In March 2020, the Department of Conservation publicly notified an application by Sky Play Adventures Limited to build a five-stage zipline at Huka Falls, Taupo. This is the second application for a zipline over iconic waterfalls in the upper North Island in the last six months, after a concession application for a zipline at Okere Falls was notified in September 2019. And just like the proposed zipline at Okere Falls, the development at Huka Falls involves multiple wires (five stages) criss-crossing the river, with a high visual impact over the area’s main visitor attraction. Given the impact the zipline would have on the walkways on either side of the Waikato River, FMC opposes the development and submitted against.
FMC’s submission in summary
- Huka Falls Scenic Reserve is an area of land (and river) classified as a scenic reserve pursuant to the Reserves Act 1977. The reserve is managed by the Department of Conservation. The application is being considered under Section 17SC of the Conservation Act, and faces a very high bar under the statute. FMC considers that many of the requirements in s17S have not been met. In particular the description of the potential effects of the proposed commercial activity on recreational and scenic values is inadequate.
- s17(U)3 provides that “the Minister shall not grant an application for a concession if the proposed activity is contrary to the provisions of this Act or the purposes for which the land concerned is held“. Huka Falls Scenic Reserve is held “for the purpose of protecting and preserving in perpetuity for their intrinsic worth and for the benefit, enjoyment, and use of the public, suitable areas possessing such qualities of scenic interest, beauty, or natural features or landscape that their protection and preservation are desirable in the public interest”.
- s17(U)4 provides that “The Minister shall not grant any application for a concession to build a structure or facility, or to extend or add to an existing structure or facility, where he or she is satisfied that the activity—could reasonably be undertaken in another location that— (i) is outside the conservation area to which the application relates”. FMC maintains that the zipline can be built elsewhere.
- The Tongariro-Taupo Conservation Management Strategy 2002-2012 recognizes Huka Falls as a key visitor site, attracting over 900,000 visitors a year. The CMS recognizes Huka Falls as a site of national geo-preservation significance. The CMS also recognizes that visitor pressure at key visitor sites likeHuka Falls is high already, and expresses concern about degradation beyond the current limits and cumulative effects from multiple developments.
- Visitors have a chance to appreciate the local landscape through the existing walking track already, as well as in jet boat rides to the base of the falls.
- Not only would the proposed zip-line add nothing to the above opportunities; it would in fact detract from both due to its high visual and noise impact.
In light of all of the above, FMC submitted that
- The application should be declined.
- The project should take place on private land.
- The Department of Conservation should advocate for the conservation of natural resources, and take the opportunity to encourage the applicant to develop the project on private land possibly in concert with restoration.
Photo at top: Huka Falls from the Lookout. (c) Danilo Hegg