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January 2019 Issue
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Lock it in!

Grassy flats at Kerin Forks on the wild Wilkin River, featured in The 2019 tramper’s diary. Photo: Salisbury/Hot Pixels Photography

Are people becoming too posh to walk? Both the draft management plans for Aoraki/Mt Cook and Westland Tai Poutini national parks have proposals to radically increase the number and scope of aircraft flights and landings. In the case of Aoraki, a more than 14-fold increase is proposed for the number of landings allowed on the Tasman Glacier, from 5000 a year to 73,000 – or 200 a day.

Then, further south near Glenorchy and right on the border of the Rees Track, a private development is underway that could see helicopters zipping visitors into and out of a new luxury lodge at the rate of 13 flights a day. See our website for that story, titled ‘Luxury lodge proposed near Rees-Dart Track’.

Could there possibly be demand for so many flights? In the case of Aoraki, it’s unlikely considering the current daily average is just 13 each day.

So why the proposal for such a huge increase? The fact that more than one million visitors are expected to flock to the national park in the coming year is one reason. So too the fact that the outdoor opportunities in the park for those who are not experienced alpinists are limited to a handful of valleys, short walks and overnighters. In that context, providing greater opportunity for an alpine experience seems to make sense.

But jumping to 73,000 landings each year is a giant leap. And what kind of experience are people having if 199 other aircraft will be landing in the same day?

Fleeting, I would assume.

There’s no guarantee all 200 landings will be used and in any case, according to DOC, the number of landings can be scaled back if the effects – notably sound pollution – prove too adverse.

Aircraft have a place in our national parks, for tourism and other more practical reasons like search and rescue. But national parks are not theme parks where the drone of engines and the sight of hundreds of aircraft flying in and out of a valley is an acceptable part of the experience. You don’t need to be a tramper, fond of remote experiences, to appreciate that.

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