A new management plan for Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park could see 200 aircraft per day landing throughout the park. Brooke shares the reasons why this shouldn’t be allowed to happen and urges you to send one email which could make all the difference.
Aoraki/Mt Cook feels so close I can almost touch it. In reality, the Caroline Face is nearly 2 kilometers away from where I sit, nestled in the warmth of Caroline Hut 1,800m above sea level. But with the air clear and crisp, and the view uninterrupted, the distance melts into nothingness.
It’s my last day in this magic place. To say I’m sad to leave is an understatement. I’ve spent the last 5 days on a Mountaineering Course with family-run Alpine Recreation, who own this private hut and the emergency shelter attached to it.
We’ve abseiled and rock climbed to the mighty backdrop of New Zealand’s highest peak. We’ve learned glacier and avalanche skills on the magnificent Ball Pass. We’ve watched the morning light unveil the mountain piece by golden piece. We’ve seen not one, not two, but three rare Keas and heard the tiny squeak of the endangered Rock Wren.
And occasionally, we’ve heard the loud rumble of an aircraft shatter the stillness as it heads towards the Tasman Glacier, once there, its passengers will disembark — smiles wide — for a scenic glacier landing.
From 27 Flights To 200
But soon — if a new management plan for the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park proceeds — that noise could become never-ending. No longer will the squawk of the cheeky Kea be what you listen for, but instead, the mechanical whir of an altogether different bird.
According to the new plan, up to 200 helicopter landings will be allowed to take place each day.
As Elke Braun-Elwert, assistant director of Alpine Recreation and my guide for the week, says: ‘That’s one aircraft landing and leaving every 1.5 minutes.’ For comparison, Wellington Airport has 230 landings per day. Not only that, but the current average number of landings per day is just 27. That’s an increase of almost 10 fold.’
So, why the big increase? The answer of course is tourism — or mass tourism to be exact. Statistics from October 2018 show that New Zealand welcomed 3,821,658 international visitors in the year to date. That’s an increase of nearly 4 percent from 2017. And the years before that saw an increase of 7 percent and 11 percent respectively.
Huts Over Helicopters
The management plan covers far more than just the aircraft landings. But when it comes to that aspect of the proposal, Alpine Recreation has one clear message — huts over helicopters.
Elke says: ‘We’d like to see the areas which have traditionally been free of mass tourism stay that way. We simply don’t feel that popular hut-accessible climbing and ski touring areas should be accessible to aircraft for day trips. We’d also like to see buffer zones and no fly areas increased to protect both the fragile environment and the experience of foot-accessed visitors.’
She is quick to point out that they’re not opposed to aircraft access in principle. Elke herself regularly guides weeklong trips on the glaciers, which utilise aircraft for access. They simply want sensible limits. And, after being privileged enough to spend time in the region — it’s very easy to see why.
She concludes: ‘Aircraft will always have their place for backcountry access and scenic flights, but the flying experience shouldn’t dominate over other uses of the park. We believe there should be a clearly defined total number of day-tourism related landings allowed per day across all aircraft operators in the Tasman Valley. And there shouldn’t be more than an average of one flight every 15-20 minutes.’
So What Can You Do To Help?
Absolutely any member of the public (yes Australians too) can lodge a written submission on the draft management plan — but you need to move quickly.
I’ve done mine already. I hope you’ll take the time out of your day to do the same.
New Zealand, worth protecting