Milford Opportunities Project Newsletter

August 2023

Milford Opportunities Newsletter August 2023

Welcome to the August edition of the Milford Opportunities newsletter. We just managed to squeeze it in before the end of the month!

It feels as though the work has stepped up another notch in pace, but also that we have a few more tangible outputs to share with everyone, building on the engagement work, which is rewarding.

This month we cover off the work of the Transport & Infrastructure Team, look at the hot topic of how we might identify the right transport solutions for the Milford Road and provide an engagement update.

We see media interest in the project is growing. To make sure we respond as quickly as possible, the best approach is to direct these queries to copying in

As always – please feel free to share this newsletter and encourage anyone who has an interest in our work to sign-up to our contact database.

Ngā mihi

Phil Tisch, Fi Roberts & Lizzy Sutcliffe
Milford Opportunities Engagement & Communications Team

Milford Opportunities Newsletter August 2023

Identifying transport solutions for the Milford Road

Some of you may have seen recent media on our work to test the feasibility of a range of options around on delivering an enhanced transport system for visitors to Milford Sound Piopiotahi. This includes a recommendation to promote bus or guided transport options over self-driving.

Thanks to Diane Holmes and Sarah Greaney for sharing their perspectives on these options with media and noting these proposals have been out since 2021 when the masterplan was launched.

So what does the masterplan propose?

The masterplan recommends reducing the number of parking spaces in Piopiotahi and making them bookable by New Zealanders only. Here are the recommendations as they are laid out in the plan:

“Requiring international visitors to pay a fee for entry into Milford Sound Piopiotahi will help fund infrastructure and operational costs, as well as local conservation initiatives. Access for Aotearoa New Zealanders should continue to be free of charge but managed through a permit system.

  • The international visitor fee would be collected as part of the booking process for accommodation and/or transport into the national park. Smart technology will be used to manage this process.
  • Pre permit international visitors for a fee with pre permits for Aotearoa New Zealanders being free.
  • Pre permit parking spaces for Aotearoa New Zealanders at Milford Sound Piopiotahi (limit vehicles to parking availability).
  • Pre permit camping and campervans at Cascade Creek and not beyond (travel to Milford Sound Piopiotahi by bus), with exceptions for those prebooked at Milford Lodge.
  • Special permits (free) for pre-qualified commercial users, operators and service staff.
  • Special permits (free) for Aotearoa New Zealanders fishing, hunting, climbing or tramping.”

Identifying transport solutions for the Milford Road

Why make these recommendations?

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2018 in one day roughly 1,293 vehicles entered Milford Sound Piopiotahi, delivering 5,771 passengers to the boat terminal. Buses and other heavy vehicles made up less than 10% of these. Between 2016-2018, around 20-30 days each year there were more vehicles than parking spaces available at Piopiotahi. In addition to regular visitors, this past summer we had more than 100 recreational boaties (plus trailers) competing for a parking space in Piopiotahi at one time.

Milford Road is ranked third of any Waka Kotahi-managed road in New Zealand for personal risk and is considered challenging. The area has numerous natural hazards that many visitors are unaware of including, avalanche, rock fall, flooding, earthquakes and tsunami. Encouraging all visitors to the area (domestic and international) to use low/zero carbon-emission buses or guided tours where possible, protects the peaceful natural experience and offers a far safer, richer and more environmentally friendly option for visitors.

Local observations

We are also hearing, from local drivers, operators and community members, is that people are concerned about the numbers of drivers currently using the road. They report regularly observing drivers who are unprepared for the conditions, are racing to make a boat trip, and are putting themselves and others at risk as a consequence. You can view feedback on this in these two documents.

Feedback from professional coach drivers (PDF, 953K)>

Feedback on the Milford Road corridor (PDF, 467K)>

Next steps

We now need to honour the intent of the masterplan by looking at a wide range of options including the potential to require most international visitors to use a guided tour, or hop-on-hop-off bus to travel right through to Piopiotahi.

The masterplan aims to make bus and tour options preferable to self-driving in most cases. We know that many tourists really like leaving the car behind at Te Anau or elsewhere, and letting a knowledgeable tour guide take them through while they sit back and focus on the incredible surroundings. The zero-emission hop-on-hop-off service is intended to enable people to get off and explore the tracks and sites along the Milford Road at their own pace and significantly reduce road user risk and congestion alongside the environmental footprint of visitors.

Right now, work is underway to rigorously test the options to understand the best viable solutions. This includes assessing any policy and legal implications. How and whether to progress solutions identified through this process, will be a decision for Government, after public consultation.

Researching transport and infrastructure requirements

The Transport & Infrastructure Team have awarded contracts for the first tranche of their work – Assessment of Landscape Values, Assessment of Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecosystems and Species, Energy Assessment, and Walking & Cycling Experiences Feasibility.

This first tranche will further develop the research done in Stage 2 of the project by identifying opportunities and constraints for the transport systems and supporting infrastructure proposed in the masterplan. This will be done in conjunction with a historic heritage assessment and a cultural heritage inventory commissioned by the Heritage & Ngai Tahu Partnership Workstream. The Energy Assessment will identify current energy sources and capacity, project future demand if the proposals in the masterplan are implemented (e.g. charging stations for EVs), and investigate energy source options to meet that demand – for vehicles, boats and any built infrastructure.

The second tranche of contracts are currently out with the market to submit proposals on: Transport System and Design, Transport Technology, and Engineering Feasibility. The Transport System and Design contract will investigate the feasibility of implementing the mixed-managed access model proposed in the Masterplan – a park and ride system as well as allowing for some private vehicle access. The Transport Technology contract will investigate options for the technology required to manage the transport system, including how the public can make bookings and learn more about Te Rua-o-Te-Moko Fiordland National Park during their journey. The Engineering Feasibility Assessment contract will investigate the technical feasibility of implementing the infrastructure proposed in the masterplan from a civil, structural, geotechnical, and three-waters perspective. It will also include natural hazard and long-term climate change risk assessments. Another focus of the second tranche of contracts is estimating the cost to implement and manage the transport and infrastructure proposals in the masterplan.

Researching transport and infrastructure requirements

About the Transport & Infrastructure Team

The Transport & Infrastructure work is being led by Courtney Hart and Tom Hopkins under workstream lead Simon Moran.

Tom Hopkins

Tom Hopkins is a civil engineering technician and project manager. After graduating from Lincoln University with a Bachelor of Parks and Recreation Management in 1990 he spent several years working seasonally in the ski industry and for DOC, as well as in Antarctica. Up until joining the Milford Opportunities Project he had worked full time for DOC for 25 years managing a range of exciting projects including hut replacements such as Mueller and Plateau Huts at Aoraki Mt Cook National Park and the Paparoa and Pike29 Memorial Tracks in Paparoa National Park. Over this time he also gained a Diploma in Engineering (Civil) and experience in undertaking significant community and stakeholder engagement.

Tom is a keen tramper, skier, and mountain biker, but now mostly only goes mountaineering or fly fishing from the comfort of the couch. Professionally, he’s never more excited than when he’s involved in projects that facilitate peoples’ enjoyment of New Zealand’s wild places.


Courtney Hart

Courtney Hart, hailing originally from Northern Ireland, pitched up in New Zealand seven years ago with a job as a Civil Engineer in Wellington, excited for a new adventure.  Learning the ropes of the New Zealand construction industry, she got a wide range of experience working on projects in road safety, rail safety, and three waters. Working with the Safe Road Alliance and KiwiRail on designing their Level Crossings to be safer was a particular highlight.

After three years Courtney then felt the call south and moved to Queenstown where she worked as Consultant Rep on a large wastewater pump station project and managing (and occasionally designing) a portfolio of projects for a local energy distribution company.  Courtney joined the Milford Opportunities Project in January 2023 and is excited to be involved in a project so early on rather than spending most of her time standing in a cold trench on site!  Outside work Courtney enjoys skiing, hiking, cycle holidays and generally getting stuck into whatever is happening in the region.



Since the beginning of the year, we’ve held over 102 hours of engagement sessions mainly focussed on groups and operators based out of Te Anau.

We really appreciate the rich feedback on the desirability, practicality and fit of the ideas in the masterplan that has resulted from these sessions.  This information has been captured, themed, and fed into our feasibility testing process – and shared, where appropriate, through this newsletter.

Queenstown engagement

Since the last newsletter we have shifted our engagement focus to businesses and tourism operators based out of another key community for us – Queenstown.  This has included both small and large operators with a strong interest in the future of Piopiotahi.  Recent engagements include speaking to Southland Conservation Board, Queenstown Airport, Great South, Queenstown Chamber of Commerce, Southern Discoveries, Altitude Tours, Rental Car Association and Go Rentals and Real NZ.

One of the themes we have heard from businesses, and can fully appreciate, is that the last two years have been tough – for some, engaging with Milford Opportunities has been secondary to staying in business. We also heard that the idea of a world class visitor experience is front and centre for most, and that shifting more people into coaches of varying sizes, will improve safety, enhance the visitor experience and benefit the place.  Operators noted that a significant leap in technology is needed if we are to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and that upgrading the hydropower scheme in at Piopiotahi is essential.


Recent and upcoming engagement

While we are talking to Queenstown, we remain focussed on maintaining the momentum and information flow with the Te Anau and Milford Sound communities.

Key sessions this month included meeting with the Fiordland Business Association on 28 August and Piopiotahi Community on 29 August. We have planned engagements for September with rental car operators, Queenstown Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Export Council and the Fiordland Marine Guardians.

We plan to share feedback from the Fiordland Business Association and Milford Sound Residents in the September newsletter.