First commercial chopper flights into prized Southland spots approved
A Te Anau chopper pilot has become the first to be allowed to land commercial passengers in the Takitimu and Eyre Mountains.
Te Anau Helicopter Services owner operator Gaven Burgess has been granted concessions under the Department of Conservation's new Murihiku Conservation Management Strategy (CMS), some of which are the first of their kind.
DOC Te Anau Operations manager Greg Lind said Burgess' concessions allowed him to land at huts in the Takitimu Mountains and at specified locations in the Eyre Mountains.
Previously, commercial helicopter flights were not allowed into those areas because the Southland Conservation Board and DOC recognised they were of significant value to Southlanders, trampers, and hunters, and that they should be able to enjoy the locations without aircraft activity.
There also had not been any, or as much, commercial activity, Lind said.
The decision to allow a limited number of commercial landings reflected a change in society norms, as well as the fact there was more competition for scenic landings and hunter access, he said.
But the concessions were still restrictive. The landing locations for the Takitimu Mountains were restricted to several hut sites, and only two landings per site, per week were allowed.
"[Other] users shouldn't think there will be an avalanche of helicopters."
Lind said despite the fact there had previously been no commercial flights into those areas did not mean the huts were not well used.
"They're highly valued by the Southland tramping fraternity."
The increasingly popular Te Araroa Trail also went through the Takitimus, he said.
Recreational hunters would also be able to utilise Burgess' service, which was a good thing.
While it was widely acknowledged that recreational hunting "only takes the top off deer numbers", one of the reasons behind the decision to grant helicopter access was to allow hunters to get in to the area and help keep numbers down, Lind said.
Burgess said Te Anau Helicopter Services had four helicopters and four pilots and the new concessions meant he had another way to cater to clients.
As a pilot, he would have more alternatives for landings if the weather was poor, he said.
The application process took him about 3-4 months, Burgess said.