Reflections from a new board member

After a visit to Piopiotahi earlier this month, tourism industry advisor Dave Bamford reflects on his observations and why he is excited about change.

I have long had a passion for better respect for, and management of, New Zealand’s national parks. During Covid I had written an essay pleading for improved tourism management in all of our national parks (see chapter 5 of 100% Pure Future). I am aware of the challenges and demanding logistics and expense for DOC and others to manage tourism infrastructure in such a remote, iconic and treasured national park.

I’ve had a real interest in the concept of Milford Opportunities Project since 2018. I was very surprised earlier this year, to be appointed to the Milford Opportunities Board by the respective ministers. It is good to join a seasoned board.

During 40 years of intermittent visits to Milford Sound Piopiotahi for work, tramping, mountain holidays or biking, as I did last summer, I wasn’t focused on the management of Milford Sound. I did feel it gets overcrowded, especially at peak hours during the day, and that the infrastructure, particularly wastewater management, was ageing.

For me, visiting Milford Sound Piopiotahi and the Milford corridor in early November, with Programme Director Chris Goddard and Heritage and Ngāi Tahu Partnership Workstream Lead John Twidle, was a chance to have a brief look at its complex management. I was troubled by some of what I saw.

Parts of Milford Sound are disconnected from each other which disrupts the visitor experience.  There was a big contrast between the tourism infrastructure at Freshwater Basin and the fishing and recreational amenities at Deepwater Basin.

The tourism infrastructure at the cruise terminals gives a reasonable first impression for visitors – although when they get off buses after the long journey they are focussed on getting on their cruise boat rather than assessing the management of a national park! When one goes to the southwestern part of the Sound (Deepwater basin) one finds a seemingly unloved area which includes some staff accommodation, soft adventure tourism operations and recreational fishers mixed in with the commercial ones. Looking around the area of the old Milford hotel and general facilities, I was struck by the need to better redesign the village and improve infrastructure.

I left Milford Sound/Piopiotahi reflecting on what a special place it is, and how incredible it could be when cultural values are considered, noise impacts are further managed, infrastructure is improved and there are sufficient finances to both maintain the marine and terrestrial environment and provide a seamless, regenerative visitor experience. It is certainly timely and courageous to move the assessed Milford Opportunities Masterplan forward.

I look forward to working hard as a board member over the next six months on this important piece of work.