appeal within the department, which Birchall interpreted as an opportunity to spread the required payment over time.
Birchall told the Minister that Fish Far North had taken many 4WD tours up 90 Mile Beach, to Te Paki Stream and Cape Rēinga, but the last two years had been "very quiet." In 2018 he and his wife had been severely injured when their car collided with a vehicle driven on the wrong side of the road near Waipapakauri Ramp, and last year his wife had undergone treatment for cancer. He had hoped for better fortune in 2020, but then came Covid-19.
He was expecting an 80 per cent drop in business, given that most of his clients were overseas tourists, New Zealanders preferring cheaper bus tours or to drive themselves.
"Where is DOC's heart?" Birchall asked.
"I am a member of Pro Guides. I do tours all over New Zealand. We have been almost wiped out, yet DOC is holding out for fees for something we cannot utilise.
"We are survivors, and we will survive this. But it will hurt us significantly, and the sub-contractors who work for us when needed will have no more business from us for the foreseeable future.
"Some Cape Rēinga operators deal direct with the local iwi, and pay the per-person cost to them direct. We did it, we thought, the correct way, that being through DOC, to which we pay not only the per-person cost but also an annual fee.
We are lucky. We do have some holiday accommodation we will now target to Kiwis, but no more guiding for the foreseeable future. A lot of my colleagues in Pro Guides will now be unemployed. All we asked was, can we put our licence on hold?"