International tourists may be charged a fee to visit Milford Sound, while Kiwis might have to book a parking space for their trip as part of major changes proposed for the iconic destination.
The proposals come from the Milford Opportunities Project, a group including DOC, NZTA, Ngāi Tahu and local councils, which was tasked with creating a plan to manage tourism in Milford Sound. Visitor numbers have more than doubled from 430,000 a year in 2013 to 870,000 in 2019, with 83 per cent of tourists from overseas and 43 per cent visiting on a 14-hour return day trip from Queenstown.
Amongst proposals are:
- A smaller bookable car park at Milford Sound to encourage people to take a bus from Te Anau.
- Access to the park via a permit system, which would be free to New Zealanders, but charged to international tourists.
- Campervans would be banned from driving further than Cascade Creek at the southern end of Lake Gunn, unless accommodation had been booked in Milford. The group also proposes closing the airport at Milford Sound and banning cruise ships from the inner sound.
- A range of walking tracks would be developed, including a shared cycleway from Te Anau to Cascade Creek; a new 80-bunk hut to create an overnight tramp near Lake Gunn that links tracks up Mistake Creek and to U Pass and a new track in the Gertrude Valley. The trailhead for the Routeburn/Greenstone-Caples would be redeveloped.
- There would also be an EV or hydrogen-fueled bus service running from Te Anau and people could get off-and-on at seven sites and trailheads.
- There would be new accommodation at Knobs Flat and Milford Sound and a cable car to the hanging valley above Bowen Falls where there would be a new track and a lookout.
The plan has no timeline, but the government has given it support, allocating $15m for the next stage of the project.