The number of visitors annoyed by the continual thud of aircraft flying over Fox and Franz Josef glaciers has increased to almost one in four.

The Department of Conservation undertook two surveys over summer, and both generally show high visitor satisfaction in the glacier valleys. The surveys were done after DOC allowed more flights over Franz Josef Glacier after the collapse of an ice cave wiped out foot access.

The first survey showed that visitors to the Franz valley were mostly overseas, first-time visitors who were satisfied or very satisfied with their visit and did not mind the 5.2km return walking distance to the glacier viewpoint.

However, people "disliked" most not being able to get closer to the glacier or touch the ice, with the weather coming a close second.


The second aircraft monitoring survey showed that, although over half (61 per cent) of all visitors to the glacier valleys felt 'neutral' in terms of how aircraft had affected their visits, 24.8 per cent of respondents reported being 'annoyed' by aircraft.

DOC South Westland area manager Wayne Costello, commissioned Espiner Consulting Ltd to carry out the surveys of 1717 people.

"Warming climates and glacial recession present challenges for the continuation of easy and safe access to the ice and increased the necessity for aircraft use," Mr Costello said.

The surveys would help DOC and the West Coast Conservation Board consider submissions on proposed amendments to the Westland Tai Poutini National Park Management Plan, including whether to extend road access closer to the glacier terminal face.

"This survey has provided valuable information on how visitors to the valleys feel about aircraft noise and it is our responsibility to respond. This will require all parties involved with glacier tourism to work together, to ensure the glacier valleys remain the No 1 drawcard on the Coast."

Mr Costello said the Westland glaciers and a walk on a glacier were still the top attractions on the West Coast and maintaining quality experiences and supporting tourism in the region was of paramount importance to DOC.

- The Greymouth Star