A new report has proposed developing hot pools, a ‘wellness hub’, an eco-lodge and a new visitor centre in Arthur’s Pass in a bid to encourage more visitors and investment.
The new structures were proposed in a report commissioned by the Department of Conservation, but the department appears to be ignoring its top recommendations.
DOC paid Australian tourism planning and marketing consultancy Stafford Strategy $125,000 to look at ways to showcase the village and encourage visitors to stay longer. Funding for the report came from the government’s international visitor levy. The report was completed in June last year, but DOC sat on it for a year before it was only publicly released in June this year.
The report found a lack of accommodation and limited year-round experiences at Arthur’s Pass and looked at alpine destinations around the world, such as Switzerland’s Grindelwald, for ideas to develop the village.
During research for the report, the company asked 231 trampers about village development. The most popular suggestion was ‘nothing needed’ (36 per cent), followed by more public transport (29 per cent), more train services (26 per cent) and a Great Walk (16 per cent). The things trampers didn’t want to see included ‘boardwalks’ and ‘prettying up the tracks too much’.
However, the report’s top proposal was for a discovery centre, which would include information about the area and a virtual reality experience showing the unique flora and fauna of the park ‘up close’.
The second option was to develop a ‘hot pools/wellness hub’, despite noting that Arthur’s Pass does not have natural hot springs. It said the pools ‘align strongly with the Government’s tourism strategy’ and could ‘encourage enhanced understanding of the need for greater care of the environment and its long-term sustainability’.
The third proposal was for a 70-room four-star eco-lodge on KiwiRail land. Other options included upgrading the Klondyke Corner campground and the railway station and building and upgrading tramping tracks.
DOC experience design manager Tania Short said the department is planning some of the report’s suggestions “such as improved connectivity of attractions in the village and enhanced facilities for the Devil’s Punchbowl car park”. But plans for hot pools, a wellness centre and an eco-lodge appear to be on hold.
“The world has changed hugely since the integrated planning project for Arthur’s Pass was initiated in 2019 and the current COVID-19 context means that funding for the next steps of this work is constrained,” Short said.
Federated Mountain Clubs has criticised the report, calling it ‘fundamentally flawed’ by compromising the department’s role of protecting the environment and questioned why DOC didn’t make environmental protection its focus.
FMC has called for the report to be abandoned and for the department to review the park’s management plan, which it says is four years overdue. It also called on DOC to upgrade the village’s visitor centre, which closed in 2019 after being deemed earthquake-prone and has been replaced by a small prefab building.