Queenstown-Milford monorail link proposal declined

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Plans for a $240 million monorail in Fiordland have been quashed by the Conservation Minister.

Dr Nick Smith says Riverstone Holdings Limited’s proposal does not stack up financially or environmentally.

The Fiordland Link Experience would have linked Queenstown to Milford Sound through a 20-kilometre boat excursion, a 45km all-terrain vehicle ride and a 43.8km monorail.

Smith last year rejected proposals for a $150m tunnel that would have cut journey time between the two tourist hotspots.

“This proposal does not stand up either economically or environmentally,” Smith says of the monorail.

“The independent tourism and financial analysis concluded it was not viable.

“There would be a significant impact on the area’s flora, fauna and natural heritage.

“The route is not sufficiently defined to properly assess the impacts.

“Developments in an area with World Heritage status and which impact on the Fiordland National Park must meet the highest standards.

“I have concluded that the risks of this proposal are too great.”

The application included a lease, licence and concession for the monorail and related infrastructure through the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area including the Snowdon Forest and Fiordland National Park.

“This monorail had more merit than the Milford Tunnel proposal and has been a more difficult decision to make,” Smith says.

“The process has taken some time because I have wanted to consider it very carefully.

“I have visited the site twice, met its applicants twice, consulted with the New Zealand Conservation Authority, and spent days reading the relevant reports and responses from the applicants.

“I appreciate my decision will come as a major disappointment to Riverstone Holdings.

Smith says he doesn’t want this decision interpreted as the Government and the Department of Conservation (DOC) being opposed to any proposal for alternative access options in Fiordland.

“The strategic issue of facilitating better transport options between Queenstown and Milford remains,” Smith says.

“The door is still open but proposals will need to be both environmentally sustainable and economically viable.

“This conservative decision reflects the cautious approach I have to developments in Fiordland.

“This World Heritage Area has some of New Zealand’s most highly valued and spectacular landscapes that require I err on the side of nature.”

A hearing commissioner in November had recommended the project be allowed to go ahead wth extensive conditions.

It would have been the world’s longest monorail and the largest development ever allowed on conservation land in New Zealand.