Is the Conservation Minister smarter than the average bear?

17 03 2013

Is the recently rehabilitated, formerly disgraced, Conservation Minister, Nick Smith,  smarter than the average bear when it comes to making the right decisions about not messing up Fiordland with crazy Disneyfication get rich quick schemes?

We think the best way to help him come to the right decision is set him in down in front on a kids’ film, the filmed in New Zealand, Yogi Bear. (It got hammered by critics, but my better half and I, close to our 40ths, loved it.)

yogibearbluray

It comes with a great message, made so simple, even a National Party MP could understand it (we hope).

The story goes like this:

Mayor Brown, who has wasted too much of the city’s money on trivial things (being analogous to National’s spending on the Roads of National Significance boondoggle no doubt) needs to turn his deficit into a surplus and decides to monetise Jellystone Park by selling it to logging companies. Yogi, Boo Boo and all their fellow forest creatures are going to be out of a home, and instead of perpetually stealing pic-a-nic baskets, they have to cooperate with Ranger Smith and love interest/biology researcher Rachel to save the park. There are the predictable scenes of rafting over a waterfall, and waterskiing bears and Mayor Brown is shown as the on-the-take, shallow, nature hater that he really is, when he gets his comeuppance and Jellystone Park is saved.

This year the Minister is going to make a decision on whether either or both of the schemes to violate Fiordland are going to be given concessions. There is understandably a bit of a local backlash about the proposals, ie see Save Fiordland’s website.

Firstly there is the Milford Dart Tunnel which proposes to build a tunnel for buses with an eastern portal near the Routeburn Shelter and a western portal just north of Gunn’s Camp on the Hollyford Road. Tourists can then rush from Queenstown via the road to Glenorchy, over the little bridges over the Rees and Dart rivers, through the tunnel, to the Hollyford and then on the existing Hollyford Road, through the Homer Tunnel, and into Milford Sound, instead of going the long way round through Mossburn and Te Anau.

Secondly there is the plan to build a monorail from the Kiwi Burn through the Snowdon Forest to Te Anau Downs. With this tourists would be able to rush from Queenstown to Milford via a boat across Lake Wakatipu, then an “all terrain vehicle” (oh gosh) on the Mt Nicholas Road to KiwiBurn and then catch a monorail to Te Anau Downs where presumably they can get on pogo sticks to go through the Eglington Valley to the Homer Tunnel and down to the Sound.

Both of these would mean granting significant commercial concessions to build intrusive infrastructure in Te Wahipounamu/Fiordland World Heritage Area that would have big effects on scenery and recreational users to save tourists a few hours on an exhausting day trip bus ride. They would both significantly reduce the mana of the parks.

Here’s a suggestion for any tourists coming to Fiordland and are in Queenstown and want to visit Milford Sound. Don’t do it as a day trip. It is a long way to go, and there are many beautiful things to see on the way. There are world class walking tracks and the scenery is fantastic. Fiordland is worth more than one day of your life.

On paper the Milford Dart Tunnel would appear to not have much impact you might think, but the roads and bridges between Glenorchy and the eastern portal will all need to be upgraded for the large number of buses using the tunnel. (There would also be political pressure to open up the tunnel to trucks and cars once it was built).

The Lower Dart. What this valley needs is lots of diesel pollution.

The Lower Dart. What this valley needs is lots of diesel pollution.

Most of the Routeburn track walkers won’t notice the buses in the tunnels underneath (and the people in the buses would be looking into blackness when above they could be hiking in a lovely beech forest up to the Harris Saddle). A hundred diesel belchers going past the start of the walk to Lake Sylvan are going to mess with the ambience of what would have to be one of the nicest short walks in the world.

The beech forest en route to Lake Sylvan.

The beech forest en route to Lake Sylvan.

A short walk to a peaceful oasis of serenity, Lake Sylvan.

Peaceful Lake Sylvan

Peaceful Lake Sylvan.

At the western end of the tunnel the Hollyford Road will have to be widened and upgraded to take the extra bus traffic. The Hollyford Road near the start of the Lake Marian track is narrow and steep and in pristine forest. They’ll have to cut down a lot of trees to accomplish this. On the Hollyford Road past the turnoff  the traffic will thin, and only be there to provide access to the Hollyford Track. It’s a good thing the tourist buses will rush past giving no-one the opportunity to see such a magnificent river as the Hollyford.

The Hollyford River.

The Hollyford River.

I had a hike once in the Snowdon Forest.  I walked in from the Mavora Lakes and in from the KiwiBurn. I’m pretty much of the opinion that this part of the World Heritage Area should be incorporated into a National Park and better protected.

Walking around the South Mavora I was pretty much of the opinion that the 4WD access should be shutdown, because they had churned up the fragile soils in the beech forest into mudpools. DOC, if you’ve got any staff left, you should look into that.

Potholed and hillocked - 4WDs fucked up the South Mavora Lake.

Potholed and hillocked – 4WDs have fucked up the South Mavora Lake.

The Kiwi Burn area itself is beautiful with flat walking following the Mararoa River through the forest.

Bridge over the Mararoa River, near KiwiBurn.

Bridge over the Mararoa River, near Kiwi Burn.

Would this look better with a monorail?

En route to the Whitestone.

En route to the Whitestone Valley.

If tourists want Disneyland then I suggest going to Anaheim, Lille, Orlando or Hong Kong. If they want to see a beautiful corner of the world (except for the bloody sandflies) then I suggest they do it on foot, or take more than a day to do it by the existing road. These projects are unnecessary. They will despoil a beautiful and unique part of the world. They will commoditise, monetise and Disney-afy a part of the natural world. They will allow a couple of companies to generate wealth for themselves, whilst detracting from the common good that is owned not only by every New Zealander, but by everyone on planet Earth.

Can Nick Smith make the right decision? Is he smarter than the average bear?

Save Jellystone. Save Fiordland.

Save Jellystone. Save Fiordland.





Macau Chic

9 03 2013

Just back from presumably sunny Macau (presumably sunny because the sun, if it was there, was hidden behind the pollution haze for my whole trip). Macau is a mecca for Chinese gamblers and it’s glitzy (and a bit gungy) “glamour” has not entirely eclipsed the faded Portuguese colonial air.

Macau

It’s not a cycling city, and only a very few do. It is also a city not too kind to its pedestrians with numerous street level pedestrian crossings where the buses, cars and scooters don’t stop, and on the busier roads, underground passages or pedestrian overpasses which curiously seem to cause rather than reduce any inconvenience. Mostly it is a cacophony of 2-stroke scooters (a very big reason why the sky is grey and rarely blue). With all the buses waiting to ferry casino customers to and from the ferry terminals and the border posts spend their whole time idling belching diesel, the ever present stench of Chinese cigarettes and the aforementioned 2-strokes it doesn’t really add up to a place I’m going to think is very enjoyable, but Macau does have its charms. Mostly they are the variety of good restaurants, and there are a couple of pleasant neighbourhoods to hang out in, where there is a lot less vehicle traffic, Taipa Village being one of them. So the guests of the world’s biggest casino, the Venetian in Cotai, can get to the village without breaking a sweat there is a moving pedestrian walkway between the fantastically named street, Estrada Baia de Nossa Senhora de Esperanca, and the lake. If you always thought these would be  a good idea since you saw them in the Jetsons as a kid, you’ll be disappointed. You can walk faster than they go.

Pedestrian Walkway in Taipa

My favourite picture that I took in Macau was this one, where I asked a man if I could take a picture with him and his bike, a classic Chinese single gear situp with some of the tools of his cleaning trade:

Man's pride and joy in Macau