Group tests waters for island tours

Dog Island could become a new Southland tourist destination.

Dog Island is a small island about 800m long in Foveaux Strait, located 5km southeast of Bluff.

Ascot Park Hotel executive manager Peter Ridsdale is spearheading a campaign endorsing Dog Island as a place of eco and historical tourism.

He said the island remained under the control and management of Maritime New Zealand and negotiations with it had reached a stage where a lease agreement would be drawn up.

Mr Ridsdale had been working on the Dog Island project for two years.

He was now forming a board of trustees, who shared his vision to start planning things such as the preservation of existing buildings, ecological restoration, building of infrastructure suitable for visitors, reinstatement of a dedicated runway and fundraising.

A tower and lighthouse keepers' residence were completed in 1865. From that time until the automation of the light in 1989, the lighthouse station was continuously occupied by keepers and their families.

While a collection of buildings were added over time, the lighthouse and original lighthouse keepers' cottage are intact and hold a category 1 listing with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.

Mr Ridsdale believed the island was a jewel in Southland's crown and was a worthy tourist destination. At first there would be day trips to the island and eventually he envisioned building homestays for tourists.

"It would be like bringing a lighthouse keeper back into the lighthouse," he said. "So many people have a direct connection with the island. I had many phone calls from people who are are excited by the prospect of tourism on this historical island.

Mr Ridsdale and a group of Southland businesspeople and historical experts will travel to the island on Friday. It would be the first time a fixed wing plane will have landed on the island and the runway had been prepared, he said.

The proposal has the backing of the Department of Conservation.

DOC visitor assets programme manager Brian Murphy said Dog Island was not under the protection of the department but the tourism initiative would help preserve the historic significance of the island.

The department has provided volunteers to prepare the landing strip to allow further investigation from potential tourism operators.

Venture Southland is also working on the project with Mr Ridsdale.

Group manager enterprise and strategic projects Steve Canny said the island had good potential to be a new tourism product for Southland but planning was still in its early stages.

"There is no doubt that the location has spectacular characteristics and a great deal of appeal," he said.

He said the immediate challenge was to work out what was required for building development and restoration.

Venture Southland was assisting with the establishment of a governance body, preparing a business plan and doing a market assessment, he said.

Mr Ridsdale hoped to hold a public meeting with guest speakers at the Ascot Park Hotel in mid-February.

The Southland Times