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Burton: Opening of the Whakapapa Ski Area

Mon, 9 Aug 2004

Hon Mark Burton: Opening of the Whakapapa Ski Area and Village Sewerage Scheme

The future care of Tongariro National Park was ensured by Horonuku Te Heuheu Tukino IV of Ngati Tuwharetoa when he gifted the peaks to all people of New Zealand in 1887, so that they might be preserved and protected for all time. This gift provided the initial focus for the creation of the national parks system in New Zealand.

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Greetings.

Before I say a few words on this very important occasion, I would like to pass along the regrets my colleague, the Minister of Conservation that he cannot be here today, and greetings from the Prime Minister who is in Apia to Chair the Pacific Forum.

The unique and precious treasure that is Tongariro National Park means many things to many people.

Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu are mountains sacred to Maori, especially the Tuwharetoa and Ngati Rangi peoples who have lived beneath them for many generations. The mountains are recalled in ancient tribal stories as great forces in a universe where everything is alive. They are seen as atua, as places of spiritual forces which command and give life to the natural world, and whose wild and unpredictable actions can create and destroy on a huge scale. Accordingly, they are regarded with respect and humility as well as with awe.

The future care of Tongariro National Park was ensured by Horonuku Te Heuheu Tukino IV of Ngati Tuwharetoa when he gifted the peaks to all people of New Zealand in 1887, so that they might be preserved and protected for all time. This gift provided the initial focus for the creation of the national parks system in New Zealand.

To the scientific community, these mountains are an important and intact example of an active volcanic landscape, where plants and animals survive in an often hostile environment.

And to the visitor, the park is a rugged playground of outstanding natural beauty that provides incredible recreation and sightseeing opportunities.

To the international community, the park is unique - so much so, that it is one of only 23 sites awarded dual World Heritage Status for their natural and cultural features.

In making management decisions concerning Tongariro National Park, the sentiments, purpose and importance of the original gift remain just as valid today as they did in 1887.

In the 116 years since that original gift, Tongariro National Park has grown and developed as New Zealand's best known and most used national park - preserved for its intrinsic worth and for the benefit, use and enjoyment of the people.

Today, we recognise that the ski area company - Ruapehu Alpine Lifts, and the ski clubs, have an historical and legal association in the recent history and development of the park, and are instrumental in providing for public enjoyment of the park, and contribute significantly to the overall economic and social wellbeing of the community.

Tongariro National Park's regional economic impact is significant. The visitors who come to the park each year add value to the local and regional economy and highlight the Volcanic Plateau in the global tourism market. The park provides significant employment opportunities, both directly and through associated park-dependant industries. The ski industry is particularly vital to the economies of several local townships.

But with so many visitors - over 500,000 each year, and forecasted increases of around 10,000 for each of the next 5 years, the challenge for all of us is to create maximum benefit for New Zealanders from the tourism industry, while protecting and sustaining the experiences and environments that we value and that attracts our visitors.

With increased pressure on our conservation estate from domestic and international visitors and residents, the capacity of the environment and management systems is, in some cases, being tested.

Mutually beneficial relationships can be developed between the Department of Conservation and the tourism industry. Parks protect areas of unique or distinctive natural areas while the tourism industry utilise those attractions to create business and employment opportunities.

I think it's fair to say that in the conservation community, some are of the view that tourism makes use of public assets for private gain and return little. Generally, I want to suggest this is not true and especially here in Tongariro. Tourism as an industry must be seen to contribute positively to the values underpinning our conservation estate.

Protection of the environment and national park values is the foundation of the value of national parks to the tourist industry: quite simply, degradation of the environment will undermine that industry.

Continued tourism interest, including increasing numbers of ski visitors, is likely to generate further demand and need for essential services. This issue represents an ongoing management challenge for the Department of Conservation and the local business community. Strategies that have been put in place to reduce potential conflict within Tongariro National Park include:-

- the creation of amenity areas for containment of major development,

- ensuring a range of accommodation is available at Whakapapa village

- and limiting developments so that park values are only minimally affected by these facilities and long-term protection is ensured.

And that brings us to the new Whakapapa Ski Area and Village Sewerage Scheme, which will make a significant contribution to better managing visitor impact upon the park and protecting this special landscape for now and the future.

Completion of this project is a milestone in the journey toward sustainable tourism and visitor management in our National Park and dual World Heritage site. This is the largest DOC visitor facility initiative to date and is the result of a decade of co-operation and consultation between DOC, the Tongariro-Taupo Conservation Board, Ngati Tuwharetoa, Ruapehu Alpine Lifts, Ruapehu Mountain Clubs Association, the Grand Chateau, Ruapehu District Council, Horizons Regional Council and other members of the local community.

The Tongariro National Park business community is to be congratulated for financially contributing toward and supporting this initiative, which preserves and protects the cultural and natural values that are the drawcard for their customers. The scheme provides for the long-term maintenance of amenity values within and outside the park and provides for its ongoing enjoyment for recreational purposes. The main commercial users of the park, and the 50 ski clubs have made a significant financial commitment to totally fund the scheme over time. They have been fully committed to the scheme over the past ten years and they see this as both a necessary infrastructure development and a demonstration of respect for the cultural values of the mountain and park as a whole. This investment will enable the environment to recover from past discharges and provides long-term benefits for protection and recreational use of the environment. It also provides a basis for improved economic and social wellbeing in the central plateau region.

In order to continue to honour the sacred gift of the mountains, our generation must also continue to care for and respect them.

The Ariki, Sir Hepi Te Heuheu expressed this in 1987 when he wrote:

"This matter of tapu is important. We want to see people enjoy the mountain but we do not want it desecrated."

This new land-based sewage treatment system is a leap forward in honouring our collective responsibilities to protect and preserve the tapu of these sacred mountains, and the pristine state of Tongariro National Park in perpetuity, for New Zealand and the international community.

The scheme is a credit to the community and is a model of inter-organisational co-operation to achieve a common goal and objective.

I applaud all who have been involved in the development of the scheme over the past decade. You have created an asset that will serve you and all our visitors well, now and for the future.

Thank you.

The Mark Burton mailing list operated by OneSquared Limited.

ENDS

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