By MONIQUE DEVEREUX South Island correspondent



A $100 million gondola project to link Queenstown and the Milford Sound is inching closer to reality but, if approved, is still five years away.



The Milford Skytrail would be the longest gondola ride in the world and stretch for 12km, carrying 900 passengers an hour between the Milford Road and the Caples Valley.



The proposal is a joint venture between Skyline Enterprises, which runs the Queenstown and Rotorua gondolas, and Ngai Tahu Holdings.

Advertisement


An application for resource consent will be lodged soon and is expected to attract a lot of opposition.



Critics say the gondola system would damage the environment and ruin the landscape, as well as divert millions of tourist dollars away from Te Anau - the town on the only road into the sound.



But Barry Thomas, chairman of Skyline Enterprises, said that of all the proposals for another route into Milford Sound, the gondola was the least obtrusive.



The ride would take 35 minutes from the Caples Valley, through the Greenstone Valley and across the Fiordland National Park, adjacent to the Milford-Te Anau road. It would include a ferry from Queenstown across Lake Wakatipu, and shuttles at each end.



The trip would be split into two sections, but both involved travelling between 6m and 40m above the ground.



The Queenstown end would start with cabins seating eight people, and later in the journey passengers would transfer into the more robust funitel cabins, which hold 24 people each.



The funitel system uses two supporting wires instead of one and is safer in particularly windy areas. The redesign to incorporate the funitel cabins has pushed the cost of the Milford Skytrail up by $20 million from when it was first proposed three years ago.



At the moment the return trip from Queenstown to the Milford sound takes 12 hours and Skyline Enterprises says the gondola would cut three hours off the journey.



Mr Thomas said the cabins would "blend into the vegetation" and the system would be silent.



Construction is estimated to take 18 months and employ about 40 people. Once underway Milford Skytrail would employ a further 70 people.



Mr Thomas said there would be benefits for tourists and the tourism industry.



Because of its remote location, Milford Sound has a problem with congestion - tourists do not arrive any earlier that 11am and have to leave by 3pm to ensure the journey back does not take all night.



But its popularity means up to 40 buses can arrive at the same time each day.



Mr Thomas said the Milford Skyline could bring people in as early as 10am and they might not have to leave until 6pm.



The congestion is so bad the Department of Conservation recently suggested limiting the number of people and buses going to Milford Sound each day.






Heavy opposition expected



for Milford gondola project




Flag1: ENVIRONMENT




Caption1: UP AND OVER: The proposed route for the Greenstone-Caples gondola. The journey, expected to cut three hours off the travel time to Milford Sound, would include a ferry ride across Lake Wakitipu and shuttles at either end of the gondola.




Blurb1: Critics say shortcut designed to ease congestion will ruin the landscape




By MONIQUE DEVEREUX SOUTH ISLAND CORRESPONDENT



A $100 million gondola project to link Queenstown and the Milford Sound is inching closer to reality but, if approved, is still five years away.



The Milford Skytrail would be the longest gondola ride in the world and stretch for 12km, carrying 900 passengers an hour between the Milford Road and the Caples Valley.



The proposal is a joint venture between Skyline Enterprises, which runs the Queenstown and Rotorua gondolas, and Ngai Tahu Holdings.



An application for resource consent will be lodged soon and is expected to attract a lot of opposition.



Critics say the gondola system would damage the environment and ruin the landscape, as well as divert millions of tourist dollars away from Te Anau - the town on the only road into the sound.



But Barry Thomas, chairman of Skyline Enterprises, said that of all the proposals for another route into Milford Sound, the gondola was the least obtrusive.



The ride would take 35 minutes from the Caples Valley, through the Greenstone Valley and across the Fiordland National Park, adjacent to the Milford-Te Anau road. It would include a ferry from Queenstown across Lake Wakatipu, and shuttles at each end.



The trip would be split into two sections, but both involved travelling between 6m and 40m above the ground.



The Queenstown end would start with cabins seating eight people, and later in the journey passengers would transfer into the more robust funitel cabins, which hold 24 people each.



The funitel system uses two supporting wires instead of one and is safer in particularly windy areas. The redesign to incorporate the funitel cabins has pushed the cost of the Milford Skytrail up by $20 million from when it was first proposed three years ago.



At the moment the return trip from Queenstown to the Milford sound takes 12 hours and Skyline Enterprises says the gondola would cut three hours off the journey.



Mr Thomas said the cabins would "blend into the vegetation" and the system would be silent.



Construction is estimated to take 18 months and employ about 40 people. Once underway Milford Skytrail would employ a further 70 people.



Mr Thomas said there would be benefits for tourists and the tourism industry.



Because of its remote location, Milford Sound has a problem with congestion - tourists do not arrive any earlier that 11am and have to leave by 3pm to ensure the journey back does not take all night.



But its popularity means up to 40 buses can arrive at the same time each day.



Mr Thomas said the Milford Skyline could bring people in as early as 10am and they might not have to leave until 6pm.



The congestion is so bad the Department of Conservation recently suggested limiting the number of people and buses going to Milford Sound each day.