Tourism continues to push infrastructure

Attending the opening of Tumu Toka Curioscape were (from left) Bobbi Brown, Labour MP Dr Liz Craig, Mayor Gary Tong, Te Ao Marama kaumatua Dean Whaanga, Shane Hatwell (DOC) and Paul Duffy. PHOTO: Southland District Council

Major infrastructural investments seem to be meeting the demand for tourism on both ends of the Southern Scenic Route, but the ongoing pressures of tourism means there's still much more work on the horizon.

Visitors clocked up more than 54,000 bed nights along the Milford Road's eight campsites this summer, an increase of more than 13,000 on the season past. 

The road's most popular campsite, Cascade Creek, saw more than half of those bed nights, hosting up to 360 visitors in one night during its peak.

Cascade Creek was upgraded at a cost of $780,000 last winter to prepare for camper growth, and Department of Conservation (DOC) Fiordland principal ranger for recreation/historic Grant Tremain said it had already been a good investment.

"To see Cascade go where we've made that investment, we've put the management time into it...and to see it grow has been really good."

Over in the Catlins, the $2.5 million, community-led Tumu Toka Curioscape at Curio Bay was officially opened on Thursday (July 19), 16 years after the idea was first conceived. 

Currently 150,000 people a year visit Curio Bay, according to Venture Southland, making it the second biggest tourist attraction in Southland after Milford Sound. 

The interpretative centre offers visitors insight into the natural history of the area and forms part of larger infrastructural investments in parking, camping and wastewater facilities to meet growing demand along the coastal hotspot.

South Catlins Charitable Trust chairman Paul Duffy said its cafe, just six months in operation, was seeing around 5000 visitors a month.

New, but longer standing, upgrades like its car park was full within a fortnight of its completion last year. Internal roading, more car parks and more penguin monitoring were identified as future work to 
be done.

"We're so pleased we've got it in place now, because if we didn't have it in place now, I think we would have had some serious issues dealing with the increased numbers," he said.

But the work to keep pace isn't stopping, even in the winter. 

DOC Te Anau operations manager Greg Lind said it was possible that up to 80,000 more people could be visiting Milford Sound this season compared to last, putting an even tighter squeeze on the area's limited parking infrastructure.

The proposed Little Tahiti multi-use car park and campground was meant to alleviate demand for parking at the fiord in the short-term. 

However, that proposal has stalled due to a difference of legal opinion between DOC and the Southland District Council (SDC) over whether a resource consent is required to do so. 

Mr Lind said the department was currently gathering more information for itself and the district council to review before potentially seeking a declaration from the Environment Court.

Both Mr Lind and SDC group manager for environmental services Bruce Halligan said it was an amicable difference of opinion. 

"The department's quite willing to go down this process," Mr Lind said, "but the issue [is] that it therefore doesn't provide what we would hope for, which was a short-term solution to the car parking issues in Milford Sound.

"There is no easy answer. It's about plugging the gaps while other solutions are being found."
In both locations, collaborative approaches seem to be key for the future.

Mr Lind said the Milford Opportunities Project was the first multi-agency approach to try to find big picture, longer-term solutions to Milford's future beyond stop gap measures like car parks and campground upgrades.

"We are hanging a lot of hats on the Milford Opportunities Project to deliver because the current growth, if it continues, we've got no long-term solutions in our catch bag of options."

And back in the Catlins, Venture Southland group manager for community, tourism, and events Bobbi Brown said the collaborative approach that brought Curio Bay to where it now would be its ticket to managing the future.

"As much as we got an awesome product... it's actually the attitude and the collaborative approach of all the parties.

"We're all saying, 'Look, we got to work together, because we could have a lot of people, they could benefit all of us. We got to work together and respond to when we need to and plan ahead and try and leverage off each other. And that's what's happening."


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