There seems to be something in the water in South Westland, that wild fringe land of legends on the edge of Fiordland. Something that consistently generates uneconomic transport projects designed to funnel people to Milford Sound. And funnel the tourist dollar into private pockets.

In the past ten years the area has seen proposals for gondolas, tunnels and monorails, all on or under protected public conservation land and national parks, and now, a resurrected Haast Hollyford Road proposal.

None of the proposals were good, or necessary, but a road is the worst. It would carve a scar for 120 kilometres through a World Heritage Area and two national parks, cross New Zealand's largest unbridged river, and destroy a successful iwi-run tourism operation on the Hollyford Track - hospitality that Paul Rush enjoyed when writing his recent Herald article.

This road proposal crops up reliably every 15 years or so, and each and every time it fails on economic grounds. The road backers like to quote a cost of $330 million for the project, but FMC's engineering estimates have the likely cost at between $1-1.5 billion. The current road developer, Durham Havill of Hokitika, refuses to produce detailed costs or a business plan to justify his figure. Does he plan to cut corners on construction - for a road positioned over the Alpine Fault - or does he want the taxpayer to pick up the tab?


Mr Rush desires to see new scenery from the comfort of his car. But the road doesn't add any new scenery that isn't in the mix already on many roads in Westland. I ask how many times a year has he driven and redriven the Lewis Pass road, the Arthurs Pass Road and the Haast Pass Road to enjoy the wilderness settings that they provide?

How will adding a fourth road really provide that much more satisfaction? Did he stop a night - and provide business - at every one of the towns down the West Coast when he drove it? Did he drive up any of the multitude of side roads to admire the roadside scenery? If not, why not, for surely the experiences to be got from going off the usual roads is exactly the mix of solitude and ease that he seeks?

It's not to say that the wilderness on its own grounds doesn't matter - it does. The project is as dangerous environmentally as it as unviable economically. There are few areas more cherished to trampers and mountaineers than South Westland.

We don't encourage horse riding on golf courses - if we do, both user groups have their experience diminished. As a novice mountainbiker, I'm not clamouring for the advanced tracks in the Waitakere Ranges to be widened I ride in places that suit my abilities. Likewise, catering for the less experienced on every route in our backcountry removes the valid choice of some trampers to go where there is little sign of human activity.

Sometimes, this approach is accused of being elitist. It is not. It is catering for a valid use, and if elitist is catering for one type of user to the perceived exclusion of others, then the tracks on Rangitoto are also elitist.

A final word - 10,000 Aucklanders marched in response to the government's plans to mine national parks. Mt Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks - site of the proposed highway - are two of them. Those people marched in support of a concept - the idea of wilderness and its preservation. Some of those marchers may never choose to visit the place they marched in support of, but they were happy to march anyway. When Mr Rush suggests that there might be "significant public support" in support of a Haast-Hollyford Road, he may very well find it's the opposite.

The Haast Hollyford Road is a zombie highway, stalking the Westland woods for over 100 years - never alive, but not yet dead. It is time to kill it off for good.

Peter Wilson the executive of the Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand. Formed in 1931, it is a national federation of tramping and mountaineering clubs and represents over 16,000 members nationwide.