A luxury lodge has been proposed 700m from the popular Rees-Dart Track, which could result in thousands more helicopter flights up the picturesque valley each year.
A heliport has also been proposed further down the valley, which has raised concerns that the tranquility of the area will be severely impacted.
The proposal is for a lodge on a terrace above the Rees Track, near Little Devil Creek and the derelict Twenty-Five Mile Hut, about 2km from Mt Aspiring National Park and Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area.
The lodge would have 20 buildings, including six chalets, a restaurant and a day spa catering for about 22 guests. The complex would operate every day of the year and be accessed primarily by helicopter, with five helipads on site.
The resource consent application said the buildings wouldn’t be visible from the Rees Track, but would be visible from the Kea Basin Track.
The development is on Rees Valley Station, a Crown pastoral lease, and does not require a DOC concession. A significant portion of the Rees Track runs through the station.
Station owner Kate Scott wouldn’t comment on the development.
Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club president Antony Pettinger said the club was concerned about the noise from helicopters flying up the valley. The developer, Rees Valley Lodge Ltd, wants permission for up to 5000 helicopter landings a year at the site – an average of more than 13 a day.
“That amount of noise in an Outstanding Natural Landscape is a cause for concern,” Pettinger said. “It should be a naturally quiet valley and it would change that environment.”
The visual impact of the lodge from Kea Basin would also have an impact on the club, he said.
“Being able to see spa pools and helicopters would diminish the experience.”
The club frequently tramps in the area and used to manage Twenty-Five Mile Hut before it was demolished.
“It’s hard because we’ve had a long association with the Scott family and they have always been very generous with access.”
Glenorchy resident and Wakatipu Tramping Club member Fiona McQueen said helicopter noise would have a big impact on trampers walking the start of the Rees Track. She was concerned it may result in further development in the valley.
“It’s like a new gold rush,” McQueen said. “As soon as you have development happening, you get more people who want to develop the area. What’s to stop another heliport or the road being extended up the valley?
“This area is a treasured part of the country and if people don’t do anything, it will become like a new Los Angeles.”
The developer has sought a non-notified consent, meaning there would not be public consultation, as it believed the impact was ‘less than minor’. Council is yet to decide whether to notify the application.
In the application, planning consultant Ben Farrell said the lodge would have little impact on trampers in the valley as the track passes through a working farm, where machinery noise is to be expected and council would be ‘drawing a long bow’ if it notified it based on landscape and visual effects.
But council senior planner Erin Stagg called the number of flights proposed ‘fanciful’, and has asked the developer to come back with a new plan for the number of flights and the application has been put on hold.
An independent landscape assessment found the impact of the development hadn’t been adequately taken into account.
When contacted, Rees Valley Lodge Ltd director Gordon Watson asked Wilderness to submit questions via email, however he did not respond to any questions sent.
Federated Mountain Clubs president Peter Wilson has written to the council calling for the development to be notified. He said the impacts would go well beyond the private land, but FMC would not necessarily oppose the application if it were notified.
“The Scott family has always been very generous with access and I wouldn’t want to pass judgement on what is a development on private land,” Wilson said. “They are well within their rights to develop their land.”
Wilson said there were already a lot of helicopters operating in the valley and the developments wouldn’t have a major impact on the tranquility of the valley.
Meanwhile, a new heliport has also been proposed on Rees Valley Station. Glenorchy Heli chief executive Nicholas Nicholson wants to operate four helicopters from a site about 2km south-east of Mt Alfred with up to 3000 landings a year.
In correspondence, council senior planner Alicia Hunter said the application would likely be notified. The application is also on hold as the applicant is gathering further information about the impacts of the operation. Council has also asked for it to consult with DOC, Fish and Game, Forest and Bird and other commercial operators.
Nicholson did not respond to requests for comment, but Kate Scott said the proposal came about after Glenorchy Heli was prevented from expanding its operations at the Glenorchy airstrip. Scott’s brother, Eric Scott, is a pilot for Heli Glenorchy and the company already uses a hanger on Rees Valley Station to store helicopters.
Over 20 people have already written to council opposing the development and calling for it to be publicly notified.