Illegal heli-hiking on Mt Titiroa
With its striking rock formations and all round views, the absence of any tracks and its proximity to civilization, Mt Titiroa is a very popular destination for trampers. It is the ideal location to experience wilderness and the joys of tramping off the track, without having to carry a pack for 10 days, and without having to shell out a fortune. Most trampers complete the crossing over Mt Titiroa in two or three days, camping one or two nights on the mountain.
To protect this unique tramping experience, Mt Titiroa was included in the “Eastern Remote Setting” of Fiordland National Park. The current Fiordland National Park Management Plan states in the Implementation of 220.127.116.11 Eastern Remote Setting (p. 132):
“3. Concession heli-hiking opportunities should not be granted on Mt Titiroa.”
In August 2018, FMC received a complaint from a concerned member of the public, notifying us that Trips & Tramps were advertising heli-hiking trips on Mt Titiroa. Upon further investigation, we found out that it was in fact four, not one, tourist operators advertising heli-hiking trips on Mt Titiroa:
- Trips & Tramps
- Southern Lakes Helicopters
- Company C
Has ceased heli-hiking activity as a result of FMC’s investigation
- Adventure Walks
FMC obtained copies of the concessions for each operator. We learnt that:
- None of the above companies hold a heli-hiking concession. Trips & Tramps, Bushbash and Adventure Walks hold guiding concessions, and employ for transport helicopter companies that hold concessions to land on Mt Titiroa, since their landing concessions were never brought in line with the current Fiordland National Park Management Plan. Southern Lakes Helicopters holds a landing concession and presumably employs one of the guiding companies for the guided walking part of their operation.
- All three guiding companies (Trips & Tramps, Bushbash and Adventure Walks) have a clause in their concessions’ Schedule 2 (Standard Terms and Conditions for Guiding Permits):
13.1 “The concessionaire must comply where relevant with the provisions of any conservation management strategy or conservation management plan… or management plan under section 45 if the National Parks Act 1980…”
It would seem to us that all guiding companies are in breach of this clause, since their activity conflicts with the Implementation of 18.104.22.168 Eastern Remote Setting as stated above.
Additionally, all three guiding companies breach one or more terms of their concessions:
|Company name||Concession||Terms of concession||How the company operates|
|Trips & Tramps||39260-GUI||Guided activity: overnight walk||day walk (3 hours)|
|Trips & Tramps||39260-GUI||Special conditions: Use excluded on weekends and public holidays||Their booking systems takes bookings on weekends and public holidays|
|Company C||Activity & Duration: Tramping 2 to 4 days, Camping||day walk (3 hours)|
|Adventure Walks||36394-GUI||Means of Access: Tramp in, boat out||Tramp in, fly out by helicopter|
On 18 September 2018, FMC wrote a letter to DOC’s Southern South Island Director of Operations, Aaron Fleming, to express these concerns.
It took two months and several prompts to get a reply.
This paragraph really sums up DOC’s response:
“The department has looked into the alleged activity and neither company (the guiding
company or the helicopter operator) appears to be engaging in heli-hiking as that term is
understood. However, it appears that a loophole could exist because collectively what is occurring
appears to be heli-hiking.”
FMC considers this response to be extremely disappointing. If three guiding companies are openly advertising heli-hiking trips, and call them that on their websites, flying walkers to or out of the site by helicopter, how are they not engaging in heli-hiking?
FMC is concerned that DOC is allowing
a) Tourism operators to operate in blatant breach of the Fiordland National Park Management Plan
b) Tourism operators to breach their concessions,
all of this without any repercussion.
The operators have not even been instructed to cease their activity.
We are disappointed with the Department of Conservation’s lack of will to enforce its national park management plans, or its tourism concessions.