12 Jul 2018

Multi-million dollar complex plan in Fiordland National Park creates tension

7:25 pm on 12 July 2018

Plans to build a multi-million dollar accommodation complex in Fiordland National Park have got locals and environmentalists on edge.

Concept designs for the accommodation complex at Fiordland National Park.

Concept designs for the accommodation complex at Fiordland National Park. Photo: Supplied/Path New Zealand

The proposal is the brainchild of Path New Zealand, which is run by the grandaughter of tourism pioneer Les Hutchins who founded Real Journeys.

The exact cost of accommodation is unknown, but it is predicted to cost $300 per night.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) publicly notified of the application earlier this year.

Nestled in the tranquil Eglinton Valley in Fiordland National Park, lies the proposed site of the new lodge.

With six main buildings, including four pods each with five private rooms gazing out at steep rocky mountains, up to 40 guests could stay per night.

The lodge is meant to embody Path New Zealand's vision to help people engage with nature in a meaningful way, but it is not proving popular

Federated Mountain Clubs president Peter Wilson has called for DOC to reject the proposal.

"Public land like national parks isn't usually available for private profit and in this case, these guys are trying to exclusive possession of a piece of New Zealand's heritage in order to make money," Mr Wilson said.

The proposal was inconsistent with the Fiordland National Park Management Plan that stated new private accommodation should be built outside of the park, he said.

Allowing this type of development to be built in a national park set a "dangerous precendent" which would open the flood gates for similar proposals, Mr Wilson said.

It also did not matter if changes were offered because he did not want a bar of it, he said.

Forest and Bird Otago and Southland regional manager Sue Maturin questioned why the lodge could not be built somewhere else.

"There's already a older, smaller settlement and some private lands on the edge of the park where a lodge could go," Ms Maturin said.

"There's no need for the lodge to modify a wilder part of the park."

However, Path New Zealand founder Abbe Hutchins remained confident the proposal will be approved.

Speaking to RNZ while travelling in Australia, Ms Hutchins said the proposal would help manage the flow of people around Milford Sound as people could choose quieter times to start their trip.

"I think the issue is more about how can we actually develop something that is keeping with the values of the national park and do that sustainably and do that well so that more people can get out there and experience what the park has to offer," she said.

If successful, Ms Hutchins planned to meet with Ngāi Tahu and DOC every five years to ensure the development was sustainable.

In a written statement, DOC said so far the application was found to be consistent with legislation.

At present, the proposal looks on track for heated debate in a hearing in August after submissions close next Friday.