While driving up north for Labour Weekend I was struck — as I am pretty much every time I drive up north — by the forehead-slapping inadequacy of New Zealand's infrastructure.

The joy of driving on the too-short 'Holiday Highway' soon gives over to disappointment as you reach those roadworks at the top of the Brynderwyn Hills. (Has anyone ever actually seen any workers doing any work on those roadworks? I reckon South Africa held the Rugby World Cup when the first traffic cone was placed up there.)

Last year, 3.4 million people came to our shores from overseas and at the present rate of stunning growth, that number will double within seven years. Meanwhile, the only thing I can see doubling in infrastructure terms is the number of road cones on the Brynderwyns.

We've just seen earnings from tourism go past earnings from dairy farming for the first time.


So, tourism is important. Yet we don't seem to have a long-term (or short-term, for that matter) plan for how to handle the visitor numbers properly. We need to be welcoming people in a way that is good for our regional economies and good for our environment.

Perhaps it's time the country — not just people in the tourism trade — had a giant conference to figure out how we want this tourism game to play out over the next seven, 17 and 70 years. And, more importantly, what we need to invest to get that return.

If we were properly ambitious, we wouldn't be plodding around with roadworks on top of the Brynderwyns, we'd be drilling a giant tunnel below them.