Future tourism project due

Milford Sound had become crowded before Covid-19 and numbers have risen again. PHOTO: STEPHEN...
Milford Sound had become crowded before Covid-19 and numbers have risen again. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
The Milford Opportunities project is in the home straight and though there is some crunch work to be done, there is confidence the project will be ready to hand on to the government.

The $16.5 million project was hatched in 2018 and then ramped up in 2021.

It was a government-funded initiative to create self-funded, sustainable tourism that conserves the Milford Sound area's natural beauty and cultural heritage.

Milford Sound had become crowded before Covid-19. Between 2012-18 the number of visitors to Milford Sound more than doubled from about 437,000 to 883,000.

Most of those visitors were arriving at lunchtimes, putting huge pressure on the infrastructure at Milford Sound and spoiling the experience.

Numbers dropped off over Covid-19, but have risen again.

Tourist numbers have returned to about 90% of the pre-Covid level and Te Anau has enjoyed a good summer season.

In 2021 the consultation, engagement and research to develop a Milford opportunities master plan swung into gear.

The project had come up with ideas to reduce congestion and help the environment.

Some of them were controversial such as banning cruise ships from Milford Sound, closing the airstrip in Milford, limiting the number of vehicles on the Milford Road and charging international visitors an access fee.

Since that time, engagement and consultation had taken place from residents and tourist operators to bus drivers and motel owners.

The project was at phase three.

Phase one focused on testing the feasibility of the master plan’s key concepts, including a significant programme of public and stakeholder engagement.

The latest engagement session was with Te Anau residents and business operators this week in Te Anau.

Milford Sound Opportunities programme director Chris Goddard said it was vital to get feedback to the people who were going to be living in the area.

It had been a significant amount of work, he said.

With a deadline of June 30 looming, the work was amping up, but he was confident it would be met.

He would not specify what was in the master plan.

The master plan would go to the Minister of Tourism Matt Doocey, Minister of Conservation Tama Potaka and Minister of Transport Simeon Brown.

It would then be discussed by Cabinet.

Mr Goddard said it was up to the ministers when they wanted to release the plan publicly.