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July 2016 Issue
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Heli headaches persist

Alpine Helicopters flying over the Olivine Ice Plateau. Photo: Ben Wilson

As more tourists come to New Zealand, pressure on DOC to allow more flights, more guides, more boats, more roadside facilities in conservation areas will increase.

It’s wonderful that so many people are willing to travel to New Zealand for the unique experiences found here, and if some people can make a business out of it, great.

But as DOC faces continued budget pressure and demand to provide for these tourists, it is facing resistance from those who see DOC catering to tourists at the expense of the recreation rights of Kiwis.

In Fiordland this past year, more international visitors than ever arrived, placing unprecedented pressure on DOC facilities. People are being crowded out and those who complain that their experience is being ruined by, for example, helicopter noise, are told there are plenty of other opportunities that will remove them from the hustle and bustle.

Undoubtedly that is true, the conservation estate is vast. But by saying this at the same time as increasing the daily limit for helicopter landings on the remote Ngapunatoru Ice Plateau and continuing to allow helicopters into the even more remote Olivine Ice Plateau – both places that take several days to reach by foot – such words ring hollow.

In our story on p42, we find many trampers have had their backcountry experience disrupted by helicopters. These people are angry at having walked for days to reach remote places, only to find the peace destroyed. This isn’t snobbery or elitism. It’s not about having ‘earned’ the views or the right to stay at a hut through doing the hard yards on the ground. It’s about having an experience – no less important than the one being sought by the passengers in the helicopters – destroyed.

Helicopters have their place; they provide an important service to trampers, climbers and search and rescue personnel. Operators should be allowed to fly tourists to stunning and remote places to provide an unforgettable experience for their customers. But that experience should not be at the expense of the enjoyment of those recreating there, seeking solitude and a natural experience far removed from their daily lives.

The conservation estate is something to be shared. The more people who use it and experience it, the better. But allowing ever more helicopter flights to ever more remote locations is surely not appropriate.