9 June 2022

Fiordland businesses missing out on e-bike ‘boom’

Businesses say they are missing out on thousands of dollars in the e-bike tourism “boom” because of a five-year delay in reviewing the Fiordland National Park Management Plan.

Fiordland’s current plan was approved in 2007 and prohibits biking on any walking tracks within Fiordland National Park, with bikes only allowed on formed roads.

The Department of Conservation was supposed to review the plan in 2017, as it is a requirement that the plans are reviewed at least every 10 years.

Fiordland Business Association Nathan Benfell said: “There’s quite a lot of frustration within the business community around this … in my view, it’s [the 2007 plan] way out of date.” Benfell said.

In 2021, about 75,000 units of e-bikes and e-scooters were imported into New Zealand, up from 23,000 in 2017.

Towns across New Zealand, including Lumsden, have experienced a “boom” in e-bike tourism as a result.

New Zealand’s longest cycle trail, the 600km Alps 2 Ocean trail which begins in Aoraki Mt Cook and ends in Oamaru, has even introduced e-bike charging network along the trail in response to user demand.

Benfell had been talking with DOC pushing for the plan to be reviewed and had been told that current conservation laws were on the path to being reformed.

“We’re at the stage now where we’re figuring out how to support and represent our members and push the cause [in the public consultation stage of reforms] … but it does still feel a bit up in the air … we still can’t complete the Lake 2 Lake trail … it looks like nothing has happened the past five years,” he said.

The Lake 2 Lake cycle trail runs along Lake Te Anau and the east side of the Waiau river for 28km to Manapouri.

Fiordland Trails Trust chairman John Greaney said prior to Covid-19 about 40,000 people a year had been using the trail, with this number steadily increasing as Kiwis embraced domestic tourism over the course of the pandemic.

“Comparing that to the Around the Mountains cycle trail, it’s got higher usage.”

Under the current plan, trail users must ride about 4km of the trail along the Te Anau-Manapouri Hwy.

“It concerns us in the fact that it is a safety issue … we’re working with all parties, but our hands are tied until the plan is reviewed.”

Southland Tramping Club president Barry Smith said he would like to see the plan reviewed to allow the Lake 2 Lake trail to be completed, as many ageing members of the club had embraced cycling and e-bikes as an alternative to tramping trails.

However, he did not believe bikes would be appropriate on any of the Great Walks, such as the Routeburn and Milford track, due to the high altitude and the amount of work that would need to be completed for trails to be suitable.

“So it would only be elite cyclists who could access those, not your regular Joe Bloggs.”

Southern Conservation Board chair Shona Sangster said it had not been advised any work was underway on reviewing the plan, despite it being five years overdue.

“There are a lot of things that just did not exist in 2007, issues like drones and e-bikes, that the next plan will have to address … it’s a big issue for communities,” she said.

DOC planning, permissions and land director Natasha Ryburn said a review of the plan was on the work programme, but there was currently no agreed timeframe for the review to commence.

“The current Fiordland National Park Management Plan is still operative – meaning decision-makers must still consider the Plan when making decisions.”

Source: Stuff.co.nz June 05 2022

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