Eugenie Sage

Mad monorail proposal in Southland tussock grasslands and beech forests

by Eugenie Sage

Various alternate routes to Milford Sound have been proposed over the years to solve the perceived problem of travel time to, and congestion at Milford Sound. They include the train tunnel, the highway from Haast and the gondola. Two new proposals now seek concessions from the Department of Conservation.

Milford Dart Ltd wants to build a commercial coach tunnel between Glenorchy and the Hollyford Valley under Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Parks. Riverstone Holdings Ltd proposes a “get on/get off” boat/unimog/monorail/bus scheme from Queenstown to Te Anau Downs and then Milford.

You can help protect Te Wāhi Pounamu the South West World Heritage Area from the monorail by making a submission to DoC by 19 March. Check out Forest and Birds submission guide (Submissions on the Dart proposal have closed already)

Mavora Lakes

Mavora Lakes - Photo Credit Kiwihausen - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In wanting to pack more tourists through Milford Sound more quickly both companies forget that what makes Milford precious is its remoteness,  beauty and the fact that it isn’t five minutes down the road.

The journey to Milford around the lakes, past mountain ranges and through ancient forests is a part of the experience.  The journey and the landscapes are something to savour, rather than speed through in a wearying 12 hour dash from Queenstown to Milford and back again.


The monorail project is a major concern partly because DoC’s initial report suggests its impacts can be avoided, remedied or mitigated. This conclusion defies belief given the scale of the earthworks and forest clearance involved and the area’s high ecological and landscape values which feature in this Forest and Bird video.

For the monorail Riverstone Holdings Ltd wants legal control over a 200 metre wide and 43 km long swathe of conservation land.  This would be much cheaper for the company than negotiating rights to use private land.

Snowdon Forest

Snowdon Forest

The company’s promotional video features a snazzy monorail speeding through the forest. It doesn’t show the tens of thousands of beech trees that would be felled and the major earthworks on some steep slopes needed to construct the 43 km monorail track, maintenance track, bridging and power lines.

We can grow our tourism industry by encouraging visitors to stay longer (breaking the journey from Queenstown by staying overnight at Te Anau for example). Then they can walk, smell and enjoy the forests of the Kiwiburn and Upukerora Valleys rather than seeing them flash past a sealed and sound proofed monorail compartment.

Or they can enjoy a spectacular mountainbike ride (accordion warning) on the gravel road from Lake Wakatipu past the jewel like Mavora Lakes to Te Anau. (and eventually around Eyre Mountains) If bus congestion at Milford is a problem then proposals for a park and ride scheme from Te Anau using shared buses deserve further investigation.