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KIWIS UP IN ARMS OVER TUNNEL THROUGH ‘LORD OF THE RINGS’ NATIONAL PARK
Tourism operators fear private bus tunnel will ruin Fiordland World Heritage area; more than 9,500 sign Change.org petition demanding project be scrapped
New Zealand tourism operators fear one of the world’s last great wilderness destinations, the World Heritage Fiordland national park, will be ruined by the construction of an underground bus tunnel through the area.
A private company plans to build an 11km bus tunnel in New Zealand’s Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Parks, both situated in the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area. The tunnel would be for the exclusive use of buses to take tourists from Queenstown to the iconic Milford Sound.
Tourism groups believe the World Heritage status of the region is under threat because of the project and have joined a growing online protest aimed at halting the development.
Local resident Patricia Ko started a petition on Change.org which has been signed by more than 9,500 people. Each time the petition is signed, an email is sent to Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson, who has the final decision on the project.
Patricia said the Milford Dart tunnel project was putting at risk New Zealand's “100% Pure” brand.
“Putting a bus tunnel through this world heritage area is akin to building a chairlift to the top of Ayers Rock or putting a parking lot on top of the Great Barrier Reef,” said Patricia, who lives in Glenorchy, the town known as “The Gateway To Paradise” and for its amazing backdrops used in the Lord of the Rings, Hobbit and Narnia films.
“I can't believe that the government might jeopardise New Zealand's most valuable and precious natural tourist destination, and destroy our communities at the same time.”
Patricia has been joined by a number of tourism operators in condemning the project.
Vladka Kennet, owner-operator of inbound travel company True Travel, said the tunnel would “immensely and irreversibly affect the whole purpose, idea and success of the tourism industry in the region”.
“The majority of my clients come to New Zealand to experience the pure, almost untouched natural environment that the area has to offer,” said Vladka.
“It is the solitude, tranquillity, the end of the road destination, remoteness and the feeling of being one with the land – physically and spiritually. My clients also appreciate that the people of New Zealand treasure their natural heritage and have campaigned vigorously in the past to prevent similar ventures from going ahead.”
Dart Stables owner Jenny Davies said: “We are reminded almost daily by our clients how fortunate we are to live, work and operate in such a stunning, unspoilt part of the world. People are genuinely blown away by the area’s beauty, tranquility and the extent of wilderness on our doorstep. The tunnel project is so inappropriate on so many levels it is hard to believe it has received serious consideration.”
Steve Norris, whose business Trips 'n' Tramps offers guided tours of Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound and Te Anau, said the impact of the tunnel would be “hugely negative”.
New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has given notice of intention to grant permission for the tunnel, but the final decision rests with Conservation Minister Wilkinson, who has admitted the topic is “very controversial”.
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