Milford Opportunities Project Newsletter September 2020

18 September 2020

Milford Opportunities Project introduction

The Milford Opportunities Project was established in 2017 following discussions between the Southland District Council and the Department of Conservation. Both parties had identified issues of congestion at Milford Sound Piopiotahi and along the Milford corridor by tour buses and other vehicles at particular times.

The project will create an ambitious and innovative masterplan for the region, focusing on what needs to be done to offer a unique and authentic experience, as well as how visitors will be managed into the future.

Stage one of the project was completed in late 2018 and consisted of research and gap analysis, along with some preliminary engagement. The team then worked with Government for further funding for stage two, which began late last year.

Stage two has seen the team defining and choosing options to be included in the masterplan, and ensuring these options/recommendations are backed up by data and research. Stage two will be completed when the masterplan is made public in mid 2021.

Upcoming engagement opportunities

On 5 October the Milford Opportunities Project will be undertaking another nationwide campaign. This will be the final chance for large-scale engagement on this project as the team makes the decisions for the final masterplan in December.

We are seeking public feedback on themes and ideas. This engagement will not be in the form of a survey but rather a set of scenario-type stories which are based on the previous surveys, engagement, reference groups, research carried out and decisions already made by the governance group.

The engagement will be on our website and we also plan to come out to Te Anau, Milford Sound Piopiotahi, Queenstown and Invercargill to hear your thoughts.

The governance group at its December meeting will be making the final decision of what will be included in the masterplan.

At the end of March 2021 the masterplan will be given to Government ministers for review through that month and that will be followed by the public launch of the masterplan.

The Milford Opportunities Project is your chance to shape the future of one of New Zealand’s most iconic areas. We believe gathering feedback from as diverse a range of New Zealanders as possible is crucial to its success. It is our responsibility to look after the Milford Sound Piopiotahi area for generations to come.

Piopiotahi – New Zealand as it was, forever.

Opportunities for engagement will be through the Milford Opportunities website. You can sign up to our database here to receive an email detailing when the engagement is live.

Upcoming engagement opportunities

July nationwide survey

A two-week survey was conducted nationwide in July, focusing on ideas the project had received through earlier public forums and stakeholder engagement. Because of Milford Sound Piopiotahi’s national importance, we wanted further feedback on these suggestions and input from a diverse range of New Zealanders. The survey was advertised through news outlets such as Stuff (10,000 views), NZ Herald online and NZME (3,545,503 impressions), The Southland Times, Southland Express and The Southland App (22,000 screen views).

The survey link was opened by approximately 1,400 prospective respondents with 977 respondents providing sufficient content. A total of 93% of respondents had previously visited Milford Sound Piopiotahi but only 5% of respondents had participated in earlier Milford Opportunities Project consultation.

The survey allowed New Zealanders to view these suggestions and provide input into the future of Milford Sound Piopiotahi. The feedback has been summarised and grouped into option categories under the following key themes:

Cruise ships

The need for more managed cruise ship access and their overall impact emerged. While 70% of respondents believed cruise ships should be allowed, 47% stated there should be some reduction in impact. The main opinion was that only smaller cruise ships should be allowed in Milford Sound Piopiotahi.

Milford Sound Piopiotahi arrival experience

The majority of respondents believed there should be some form of greater site/area definition and recognition. A total of 60% indicated the need for a defined ‘gateway’ or ‘entrance’. Most felt it should either be around Homer Tunnel (25%), when you first see Milford Sound Piopiotahi (19%) or along the waterfront at the village (8%).

Milford Sound Piopiotahi Visitor Information Centre

The majority of respondents (79%) indicated the need for improved provision of a Milford Sound Piopiotahi Visitor Information Centre, with most preferring a dedicated site either at a new standalone location (29%), a dedicated space/facility in the current terminal (28%) or at least some improvement to the current service there (16%).

Milford Sound Piopiotahi vehicle parking

80% of survey respondents favoured the removal of or a significant reduction in parking in the foreshore area. Of those who specified ‘other option’ (8%), most made reference to some sort of ‘park and ride’ or similar shuttle-related options from more distant parking areas.

Visitor park and ride (to Milford Sound Piopiotahi)

A flexible access model was the key theme for this question with 75% of respondents choosing some type of park and ride system, with most favouring Te Anau as a base (43%).

Transport options to Milford Road visitor sites (along State Highway 94)

The majority of respondents (68%) favoured the incorporation of some form of hop-on/hop-off bus or shuttle service. Of these, 40% preferred mixed systems allowing for private vehicle access while 20% of others preferred an exclusive system.

Milford Road visitor sites/activities (along State Highway 94)

The main belief was there needs to be an improvement in activity options along Milford Road. Most respondents (44%) favoured the enhancement of current sites and creating new sites and activity options. The others (31%) favoured at least current site improvements. Only 23% favoured the current status quo.

Milford Road visitor accommodation sites/facilities (along State Highway 94)

Most respondents (44%) favoured enhancing current accommodation sites and facilities. Others (30%) also favoured creating new site options. Of those who specified some ‘other option’ (8%), most referred to restricted use, particularly with respect to freedom camping.

Airport/air services at Milford Sound Piopiotahi Airport

Improved status quo was a key theme here. The majority of respondents (64%) favoured retaining the status quo (with some key facility/service improvements). Around 17% favoured closing the runway but retaining helicopter services.

Milford Sound Piopiotahi visitor activities and facilities

The main finding was people want more activities and facilities in Milford Sound Piopiotahi, with a strong focus on natural experiences. Most of the respondents (79%) favoured either a mix of new or improved natural and/or built visitor experience opportunities. Only a few (6%) favoured just-built activity opportunities.

Milford Sound Piopiotahi accommodation

Improved accommodation options were identified, although not so much for high end needs as staff needs. A total of 67% of survey respondents favoured the improvement of accommodation options around the village for visitors and staff. However, 23% believed the improvement in accommodation options should be for staff needs only. High-end accommodation options were not highly favoured (10%).


The need for a greater focus on a ‘user-pays model’ was a key theme, particularly with respect to international visitors (and associated providers). However, there was an acknowledgement that any future systems had to be mixed source. Only 11% favoured the status quo (taxpayer) source for most costs and funding of Milford Sound Piopiotahi while the remaining 89% favoured more cost recovery through a mixed permit fees model.


These summary findings are only one part of the survey results. Coded summaries and analysis of the extensive complementary open-ended question responses are still underway. A summary of details from the in-depth question analysis will follow in the next newsletter. 

The international visitor market was investigated by researching online feedback sites such as Trip Advisor.

The July nationwide survey has served as the basis for our October engagement, which will be accessible to the public through our website from 5 October. 

July nationwide survey

Project team update

Stantec, Boffa Miskel, Kauati, Martin Jenkins, Natural Resources Law, Visitor Solutions, Fresh Info, ECPC and Build Media make up the Milford Opportunities project team, led by Russell Halliday, from Stantec.

Stantec specialises in district and regional planning development, environmental plans, sustainable development, public consultation and Maori consultation. Boffa Miskell specialises in assessment/research, planning and strategic policy advice, management and monitoring as well as master planning.

The impacts of the February flooding on the Fiordland community and then Covid-19 on the global economy have been significant. The COVID lockdown forced the project team to work differently to what was initially planned.  Engaging digitally and working the extensive networks of relationships has proven effective and the project is still on track.

Despite the impacts of recent events, the agencies and organisations involved in the project have managed to engage well on the developing project and have been responsive to opportunities during this time of great change and disruption.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi

The multi-agency project Governance group, made up of business, Government, NGO and mana whenua representatives has adopted a Treaty of Waitangi-based approach to engagement on the project.

The project was founded on seven pillars including that the outcomes of the project integrate the values of mana whenua. These pillars were developed in the first round of engagement in 2017-18 by working with communities in Milford, Te Anau and Queenstown. By adopting a treaty-based approach consistent with community expectations, Government, Ngai Tahu and the community can have greater confidence that the solutions we help the community identify will be feasible, practical, achievable and ambitious and improve the way we work together when delivering the masterplan.


Partner agencies and other interested organisations have contributed a great deal of data to support the current state assessment of the environment, major assets, visitor experience and socio-economic trends.

Refining the scope of the project has been a key element in this process as there are many scales of interest. Milford Sound Piopiotahi and the Milford Road are the first layer of focus. This is where the greatest number of visitors come to experience Fiordland. This level of focus considers how tourism is impacting the environment and how the economy is responding.

The role of Te Anau, Manapouri and the Waiau River catchment is the next layer of focus where we start to consider how to sustainably grow and enhance the conservation and economic opportunities in a way that is consistent with the community’s aspirations. Here we need to consider how we protect our environment and at the same time improve the visitor experience so that the contribution tourism makes to the area is aligned with community expectations and integrates in a sustainable way with other tourism gateways, such as Queenstown and Invercargill.

Working with our communities

We have established reference groups to help us leverage off the strong spirit of collaboration present in Fiordland and to help identify and address systemic and cultural barriers that may impede progress towards the project’s goal that: Milford Sound Piopiotahi maintains its status as a key New Zealand visitor icon and provides a world-class visitor experience that is accessible, upholds the World Heritage status, national park and conservation values and adds value to Southland and New Zealand.

Our reference groups include:

  • Conservation and environment
  • Park access
  • Aviation
  • Business and tourism
  • Asset and statutory management

In the first round of workshops we validated what we had learned from the analysis phase of the project. The project team is preparing for the next round of workshops with the reference groups presently.

Over lock-down we had to work virtually so June represented a welcome opportunity to meet with people face to face, in many circumstances, for the first time. Each time we meet with people we are joining more and more dots in our analysis. In July we hosted drop-in sessions in Te Anau and Queenstown to give stakeholders an opportunity to hear more about the project and to contribute to the optioneering process by sharing their own ideas and providing feedback on the ideas of others.

Next steps

The options that are being identified mostly represent the ideas and aspirations that have been discussed in the community for years but you will also see some that may be new to most. The next phase will involve comparing options and testing them out with impacted groups and potential implementation partners. At the end of this phase, there will be an opportunity for the public to get involved in the final public engagement in October.

Project team update

Ngāi Tahu Values and Aspirations workstream

Stantec and Boffa Miskell are working through 12 different workstreams, with the Cultural Values and Aspirations workstream focusing on engaging with iwi and local rūnanga to ensure there are further opportunities to contribute and that mana whenua values are included where appropriate in the masterplan. Here is the update from the Cultural Values and Aspirations workstream.

Tēnā koutou katoa

Ko te reo o te kea e rakona ki uta, ko te reo o te toroa e rakona ki tai. He kōtuku ki te raki, he kākāpō ki te whenua. He tūrakawaewae tā kā mean katoa.

The voice of the mountain parrot is heard inland and the voice of the albatross is heard at sea, a white heron in the sky , a ground parrot on the ground. Everything has its rightful place.

The Milford Opportunity Project recognises the ability for Ngāi Tahu to express its traditional kaitaiki relationship of care with the environment.

For Te Rua o te Moko Fiordland there are eight Ngāi Tahu Papatipu Rūnanga who have shared interest in the decision making.

Papatipu Rūnanga exercise mana whenua on behalf of Ngāi Tahu whānui – for those who exist to uphold the mana of their people over the land, the sea and the natural resources.  Papatipu Rūnanga are part of the continuum that is Ngāi Tahu – they maintain the marae, greet and look after the visitors, bury the dead, help to raise the next generations and keep alive the traditions and stories of the Ngāi Tahu culture.

The Papatipu Rūnanga with authority in Te Rua o te Moko are Awarua, Waihōpai, Ōraka-Aparima, Hokonui, Makaawhio, plus Ōtakou, Puketeraki and Moeraki.

The summary below will outline the nine different strands which ensure the voice of Papatipu Rūnanga (and, therefore, Ngāi Tahu), is woven into all parts of the Milford Opportunities Project.

Firstly, the structure of the Milford Opportunities Project ensures iwi representation is accounted for:
  1. A Ngāi Tahu representative sits in the Milford Opportunities Project Governance Group
  2. A Ngāi Tahu representative sits in the Milford Opportunities Working Project
  3. The project has a dedicated workstream called Cultural Values and Aspirations, and a mana whenua engagement lead
  4. The mana whenua Advisory Group has been established. This group consists of five representatives from Papatipu Rūnanga.
Secondly, the project deliverables under the Cultural Values and Aspirations workstream ensure iwi values are woven into the project.

The key project deliverables include:

  1. A strategic document outlining how Ngāi Tahu engagement is to happen
  2. A document outlining how Ngāi Tahu intellectual property is to best inform the project while being respected and protected
  3. A statement of the mana whenua values for Piopiotahi and Southland in the Te Anau Basin and in the vicinity of the road corridor. This statement includes environmental values/aspirations; economic values/aspirations; cultural values/aspirations; social values/aspirations.
  4. A criteria for an evaluation framework to assess the masterplan options against the known cultural values
  5. Identification of potential opportunities to recognise mana whenua’s place in the landscape, guardianship and values through the masterplan.

In our most recent bi-weekly hui, we heard how Ngāi Tahu see Te Rua o te Moko Fiordland as the culmination of all artworks by the earthshaper, Tū-te-rakiwhanoa. Piopiotahi Milford Sound is connected to the accomplished artist, who is connected to other culturally significant sites, creating an iconography of cultural significance.

Of immense value to Ngāi Tahu is the integrity of their stories, and the maintenance of its heritage for a further 50 plus years.

Ngāi Tahu Values and Aspirations workstream

Increased connectivity in Milford Sound Piopiotahi

Work has started on the new fibre connection for Milford Sound Piopiotahi. Chorus has begun laying the 120 kilometres of fibre, with funding coming from the Provincial Growth Fund as part of the government’s plan to upgrade communication services and expand ultra-fast broadband connectivity.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones said the aim of the project was to create resilience in case of network damage.

The fibre will run from Te Anau, along the Milford Road and into Milford Sound Piopiotahi.

“The upgraded capacity and resilience these new fibre links will provide are a further example of the government’s ongoing commitment to improving critical telecommunications infrastructure nationwide, as well as specifically boosting investment in the regions,” Mr Jones said.

This is something that both business operators and locals have been seeking for years.

Sarah Greaney, Fiordland Community Board chairperson, said the fibre installation would make Te Anau and the surrounding area more attractive to businesses and for remote working opportunities.

“There are always more businesses looking at online propositions,” she said.

Chorus is coordinating the installation with Milford Road Alliance as repairs to the Milford Road are still ongoing. This follows the February flooding which saw extensive damage to State Highway 94 from Lake Gunn to the Homer Tunnel.

“The region’s recent flooding, road and track closures highlight the fragility of the infrastructure in Milford Sound and the need for increased resilience” Mr Jones said.

The fibre will provide a connection to the cellphone towers that are being built in Milford Sound Piopiotahi under phase two of the Rural Broadband Initiative. According to the government, the Rural Broadband Initiative aims to provide connectivity to cellphone towers that cover cellphone black spots in rural areas and key tourism destinations.

The Milford Sound connectivity project is due for completion by the end of 2022.

Increased connectivity in Milford Sound Piopiotahi

Safety upgrade for the Homer Tunnel

In July the Minister of Infrastructure Shane Jones announced the Homer Tunnel was getting a safety upgrade from the ‘shovel ready’ funding. Infrastructure improvements are a key component of the government’s post COVID-19 economic recovery plan. The government plans to invest $25 million to improve the resilience and safety of the Homer Tunnel.

This multi-million dollar investment will provide a much needed economic boost for the Southland region through the creation of 180 jobs – directly and indirectly related to the tunnel project.

“Improving infrastructure is a key component of our economic recovery plan. This funding is an investment in the future of a critical piece of infrastructure for the region, improving safety for tourists, creating jobs and providing much-needed economic stimulus,” Mr Jones said.

Milford Road Alliance manager Kevin Thompson said the money invested by government through the Covid-19 recovery package meant work previously planned could be brought forward “with some of the work now able to get underway immediately”.

Specific safety features for the Homer Tunnel will include a ‘fire life’ safety system, involving the installation of radar and incident detection cameras with remote tunnel monitoring from Te Anau, active lighting, barrier arms and a power systems upgrade.

The eastern tunnel portal area will be upgraded to provide a new viewing area, an avalanche mitigation system, rockfall protection above the tunnel portal and dual-laning for winter traffic management.

Work for the ‘fire life’ safety system and some aspects of the eastern tunnel portal area will start immediately. Work on the construction of new emergency refuges sites inside the tunnel (for people caught inside when there is a fire or an earthquake), the installation of a new forced-ventilation system, a deluge system and other upgrades to the eastern tunnel portal area will occur over the next 18 months.

Safety upgrade for the Homer Tunnel

It’s time to get involved

We want to hear from and engage with people and organisations during the preparation of the Milford Opportunities Project masterplan. We have multiple ways for you to get involved in the project.

Our final nationwide public engagement opportunity will be sent out to people on our database and available on our website in October.

We will continue to hold public drop-in sessions where members of the team are available at venues for a day so you can come and chat with them when you are available.

We have met or had phone calls with key stakeholders throughout the country. Reference groups have been used to share information and ideas and get feedback as the development of the masterplan continues.

Keep an eye on our website, Facebook and Instagram as we add more opportunities.

Keeping in contact

The Milford Opportunities Project wesbite was launched at the start of March 2020. Along with information about the project and summaries of previous engagement, it also includes the project’s terms of reference, information on the governance group and a contact page where you can send questions or feedback.

You can find the website at

Alongside the website, a Facebook page and Instagram page have also been established.

“The goal of the website and associated social media is to not only inform people about the project but also encourage people to be involved. We want to hear what people think” project working group leader Simon Moran said.

You can find our Facebook and Instagram pages @MilfordOpportunities or by clicking on the links below