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ALERT! Major Changes Proposed for Aoraki / Mount Cook and Westland Tai Poutini National Parks

The closing date for submissions on the draft Management Plans for the two National Parks is now 4 February 2019. These Parks include the premier alpine climbing region in the country and provide wonderful ski-touring, valley tramping and transalpine opportunities. NZAC has been associated with the areas since its foundation; members recreate there year round, it owns mountain huts and Unwin Lodge within the Parks, and a new edition of the climbing guidebook has just been launched. 

In draft these are the most consequential plans in a generation.

The Board has appointed a group, coordinated by Karen Leacock, to prepare the Club’s submissions. But we hope that as many members as possible will submit, providing their views on how the Parks should be managed for the next decade. The Club’s submission will be posted on the website late in January, with more information before then, but here is a heads-up. 

Westland Tai Poutini National Park

Overview- The draft has good policies for protection of biodiversity and other natural values. That said, there is a strong flavour of development manifested particularly in permissive policies on aircraft access. This is said to be in response to deteriorating access to the glaciers and, by implication, rocketing tourist numbers. 

Aircraft Landings- We are concerned about the proposals, particularly those for landings in the high alpine areas, primarily by helicopters. Currently landings in the head of the Franz and the Fox are confined to a number of specified sites. The draft provides that concessions can be granted for two huge ‘zones’ covering all terrain between 1500m and 2500m. That would include the foot of many climbs and in some places on or near the Main Divide. The actual landing spot in a zone is at the concessionaire’s/pilot’s discretion on the day. The zoned area includes the Cook and Callery watersheds—the snowfields beneath the superb climbing in the Balfour and La Perouse and the remote Burton and Spencer Glaciers, all currently free of landings. Further, there will be no distinction between scenic landings and those for, say, dropping climbers off at Centennial and Pioneer Huts. 

Gondola- DOC has invited views on the creation of an ‘amenities area’ from a few kilometres below the Franz Josef terminal to the névé near Almer Hut. In this area national park values are subservient to recreational and public amenities and facilities, but the proposal will impact on a much wider area. It is proposed that a gondola be built in that area. Depending on the response, policies will be inserted to initiate the process, which will include a thorough assessment of potential incomes.

Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park

Overview- Visitation to the park has increased dramatically in recent years and according to DOC is expected to double the 2016/17 levels over the life of the plan. Increased demand for recreation opportunities in the front country and deteriorating access to alpine areas from glacial recession has prompted DOC to propose significant changes to the management plan, most notably, greatly expanded air access.

Aircraft Landings- As in Westland, proposed increases in both the size of landing zones and the number of permitted landings per day are staggering. Compared with the current management plan, proposed landing allocations in the park would go from nearly 10,000 per year to over 100,000 per year. Roughly half of the allocated landings were actually used last year. An expanded Tasman landing zone will include the entire glacier from Murchison Corner at 900m up to 2300m, as well as the western flank of the Malte Brun Range below 1800m. The Murchison landing zone includes the entirety of Murchison Glacier between 1250m and 2100m. A controversial new landing site is proposed at Pudding Rock (Hooker valley) during the three months of summer, overturning the longstanding aircraft-free status of the upper Hooker. New landing zones are also proposed at huts in the lower Murchison and adjacent to Tasman Lake. Commercial heli-skiing will continue in the head of the Tasman Glacier, Mannering Glacier and Malte Brun Range. Existing landing ‘sites’ are changing to ‘zones’, giving operators freedom to land anywhere inside the zone.

Other changes in the draft affect huts, including expanded public access at Unwin Lodge and expanded hut bookings; a pack-out policy for human waste in areas lacking toilets; a park-and-ride system in the valley; foot access around Tasman Lake; the introduction of a ‘tranquility’ framework placed on top of, and additional to, existing visitor management zones; and, a spatial plan for the village.

Finally, when making your submission remember that national parks have special values, including protection in perpetuity for their intrinsic worth. 

For the draft plans, including maps of draft aircraft zones, and guidance on making submissions, visit:

Westland Tai Poutini:

Aoraki / Mount Cook:

Comments about the Club submission can be lodged at [email protected]


John Nankervis and Aubrey Miller 

Posted: 06/12/18

Posted By: Karen Leacock