Expert group lays out plan to better protect iconic UNESCO World Heritage site Milford Sound Piopiotahi and its surrounds
Funding confirmed for dedicated unit and Establishment Board to assess the recommendations and provide oversight of the process from here
Milford Opportunities Project a test case for transformational change in tourism
Proposal recognises Ngāi Tahu’s presence in and knowledge of the landscape
The government has confirmed that work by an expert group into the future of Milford Sound Piopiotahi will proceed to its next stage.
“The release of a new plan to address visitor pressures and safety at the iconic UNESCO World Heritage site in Fiordland marks another step to improved access and protection of this jewel in our tourism crown,” Stuart Nash said.
“The Milford Opportunities Project (MOP) Masterplan unveiled in Te Anau today follows four years work by cross-agency representatives, mana whenua, commercial interests and the wider community.
“We acknowledge the work of the expert MOP group led by Dr Keith Turner. It has delivered a high-quality masterplan, underpinned by robust research. The project now moves to stage 3, and a new governance structure is required to oversee next steps.
“A ministerial group covering Tourism, Transport and Conservation portfolios will oversee the formation of a new Establishment Board. The Board will be chaired by Dr Turner and supported by a dedicated unit. The unit will work through the MOP recommendations, assessing them to ensure they are feasible and deliverable.
“Two representatives from Ngāi Tahu will be on the Board, acknowledging the iwi’s role as mana whenua and its significant and enduring connection to Piopiotahi.
“Tourism at Milford Sound Piopiotahi cannot return to its pre-COVID state. Significant pressure from the 870,000 visitors in 2019 undermines cultural and environmental values and infrastructure. As a tourist experience, it was crowded, rushed, noisy and unsafe.
“The project is an excellent test case for a self-funded, sustainable tourism system paid for by visitors, with costs and negative impacts priced into the tourist experience rather than shouldered by New Zealand ratepayers and taxpayers,” said Stuart Nash.
An investment of $15 million from the Tourism Communities: Support, Recovery and Re-set Plan will fund the next stage of the project.
Transport Minister Michael Wood said the project presents a once-in-a lifetime opportunity. “The masterplan is designed to protect Milford Sound Piopiotahi and better manage transport infrastructure like the Milford Road corridor,” said Michael Wood.
“We have a real opportunity to improve the wider transport hubs and networks servicing this site, to benefit locals, visitors, our infrastructure, our environment, our national park and our future.
“There is great potential for a world-class zero carbon transport and tourism experience, supported by an effective and sustainable electric or hydrogen transport model. The Milford Opportunities Project group propose that New Zealanders will still be able to drive to Milford Sound Piopiotahi without charge, and to help preserve the landscape this will be managed with a permit system.
“The masterplan aligns with other strategic goals for transport, such as reduced emissions, increased the use of public transport and improved safety and resilience,” Michael Wood said.
“The sheer volume of visitors to Milford Sound Piopiotahi in recent years has undermined conservation values and the visitor experience,” said Kiri Allan.
“Its special and unique environment has been under considerable stress. The masterplan seeks to restore the character and ‘essence of the place’ so that its world class qualities can be appreciated by all who visit.
“The project seeks to ensure that Milford Sound Piopiotahi maintains its status as a prime visitor icon and world-class visitor experience. It should be more accessible and we all need to work to uphold the UNESCO World Heritage status and conservation values of this treasured site,” said Kiri Allan.
More information about the masterplan can be found on the Milford Opportunities website.