OPINION: An image springs to mind about Te Anau and it is not of a beautiful lake bathed in brilliant sunshine on a warm summer day.
Picture instead a long ribbon of tarseal and a small group of local businesspeople on a nearby hill, wailing and wringing their hands in despair as they watch hundreds of tourist buses, campervans and cars speed on by the turnoff to the would-be tourist resort on their way to Milford Sound.
Those businesspeople have tried - oh, have they tried - to come up with a cunning plan to divert more of those tourists into their township. Blocking the road so the tourists had no choice wasn't a runner after those pesky reporters at The Southland Times made public the plan before they could implement it. The fallout from that was embarrassing.
Now, the new sign isn't working, the "horrendously expensive" billboard on the highway signposting the Te Anau turnoff that everyone was pinning their hopes on to lure independent travellers into the Te Anau town centre.
What to do? What to do?
To begin with, the lakeside community needs to put aside its jealousy of the success of Milford and Queenstown - the popularity of those resorts is not going to diminish any time soon - and start thinking positively about its own considerable attractions.
So there should be less whingeing about the ruinous prospect of a tunnel and/or monorail rushing tourists directly to Milford from Queenstown - those organised package tours mostly skirt Te Anau anyway - and more proactive promotion of their own assets: the lake, the bushwalks, caves and all-round awesome scenery, and the great food in the town.
Even the name Te Anau has a certain allure. It seems to have a range of Maori translations, from "lake of many arms", through "water current in a cave" (a reference to the spectacular glow-worms amid the rushing waterfalls in caves across the lake from the town centre) to the name of a beautiful Maori princess, Te Anau, granddaughter of Hekeia, whose stature is recognised on the nearby Longwood Range.
Then there is the vexed problem of the proposed Haast-Hollyford road, a privately funded toll-road direct link between Te Anau and the West Coast.
The proponents, Westland District Property Ltd, say they have the funding in place and the support of West Coast mayors, but even though they say they received more positive support than they expected at a meeting with the Southland District Council last month, the council has been understandably reticent.
The problem the council faces is that it and the Te Anau businesspeople who are part of its electorate have been vociferous opponents of the monorail and tunnel proposals, arguing that either project would create ugly scars on Fiordland's pristine, untouched beauty.
That at least part of their criticism is based on patch protection is the unstated imperative driving the opposition, but that is neither here nor there.
Southland District Mayor Frana Cardno, who lives in Te Anau and so is even more aware than her councillors of the views of Te Anau residents, had publicly supported earlier investigations into a direct road link with the West Coast, but that was before those Queenstown entrepreneurs proposed to rip out large swaths of native forest to build routes to get their package tourists directly to Milford without even passing Te Anau.
Sooner or later some realism needs to be injected into Te Anau. Let's hope it is sooner. It needs to move on.
- The Southland Times
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