Editorial: A long-awaited road

The main objection to a Haast-Hollyford road still seems to be that people would probably want to drive on it.

Those would be people who don't have the resourcefulness, sagacity, spirit or even the appropriate footwear to come and go from that area the way God intended.

Which is A) on foot and B) hardly at all.

Those people are apparently unwelcome people. Not necessarily infirm, but reliably lazy, planet-abusing types in their Pajeros and campervans and buses, degrading an environment that should of course be enjoyed by everybody, but with the firmly understood proviso that only the right people should get to do so in person.

The rest, lacking the physical virtues, should enjoy it vicariously through promotional DVDs, brochures, or going online. If they're especially blessed they may have the chance to attend an illustrated talk by one of the hardbodied types who have tramped it. That way they can learn all about it from the perspective of someone who deserved to be there.

Well nix to such elitism. News that the Westland District Council's Westland District Property Ltd has found foreign funding for the $220 million project, and is drafting resource consent applications, should be welcomed.

It has really been cost and governmental prioritisations, not environmental issues, that have long-stalled the project to connect the south to the west through this route. Invercargill MP Eric Roy has been beavering away for progress in recent years and Venture Southland has a report upcoming, but it's been the coasters who, through their company, have spectacularly come up with the goods by securing funding after the 2010 announcement that the Government had no immediate plans to push through the road itself.

If it passes the consent process the toll road would reduce by four to five hours, or 355km, the trip between Haast and Milford Sound. More than that - much more - it would resolve that crucial missing link connecting the south to Westland to create a true loop road to take tourists around the South Island, or as much of it as they care to see.

Not only would this lead to more, not less, enjoyment of the magnificent landscape, it also carries enormous opportunities for southern towns from Te Anau, Manapouri, Tuatapere, linking to the Southern Scenic Route.

It would also provide a sorely needed alternative to the exhausting nine-hour Queenstown-Milford return journey, while easing the middle-of-the-day congestion issues at Milford itself.

The very notion of allowing - nay, encouraging - more vehicular movement through Fiordland is appalling to those who would have us understand that it has been isolation that has largely protected this area in the past. Wrote one, reflecting from the banks of the Hollyford River: "The song of the river will be replaced by the hum of traffic".

Well, yes, a bit. But we are talking a fractional proportion of a huge environment. We are told we should be encouraging more Green tourism, rather than obsessing with high-carbon-emission vehicular tourism. That is simply too exclusive. It is by no means a given that this project would pass through the resource consent process, nor should it be.

But if a foreign-funded toll road is judged to stack up against the balanced criteria once the laws of the land have been applied, it's hardly as if those seeking a more utterly remote Fiordland experience are suddenly crowded out and left with nowhere to turn, once they have walked or cycled (but we trust not driven) to the outer edges of the national park.

The Southland Times