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Whakapapa Upgrade Inappropriate Luxury

Conservationists have described the $800,000 expansion of the Tongariro National Park Whakapapa Visitors' Centre as a luxury conservation can ill afford.

The expansion was announced today by Conservation Minister Nick Smith who said the expenditure was an investment in tourism and in "building a sense of nationhood".

The Forest and Bird Protection Society's Conservation Director, Kevin Smith, said the Whakapapa Visitors' Centre upgrade was unnecessary and diverted funds away from critical conservation projects.

"The existing centre is an extremely well appointed facility providing a more than adequate service for visitors to Tongariro National Park. By spending large sums of money on new 'interactive displays' and 'integrated audio visual shows', the Minister and DoC seemed to be trying to match the lavish standards of Te Papa museum rather than concentrating on the basics of conservation."

Kevin Smith said it was folly to try and attract more visitors to the national park when the Whakapapa park was suffering from overuse already and the sewage system desperately needed upgrading.

"What is the point of having expensive state of the art video displays at a lavish visitors' centre when the national park's basic infrastructure is in need of a major overhaul?"

"The rebuilding of the sewage system has been repeatedly delayed and it is becoming increasingly embarrassing that our World Heritage National Park has an overloaded sewage system."

Forest and Bird said there were also a range of important conservation programmes in the national park and surrounding conservation areas that should have had a higher priority for funding than a Disneyland-type visitors' centre.

"These include the control of wilding pines on the south east slopes of Ruapehu and a major effort to save the kiwi populations in the central North Island."

....... ends

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