1. World Heritage and our National Parks mean the world to us. Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area is designated as such due to the overwhelming wild and unpopulated landscapes of Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks, dense in native flora and fauna. World Heritage sites belong to everyone, forever. “Heritage is our legacy and an irreplaceable source of life and inspiration.”[UNESCO]. New Zealand is obliged to protect this heritage, and its Department of Conservation is obliged to preserve our National Parks. The tunnel proposal and its road access contravenes these obligations. To compromise any part of this World Heritage area, simply to get somewhere a bit quicker, is unequivocally inappropriate and shocking.
2. You don’t dump in paradise. The tunnel would be a mining project in paradise. The mining would involve noisy and polluting vehicles and machinery over many years. It would create more than a quarter of a million cubic metres of spoil, running the risk of leaching nasty chemicals into the pristine Hollyford River. Due to the loose geological structure of the land, the mining could result in land slips around the tunnel entrance, resulting in destruction of valuable native trees and bush and their bird habitats.
3. A tunnel will cause permanent environmental damage. The tunnel’s legacy will be permanent damage to the environment at its entrance and exit points. At its entrance point, near the start of the Routeburn Track in Mount Aspiring National Park, there is native forest, rare birds, such as mohua, and bats. At its exit point, the remote and magical Hollyford valley in Fiordland National Park, there is a lush forest alive with kaka parrots and kiwis alongside the rushing Hollyford river. These two areas will be transformed into transport hubs with noisy and polluting emissions from a steady stream of coaches, and an increase in air traffic at a larger air strip in the Hollyford Valley. On-going maintenance of such a lengthy tunnel and its road access and facilities will add to the disruption. The permanent and intrinsic changes to the character of these special places will be immense.
4. The process of approving the tunnel is flying in the face of “due process” and existing constraints. There are existing management documents that should be followed by the Department of Conservation when considering activity in its National Parks. These management documents, such as the Fiordland National Park Management Plan, have been prepared in extensive consultation with interested groups, such as recreational users and conservationists, and are therefore extremely important to safeguard the protection of our wilderness. Yet prior to any public consultation, the tunnel was already given initial approval to go ahead by the Department of Conservation.
5. A tunnel will destroy recreational enjoyment of the Hollyford Valley. The start of the Hollyford Valley, well away from civilisation, is much loved by trampers, hunters, whitebaiters, fishermen and kayakers. It is renowned for its river kayaking on the awesome Hollyford River, and its tramping on the Hollyford Track, as well as shorter walks to Lake Marian and Humbolt Falls, and access via Pass Creek Track to the Routeburn Track, from which thousands of great track walkers look down onto, and admire, the Hollyford Valley. The low-key back country accommodation provided at historic Gunns Camp is a fitting start to the valley. The valley also provides valuable income to commercial tramping guides. The tunnel and its associated infrastructure and visual and noise disturbances will ruin this recreational environment.
6. We’ve already got a tunnel, thanks. You’d think that anyone contemplating digging a tunnel of this nature would have serious reasons to do so. But there just aren’t any. Back in the 1930’s, a road was built to Milford Sound from the local town of Te Anau, up the Eglinton valley and through the Homer tunnel, at great cost and effort. This remains the only route to Milford Sound today and it is well maintained. Visitors from Queenstown can easily get to Te Anau by a direct road up wide valleys, serviced by buses. There’s no need for more roads and tunnelling in a desperately sensitive area.
7. It’s not a sustainable, public transport solution. Milford Dart Ltd argues its tunnel will reduce the journey time for tourists between Queenstown and Milford Sound; but a huge and destructive mining project and use of more roads is not a sustainable transport solution. There are various projects that could easily reduce the number of vehicles on the existing road from Te Anau to Milford Sound, such as park and ride schemes (advised by the Southland Integrated Transport Study), and coach companies offering ‘driver goes free’ tickets to car drivers who take the coach. There is even an existing tried and tested train route parallel to the existing road route on the first leg of the journey from Queenstown towards Te Anau, up a wide, safe valley. Sadly closed years ago along most of its length, the line is partially serviced by a tourist steam train but could be restored as a public modern railway providing transport for local people between Southland and Otago, as well as a transport link for tourists bound for Milford. The tunnel, by comparison, is a private venture for private profit contrary to the principles of the freedom of access required under the National Parks Act.
8. Queenstown is not the gateway to Milford Sound, so there’s no need to force through quicker routes between the two. Te Anau, a beautiful township on the edge of Lake Te Anau, services visitors to Fiordland. It provides the perfect stop off point for people wishing to visit Milford Sound, accessible from Te Anau by coach in two hours. Te Anau provides accommodation, restaurants, shops and even a cinema. The money-driven obsession that is currently trying to link Queenstown and Milford Sound, through treacherous mountains in an earthquake zone and world heritage area, is particularly incongruous when Te Anau already exists as a service town and base for Milford-bound tourists, with easy access to Te Anau from Queenstown by car or bus, and possibly rail in the future, up a wide valley that doesn’t run through National Parks. Te Anau is also easily accessible for visitors arriving from Invercargill or Dunedin.
9. It just plain scares us. Would you like to board a coach going in to an 11.3km single carriageway road tunnel of just 5 metres diameter in an infamous earthquake zone close to fault lines, and prone to landslips near the tunnel entrance due to the fragile nature of the geology? Located in a country with extremely limited legislation relating to, and experience, of road tunnelling? Would you worry about collapse, ventilation, escape routes, fire risks? Coaches passing through the tunnel will still need to travel through major avalanche areas and the Homer Tunnel to get to Milford Sound so another tunnel won’t alleviate any risks, and carries additional major risk. And that’s not even mentioning the risk to workers’ lives during the complex construction stages or maintenance.
10. There’s not even an economic benefit to the local economy. The construction of the tunnel, at massive cost, will mean temporary work for some people. But conversely it will detrimentally affect the economies of tourist towns and villages on the existing road route from Queenstown, which not only passes through Te Anau but also Five Rivers, Athol, Garston, and Mossburn. These historic settlements all provide cafe and accommodation facilities and local employment. The tunnel will also detrimentally affect existing coach operators who use this route and have invested in scenic coaches, providing a good visitor experience. The tunnel may encourage more visitors to leave the region entirely after a ‘quick dash’ to Milford Sound via the tunnel, rather than undertaking a more lengthy trip to explore the many other beautiful sites in the region that are accessible from Te Anau, such as Lake Te Anau, Lake Manapouri, and the Southern Scenic Route.
To quote Richard Davies of the Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand: “Those who claim this tunnel is crucial to tourism in our largest World Heritage Area remindss me of the commanders in the Vietnam War who told us they needed to destroy the village in order to save it.” It’s such a mad, bad idea that we have to wonder if it’s being proposed in order to make the monorail look like a good option. In fact, in a public meeting, the company seeking permission to build the monorail threatened local people that if they didn’t support the monorail, they’d get the tunnel. We say: “No to both!”