Town's lifeblood lost?

There are fears Wanaka could be the big loser if the proposed Haast-Hollyford road is built.

The road would carry tourists directly from the West Coast to Milford Sound, potentially feeding more tourists into Te Anau and leaving Queenstown on the main tourist trail, but bypassing Wanaka.

Eco Wanaka owner-operator Chris Riley says anyone who thinks the road would not have a disastrous effect on not only Wanaka, but also Lake Hawea and the Cardrona Valley, is dreaming. "The current West Coast road is Wanaka's lifeblood, which most of the town and area's clients travel either up or down and if it's altered for the Haast-Hollyford route people are going to miss Wanaka altogether."

Mr Riley is widely travelled. Having lived and worked in places as far flung as the mountains of Nepal, he appreciates nature, and now hosts nature lovers from all over on tours of Lake Wanaka's Mou Waho Island Nature Reserve. "Because I have such an affinity with sustainability and the environment I think the road is a bad idea, but if I put my business hat on it's just as bad because over

half the customers that sustain Wanaka, Lake Hawea and the Cardrona Valley are going to disappear out the back door, possibly to never be seen by us again."

However, business leaders are less convinced of the negative effects.

Lake Wanaka Tourism business development executive Geoff Marks said he suspected the road would be of more interest to coach tour groups on short itinerary South Island tours.

"While Wanaka attracts some coach tour groups, this is not our core market and so coaches bypassing Wanaka may only have a negligible impact.

"Wanaka predominantly attracts free independent travellers who will usually be on self-drive holidays and the Haast Pass Highway is continually rated as one of the most spectacular drives in the world with beautiful views and short walks - this will continue to attract tourists."

It would not impact on winter visitors who arrived to ski and snowboard, he said.

Wanaka Chamber of Commerce chairman Alistair King said the resource consent process was a huge hurdle to get through, but if the road went ahead it would bring positives to Wanaka.

"Any addition or development to tourism infrastructure is a good thing, and Wanaka will remain one of New Zealand's premier attractions, and we will continue to encourage all businesses in the area to grow and promote that fact," he said.

"We would look on the road as a positive development if it went ahead, and would also be looking to capitalise on those positives." The Haast-Hollyford road was first thought up in the 1880s, and has been periodically raised since, but the latest push to build a 127 kilometre road linking Haast to the Te Anau-Milford Sound highway looks to be the most cohesive and well organised yet. The plan, pushed by Westland District Property appears to be backed by private investors to the tune of $220 million.

The proposed road would cut through Fiordland National Park, but the Department of Conservation may be powerless to stop it, as the roading land was vested as a roading reserve in 1987, when the department was formed, Westland District Property says.

The Southland Times