DOC baffles with Mt Aspiring bus plan

The Department of Conservation (DOC) has agreed to a bus tunnel linking Mt Aspiring and Fiordland National Park – despite conflicts with the DOC’s general policy on building roads through Mt Aspiring.

The proposed bus tunnel would punch an 11.3 km-long hole beneath the Humboldt Mountains and require about 150m of road to be built in Mt Aspiring National Park.

The recently reviewed Mt Aspiring national park plan focused on retaining the wilderness of the park, rather than building roads, bar those used for access to DOC facilities.

The DOC also has a general policy to discourage new roads and its support of this project, despite the conflict, is subject to public submissions (due before January 27).

Milford Dart Ltd, which is behind the project, said the tunnel would provide a huge boost for the economy.

Managing director Tom Elworthy said the company would charge tourists an access fee. With 500,000 visitors to Milford annually and the extra time they would spend doing activities instead of busing, this would be a huge boost for tourism.

"If we receive final approval, then the construction of the tunnel would be one of the largest single investments in New Zealand tourism in generations.”

Southland’s Te Anau Community and the Otago Conservation Board are against the proposal, with Southland district mayor Frana Cardno encouraging the public to oppose the proposal.

Cardo said: "There are so many things wrong with this proposal – the tunnel is inconsistent with the New Zealand Tourism Strategy objectives as it will reduce the duration of stay within New Zealand as well as the daily spend, and will limit visitor flows into the southern region.”