Neil  is a cave and karst specialist and is the lead author on the Department of Conservation’s Western South Island Region Cave and Karst Operational Plan 2018. He is also coauthor of Caves: Exploring New Zealand’s Subterranean Wilderness, lead contractor for the Department of Conservation’s West Coast cave management programme, has held the position of Conservation Officer for the New Zealand Speleological Society, and has been extensively involved in the exploration of New Zealand’s longest and deepest cave systems.

Dolomite Point caves and the speleogenesis and hydrology of the area are little understood. Image taken by Neil Silverwood, March 2019.

Neil has spent a great deal of time researching the proposed changes, communicating with stakeholders and undertaking visits to the areas affected. The result is a comprehensive, 17-page document which examines the natural values of the area, key stake holders, the legislative framework and recommendations for solutions to the issues identified.

Karst is rare in New Zealand, and many of the proposals appear to take no consideration of destroying such rare landscapes. Aiming to excavate an underpass beneath the highway to facilitate tourist movements, when a bridge would be cheaper and not impact the subterranean world at all.. Or maybe just put in a Zebra crossing with a reduced speed limit?

It appears that the identified stakeholders are all on the ‘development’ side of the coin;  there appears to be little to no consultation or representation from the conservation side. Why are the experts in Karst landscapes not even being approached to assist with the assessment of environmental impacts?  Why is a large hotel company one of the listed stakeholders?  It appears clear; that the aim is to accommodate the tourist throngs and make a buck, with little thought to the destruction of rare and irreplaceable landforms.  What happened to “Conservation” in the acronym DOC?

In short, Neils report is a voice for preservation of a unique environment, against the seemingly endless pressure of limitless tourism.

Here at Wilderlife, we invite you to download and read Neil’s full report to see his research and arguments in full.

This Nikau is in the area where clearance would be necessary for the northern carpark expansion. It’s around 50 years old. Nikau trees near the southern carpark are over 10m tall and could be in excess of 200 years old. They will need to be cleared if the proposed expansion of the southern carpark takes place.

Neil’s conclusion is apt:

Dolomite Point is a rare form of karst with features formed partially by sea and salt water action and partially by the more usual method of solution in fresh water. In a time when limestone karst in New Zealand is already widely developed, this area’s preservation should be placed above all other considerations. The current, greatest threat to karst in New Zealand is directly from development for tourism.

The current driver for the proposed redevelopment at Punakaiki appears to be economic rather than conservation-based. It symbolizes a shift in DOC’s role from conservator to developer.

I challenge the Department to avoid the pitfalls that surround this redevelopment as proposed and instead redevelop Punakaiki in a way that preserves the natural values people really come to see. It could be a showcase of low-impact development and sustainability and for all future tourism infrastructure in New Zealand. After all, DOC’s mandate is to allow the use of any natural or historic resource for tourism provided it is not inconsistent with its conservation.

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