Milford Sound has become a high priority for DOC investment as visitors numbers to the fiord are predicted to hit one million in the near future.
Milford Sound is joining Franz Josef and Mt Cook/Aoraki as areas DOC has flagged to hit the unprecedented milestone of hosting a million visitors a year in the near future. While DOC is looking at investments and opportunities to maintain the Milford experience in the short term, it says it'll be keeping an eye at the upcoming Milford Opportunities Project on where the Fiordland icon could go in the long term.
DOC director-general Lou Sanson, who was in Te Anau at the weekend as guest speaker for the 40th annual Fiordland Tourism Awards, told Advocate South that visitor numbers had grown 15% from last year to 780,000.
They believed tourism in Milford Sound was worth $100 million to the Southland and Queenstown economies.
At the Milford Community Trust's meeting in Te Anau last Friday (September 22), DOC operations manager for Te Anau Greg Lind said the growth behind Milford Sound meant it was becoming a major focus for DOC, and the department's view was that the growing numbers would need to be managed, not constrained.
Already DOC had invested $780,000 to expand and improve the holding capacity of its Cascade Creek campsite along the Milford Road. DOC was also internally reviewing a plan to potentially develop a campsite at Milford Sound, known as "Little Tahiti", and further capital investment in Milford Road hot spots like the Divide car park, Lake Marian, the Chasm, would be a high priority.
"There's a multimillion dollar investment required to keep up with that growth," he said.
Mr Sanson said the future was all about managing traffic along the Milford Road.
In the short-term, DOC was looking into developing a more American-style approach to national parks with more rangers visible to help strengthen the visitor experience along the road and in Milford Sound.
In addition a summer visitor programme with evening talks was also in the works, as well as investing more in basic visitor infrastructure such as keeping toilets cleaned.
Mr Lind said while the short-term imperative for managing the growth was clear, DOC would be keeping an eye on what potential long-term strategies come from the Milford Opportunities Project, which would have its first meeting in October.
"We've got to deal with the here and now. Milford Opportunities Project could well be able to investigate larger and more complex solutions to Milford Sound beyond the department's direct responsibilities."
In his speech at the Fiordland Tourism Awards on Saturday night, Mr Sanson said places like Fiordland were becoming increasingly valuable in a world set to see its population grow to 9.5 billion people by 2040. Reaching the million visitor mark was something New Zealand had never experienced before.
"It looks like Te Anau's going to be a pretty interesting place to be."