Is Oamaru zipline part of slippery slope?

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher inspects a site in October that could be used as a starting point for...
Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher inspects a site in October that could be used as a starting point for a zipline over Oamaru Harbour. Photo: Hamish MacLean.
How much should we pander to the perceived desires of our visitors? Should tourists’ appetites be put ahead of residents’ rights and the best interests of the community and New Zealand Inc? Just how desperate are we to attract the tourist dollar?

These questions have been asked many times before by New Zealanders wanting to maximise the country’s attractiveness to overseas markets while protecting the features and resources that make this country unrivalled overseas. After all, nobody who has a world view that extends beyond a year or two wants to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

It is now the turn of Oamaruvians to chew over those three questions while considering the most recent tourism proposal for the North Otago town.

Oamaru already has a handsome catalogue of visitor attractions that many larger settlements would die for — blue penguin encounters, stunning Victorian and Edwardian architectural heritage, vintage Steampunk, excellent food and drink, proximity to the Waitaki lakes and the Mackenzie Basin, and the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail.

The latest idea is for a zipline — an aerial cableway along which adrenaline-seekers slide — from the top of Cape Wanbrow down above the old quarry and on to the harbour breakwater. The proposal has been enthusiastically embraced by some Waitaki District councillors and also by Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher, who in April stepped down from the Oamaru Adventure Park group to avoid being compromised by being both mayor and a director.

Arguments in favour of the zipline are it will draw adventure tourists who might otherwise not come to Oamaru — the closest ziplines at present are three hours away, in Christchurch and Queenstown — and, by doing so, will lengthen the town’s lucrative tourist season. Mr Kircher believes it will be a "game-changer" for Oamaru.

However, the proposal faces mounting opposition, with North Otago letter-writers expressing their unease in the pages of this newspaper recently.

Much of their concern surrounds the effects the zipline could have on the environment and wildlife of the cape and the harbour, and how "shrieking tourists", as one writer put it, will ruin the tranquillity of the spot now enjoyed by locals and tourists.

Safety concerns are also being raised about using the breakwater, given how frequently large swells roll over the top of it, as well as indignation over the potential defilement of the breakwater by any newly built tower at the end of the zipline.

Tourism is of course a huge and still growing industry in New Zealand. Our diverse landscapes, unique history and reputation as a country safe from some of the threats that affect northern hemisphere destinations, such as crime and terrorism, provide opportunities for attracting millions of visitors.

While international airfares — and, to a lesser extent, cruise-ship tariffs — remain comparatively low, we can expect the number of overseas tourists arriving here to stay strong.

But it is not all plain sailing. There is still a great deal of concern in New Zealand about being able to provide the kind of public infrastructure tourists expect, such as plenty of vehicle parking, public toilets, and facilities for dumping waste and dealing with recycling. Who should, or will, pay for these? And lurking in the background are the damaging dints put in our clean, green reputation by environmental pollution and dirty rivers and lakes. Fortunately we have so far largely escaped any major repercussions from stories casting doubt on just how pristine we are.

New Zealanders need to think hard about what they want to offer visitors and also how many tourists we can handle. The situation recently at the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo, with overcrowding, intrusive behaviour, littering and worse, is one that could easily be repeated.

It is down to what kinds of activities are appropriate in any particular location. What is perfectly acceptable adventure-tourism-wise in Queenstown or Rotorua, may not be so in Dunedin or Hokitika.

Does Oamaru, with all its wonderful charms, really need something as intrusive as a zipline?

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