Iwi reserves helicopter access for own operator

Ngai Tahu has locked up helicopter access to its high country stations at the head of Lake Wakatipu.

Iwi-owned companies have cancelled the landing rights of helicopter operators at Elfin Bay, Greenstone and Routeburn Stations in favour of Queenstown-based scenic helicopter business Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters, which Ngai Tahu Tourism bought in August.

A dozen helicopter companies operating from Queenstown, Wanaka and Te Anau received a letter from Ngai Tahu Farming and Ngai Tahu Tourism three weeks ago advising that Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters would have exclusive landing rights to the stations with "immediate effect".

The stations give access to trout fisheries in the Greenstone and Caples Rivers as well as hunting grounds for deer and chamois.

The decision does not affect public access on foot to the rivers, nor to the five recreational hunting blocks administered by the Department of Conservation.

Heli Glenorchy owner Nick Nicholson said his ability to fly to the stations "effectively stopped overnight".

"It was a good wee niche for us, but it’s come to a grinding halt pretty quickly."

In the 20 months he had operated from Glenorchy, he had flown hunters and fishermen to the stations regularly, paying a landing fee each time.

As the only operator based in Glenorchy, he was probably the worst affected, and would have to look at gaining access to other areas.

"We’re not sure how it’s going to affect us down the track."

But the new arrangement had been on the cards since Ngai Tahu Tourism bought its own helicopter company, he said.

"For them, it’s their product now and they want to tie that all up. Obviously it’s their land and they can do anything they like."

Another helicopter operator in the Queenstown area, who did not want to be named, said the move would "severely disadvantage" some, but his company did not fly to the area often enough for its bottom line to take a hit.

Exclusive access arrangements were not uncommon, with some helicopter companies holding sole landing rights for particular high country stations.

Ngai Tahu Tourism’s decision was understandable given it had spent millions buying a helicopter company, he said.

"If a farmer owns a helicopter, he doesn’t go and get another helicopter company to spray his crops, does he?"

Ngai Tahu Tourism chief executive Quinton Hall said in an emailed statement he knew some helicopter operators would be "disappointed", but such arrangements were common practice in the industry.

"In our view it’s not about restricting access, it’s about managing the use of the area in the most appropriate way."

The company did not have specific plans for developing tourism on the stations yet, but wanted to "open up the area so that more people can enjoy these amazing locations".

Queenstown-based fishing guide Ed Halson said for those who did not want to walk into the area, Ngai Tahu’s decision would make it more expensive to fish there.

He took clients to the Greenstone River — a "special piece of water" — between five and 10 times a year.

He expected that business to lessen as the cost of helicopter access inevitably rose.

"Whenever you introduce a monopoly into an area, you pay the price.

"They do have the land, and they’ve bought a helicopter company to sew that up."

At the Otago Fish & Game Council meeting in Dunedin yesterday, acting chief executive Ian Hadland said he had discussed the matter with Mr Hall, who told him it was a "purely commercial decision and they owned the land and now they own the helicopter company and it doesn’t make any sense to let any other providers in".

Mr Hadland told the meeting Mr Hall had acknowledged the Greenstone River was an "important public fishery" and there was public land near the river where helicopters could land.

Mt Hall didn’t want it to "become an issue" and wanted professional fishing guides who were concerned by the change to contact him, Mr Hadland said.

Comments

Mr Hall says "In our view it’s not about restricting access". What a load of rubbish. This is all about a large business, which has all sorts of government support and exclusive rights, using its size and financial clout to lock and knock other businesses out.
If this wasn't a tribal business it would be seen as it is, unconscionable behaviour by a large business seeking a market monopoly. Very bad for New Zealand in the short term and disastrous in the long term.