11 Apr 2016

Anger over glacier chopper plan

7:45 am on 11 April 2016

A Department of Conservation (DoC) plan to increase daily helicopter landings from 14 to 80 in a remote part of the Fiordland National Park will ruin the experience and is potentially hazardous, climbers and trampers say.

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DoC wants to increase the number chopper flights to Mt Tutoko glacier. Photo: 123 RF

Under the existing management plan for the Fiordland National Park eight helicopter companies have permission to take tourists up to the remote and magnificent Mt Tutoko glacier.

Between them they are only allowed to do so 14 times a day.

But a DoC email obtained by RNZ News shows it suspects that is already being exceeded and now it wants to allow each operator 10 trips a day.

That means 80 landings and Robin McNeil, president of the Federated Mountains Club, is very unhappy.

A continual drone of helicopters coming and going every fine day would be akin to walking past the Auckland motorway, he said.

The national park plan talks about the downside of aircraft having access to the area. Among the negative impacts mentioned are noise, intrusion, losing the experience of being in a remote place and conflicts with Ngai Tahu's cultural values.

Immediate past president of the Alpine Club John Cocks said the plan compromised the wilderness area.

He said when helicopters come up the steep-sided valleys it caused huge reverberations and echoes, and created a dangerous distraction for climbers.

"If there's a constant barrage of helicopter noise you won't have the opportunity to keep your senses tuned the way you normally would do, so it will have its risks."

Both Mr Cocks and Mr McNeill said DoC was not following due process with regard to the park's management plan.

Mr McNeill said the department was flagrantly breaching the plan which was agreed to through public consultation.

"This plan has got some real legs and it should be considered really important and it's not something you just poke around with and decide to override if you feel so inclined."

A statement from DoC director of planning permissions Marie Long said the park's management plan allowed for the extra flights as part of a research trial and it was not expecting to generate significantly more money from the increased landings.

But Mr McNeill said that sounded like a Japanese whaling approach to research and DoC was kow-towing to the tourism industry.

Tourism Industry Association chief executive Chris Roberts said the Tutoko glacier was increasingly popular with visitors and as many people as possible should be allowed to enjoy it.

"That will mean that there are a few places that are heavily used and I think that is always looked at by DoC and they try to manage that the best they can. But we can't lock up the whole country and say we don't want people going there for the sake of annoyance over helicopter noise," Mr Roberts said.

Ms Long said DoC would review the impact of increased trips to the glacier in a year it would report back to the conservation board, Ngai Tahu and alpine user groups every three months.

The Fiordland National Park management plan is due to be reviewed next year.

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