Milford tunnel a PR disaster’ for Queenstown Hobbit tourism

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Opponents warn a mega-bucks Milford tunnel project could be a PR disaster for The Hobbit movies’ anticipated Queenstown tourism boost. 

Campaigners against the proposed $170 million Milford Dart Tunnel – which will shorten trips from Queenstown to Milford Sound – say it must be rejected by the Department of Conservation before The Hobbit film release. 

Stop The Tunnel Glenorchy members claim tourism benefits could be lost if stunning southern landscapes from the film are reported to be under threat. 

Director Peter Jackson confirmed this week on his Facebook page The Hobbit will be a trilogy. The previous Lord of the Rings film trilogy created a huge tourism boom for New Zealand throughout the past decade. 

Tourism New Zealand bosses are working with the studios on branding and slogans for The Hobbit – with a ‘where fantasy meets reality’ option. 

Anti-tunnel campaigner Patricia Ko, of Glenorchy, says: “It’ll create so much negative publicity. The NZ scenery will be in the spotlight. 

“The international media already know about this issue and it will be interesting for them to write about. 

“It will be ‘look at this beautiful scenery, what is New Zealand doing?’” she says.

“The next step in our campaign is to get the politicians to decline this proposal before The Hobbit comes out.” 

The proposal to build an 11.3km private bus tunnel through mountains in Mt Aspiring and Fiordland National Park will shorten the 600km Queenstown-to-Milford Sound trip to 240km for about 40 tourist buses a day. 

Opponents claim it’ll threaten the environment, endangered species and ruin the national park and Glenorchy. 

Milford Dart Ltd boss Tom Elworthy rejects the claims. 

Elworthy says: “It’s nonsense because it is not going to spoil it one iota – there’s basically no impact. 

“This lovely Lord of the Rings land will still look just as lovely the day this project is finished as the day before it starts.” 

Destination Queenstown boss Graham Budd declined to comment on the potential for the tunnel to taint The Hobbit fever. 

But he says: “It’s really good news, the third movie. 

“Frankly, even though the movie is shot in some wonderful locations around the whole country, from an iconic landscape perspective this is one of the principal regions that represents the best of NZ. 

“We’re certainly going to get significant direct and indirect benefits from this as we did with The Lord of the Rings.” 

Jackson has confirmed he plans to return to NZ to shoot more footage for a third movie. 

“We know how much of the story of Bilbo Baggins, the Wizard Gandalf, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the 
Necromancer, and the Battle of Dol Guldur will remain untold if we do not take this chance,” his Facebook statement reads. 

“The richness of the story of The Hobbit, as well as some of the related material in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, allows us to tell the full story of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the part he played in the sometimes dangerous, but at all times exciting, history of Middle-earth. 

“So, without further ado…I’d like to announce that two films will become three.” 

The announcement means Queenstown will likely once again see stars such as Orlando Bloom and Sir Ian McKellen about town.