Anger over heli access

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Ngai Tahu Tourism continues to spark outrage with its “monopoly” over helicopter landings near Glenorchy.

Aerial access to Elfin Bay, Routeburn, and Greenstone Stations is only available through Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters, which Ngai Tahu Tourism bought in 2016.

The firm also owns the land.

Residents and deer hunters claim concessions aren’t being granted for cheaper operators to fly in, despite applications lodged for more than a year.

Southern Lakes Deerstalkers’ secretary Sharon Salmons says there’s been a high number of cancellations of bookings for the huts from hunting parties this winter, due to there not being a cheaper option such as Heli Glenorchy.

The club’s lost revenue as a result, she says, which goes towards the upkeep of the huts and pays for the club’s stoat traps.

“This is a popular and dedicated recreational hunting area and hunters from all over the country have been very disappointed.”

Department of Conservation (DoC) has to consult Ngai Tahu – the South Island’s principal Maori iwi – on any applications from other operators for concessions to land on a marginal strip in the valleys.

A concerned local resident, who asks not to be named, believes Ngai Tahu Tourism is using the consulting requirement as a “tool to restrict legitimate competition”.

“This is not a fair deal to all who want to legitimately access these valleys at a fair and reasonable cost. Allowing one company to have exclusive access to a public resource by not issuing a landing consent to legitimate competition is not right.”

Ngai Tahu Tourism marketing and comms boss Kirsty Phillips says Ngai Tahu Farming Ltd and Ngai Tahu Tourism Ltd have an exclusivity arrangement for the Elfin Bay, Routeburn and Greenstone Stations.

Phillips says this type of deal is common across the region and walking access is always available.

She says the organisation has already responded to applications the DoC has received from its competitors.

The company is allowed to make thousands of flights a year in the valleys.

Clutha-Southland National MP Hamish Walker says his party has requested all relevant documentation from DoC.

Several competing helicopter operators contacted by Mountain Scene either declined to comment or didn’t respond before deadline.

Questions have also been raised about why DoC doesn’t seem to be pushing for concessions to be granted.

DoC’s acting operations director for the area, Caroline Rain, says the valleys “hold significant cultural and aspirational values for Ngai Tahu”.

It’s obligated under the Conservation Act to consult Ngai Tahu about concessions and is in talks with the company about current applications.

joshua.walton@scene.co.nz