October 22, 2020

Huka Falls zipline proposal faces decision day

In the Sky Play Adventures proposal thrill seekers will crisscross the Waikato River five times downstream of the Huka Falls. Picture: a zipline at Coromandel's Driving Creek Railway.

Dominico Zapata/Stuff

In the Sky Play Adventures proposal thrill seekers will crisscross the Waikato River five times downstream of the Huka Falls. Picture: a zipline at Coromandel’s Driving Creek Railway.

The determination of cultural values could be one of the biggest hurdles faced by a proposal for thrill seekers to fly on wire five times back and forth across the Waikato River near the Huka Falls.

The ziplines, varying in length from 182m to 663m, would see clients shoot across the Waikato River at varying elevations and are part of an experience that would include guides detailing the history and culture of the area.

The proposal, in train since at least 2016, will be put to a panel of independent commissioners on September 30 and October 1.

While Sky Play Adventures is applying in partnership with Tauhara North No. 2 trust and is supported by the Ngati Tahu-Ngati Whaoa Runanga Trust, the latter’s submission that it is the iwi representing mana whenua for the area is contested by other iwi-based organisations.

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In his report for the hearing independent planning consultant Todd Whittaker noted: “In my opinion, the cultural values of the Waikato River will be the most significant matter for the commissioners to consider and determine.”

Six opposing submissions, collectively referred to by Whittaker as the Ngāti Tūwharetoa submissions, raised themes of mana whenua status, lack of consultation, and inadequacies in the cultural assessment and adverse effects on cultural values of the awa, including broader issues of mauri.

The proposal also requires a concession from the Department of Conservation – and while it may not be until next year that this comes through, the applicant decided to proceed with the consent hearing.

Of 65 submissions, 53 recorded support, three were neutral and nine opposed the zipline. Many noted the proposal’s economic benefits, and increase to the tourism and destination profile and the proposed ecological enhancement measures, pest management and control.

In its submission Enterprise Great Lake Taupō saw it as a “great business opportunity.”

“At a minimum of five full time equivalent (FTE) jobs, paying a median rate of $45,000 per annum and using the standard 5x multiplier effect, an additional $1.125m is generated for our local economy annually.

“At the forecast 35 jobs created, we could forecast up to $7.8m boost to our local economy,” the EGLT submission noted.

Noting that there was no meaningful mitigation proposed in the submissions from other tribal entities, Whittaker considered relevant a number of principles – it was not for decision makers under the RMA process to determine mana whenua status, more than one iwi or hapu could be tangata whenua for an area, and ownership and land title were not determinative of whether a party had an exclusive kaitiaki role.

The view downstream from the bridge over the Waikato River at the Huka Falls. Some submitters expressed concern that ziplines and tower structures would be visible from part of the viewing area.

CHRIS MARSHALL/Stuff

The view downstream from the bridge over the Waikato River at the Huka Falls. Some submitters expressed concern that ziplines and tower structures would be visible from part of the viewing area.

He felt sufficient evidence had been produced by the applicant “that they have rightfully consulted with both Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngati Tahu-Ngati Whaoa.”

While consultation with Ngāti Tūwharetoa had not resulted in support, he wrote: “However, consultation does not require a consensus or agreed outcome to be valid consultation.”

He suggested those opposing the zipline provide further information on the cultural significance of the river crossings but noted himself that base station two at approximately 75 metres away, would be relatively close to Te Toka a Tia downstream from the Huka Falls and that the proposed Zipline Run 5 ran across the river approximately 25m north of the historical Motuwaira pa site.

“If the critical sites are orientated towards Te Tāheke Hukahuka (Huka Falls) and Te Toka a Tia, would it be feasible to abandon the Zipline 1 and 2 runs to achieve greater separation from these sites?” Whittaker posited in his report.

A map of the proposed zipline attraction with ziplines in red.

Supplied

A map of the proposed zipline attraction with ziplines in red.

“What effect would this have on the commercial viability of the tourism proposal and would this gain any support from Ngāti Tūwharetoa?”

The Huka Falls is one of the Taupō region's most visited free tourist sites.

CHRIS MARSHALL/Stuff

The Huka Falls is one of the Taupō region’s most visited free tourist sites.

The proposal includes eight launch/landing towers, new walking tracks and ecological restoration, with the application site on both sides of the Waikato River (east of Karetoto Road).

The public hearing, before commissioners Gina Sweetman (chairperson), Kim Hardy and Brad Coombs runs from Wednesday, September 30 to Thursday, October 1 at the Suncourt Hotel.

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