2 Apr 2012

Panel hears opinions on Milford monorail

9:31 pm on 2 April 2012

Plans to build a monorail in Fiordland will ruin pristine wilderness, a hearing in Te Anau has been told.

Public hearings about the proposed $150 million monorail across Department of Conservation land near Fiordland National Park began in Te Anau on Monday.

Riverstone Holdings Ltd has applied for a 40-year concession from DoC to operate the 41km-long monorail starting at Kiwi Burn, passing through Snowdon Forest, crossing the Whitestone and Upukerora rivers and ending at Te Anau Downs on the Milford Road.

The backers say the $150 million venture will ferry up to 1 million tourists a year between Queenstown and Milford Sound.

Like the Milford Dart Tunnel proposed by another company, the monorail is touted as cutting the journey time from Queenstown to Milford Sound in half.

However, most submitters argue that the plan will ruin one of New Zealand's top scenic spots and say it will destroy 20,000 beech trees that are 800 years old.

Some say there is no need to cut through untouched forest when the Milford Road already serves the purpose of delivering tourists to Milford Sound and there is no economic benefit in building the monorail.

Te Anau resident Daphne Taylor fought back tears on Monday as she urged DoC to decline the proposal.

"There is nothing like being able to wander alongside the upper reaches of the Whitestone or the Upuk (Upukerora) on a clear, sunny day with no one else in sight - just the tussock lands below us, the forests in front of us, the Fiordland mountains on the skyline."

However, some people do support the plan, saying Te Anau used to be a backwater and the monorail will ensure that it remains a tourism drawcard.

More than 300 submissions have been received and 80 people will present their submissions at the hearings in Te Anau and Invercargill.

A summary will be submitted to the Minister of Conservation when the hearings are completed. The minister will then decide whether or not to grant the concession.

The hearings continue in Invercargill on Tuesday.