Veto of tunnel plan may benefit monorail
JOHN EDENS IN QUEENSTOWN
The backers of a proposed monorail tourist attraction through the back country between Queenstown and Te Anau say axing a competing tunnel plan could benefit their $200 million proposal.
Riverstone Holdings propose a tourist trip using a catamaran from Queenstown to Mt Nicholas Station, an all-terrain vehicle drive to Kiwi Burn, near the Mavora Lakes, and then a 41-kilometre monorail ride to Te Anau Downs.
The route does not run through Fiordland National Park but is partly included within the Unesco Te Wahipounamu world heritage area.
Conservation Minister Nick Smith, who axed a separate bid to drill a bus tunnel between the Routeburn Rd and Hollyford Rd by Milford Dart Ltd on Wednesday, has the final say.
Riverstone Holdings managing director Bob Robertson said he expected a ministerial decision within a couple of months.
New tourism infrastructure was needed in New Zealand but the monorail was not about delivering tourists to Milford Sound.
The decision to block the tunnel was helpful in some ways because competition was an issue, he said.
"Any analyst looking at the viability of the monorail would have to decrease their numbers if the tunnel was there because that's going to attract some of the people who would travel that route.
"The fact that one is not granted may enable the second one."
Robertson said the company worked on the back-country route for almost 20 years.
The proposed route was not in a national park, it was in great country but not what could be described as pristine.
Despite the formidable status of part of the route lying within the world heritage area, Te Wahipounamu was vast and included settlements, he said.
The monorail, as proposed, was ecological, used sustainable energy, there were no emissions or noise and the construction and service track would be converted to a cycleway comparable to any other Department of Conservation track.
Myths about the project included the need for a 200-metre wide corridor but the true route corridor was 20m wide, he said.
"What it will do is allow up to one million [visitors] to enjoy our native forests and enjoy our native streams and our back country.
"We need infrastructure to allow a way for our tourists to sustainably see our countryside. Our objective is to give people going to Milford Sound or anywhere else a much better alternative to travel.
"I don't think there should be anything through national parks or through our DOC estate but some things can be acceptable."
Part of the proposed route runs through the Snowdon Forest and is home to critically endangered birds, lizards, plants and the short-tailed bat.
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