The monorail summary

Riverstone Holdings Ltd has applied for a concession to operate a monorail on a route through the conservation estate for 29 kilometres.


  • The monorail journey has been designed as a major back country tourist experience. It is an experience in its own right and is not just another transport option to Milford Sound. Nor has it been designed just to shorten the travel time to Milford Sound.
  • The monorail is one leg of the Fiordland Link Experience which is a three stage journey incorporating:
  • a catamaran (20kms)
  • an all-terrain vehicle (45kms), and
  • a monorail (43kms. 29km of the route goes through the DOC estate, the rest is on private land ).
  • The Fiordland Link Experience begins at Queenstown, crosses Lake Wakatipu to Mt Nicholas Station, travels on existing back country roads through the Von River valley and then crosses the Mararoa River to pass around the southern edge of the Snowdon Forest and then through private land, finishing at Te Anau Downs (30kms from Te Anau and 91kms from Milford Sound).
  • The monorail does not travel through the National Park . The route has been carefully designed with DOC through an 8-year process to also avoid areas classified as ‘remote’ and to avoid significant trees.
  • The monorail will operate in a 22 hectare area of the Snowdon Forest. This forest covers a total area of approximately 47,000 hectares.
  • The monorail is designed initially for 160 passengers and with additional carriages can expand to 224 passengers.  Currently almost 500,000 international and domestic visitors travel between Queenstown and Fiordland each year.  The monorail can be scaled up to transport a million visitors a year with no increase in environmental impact.
  • This will be the longest monorail in the world, creating a significant tourism attraction and improving New Zealand’s competitiveness in the global tourism market.
  • The monorail is electrically powered, is emission free and makes almost no noise. It will source power from renewable resources including wind power from the nearby Mossburn wind farm.
  • The monorail runs on a concrete rail at farm fence height. The rail is supported by concrete pillars every 20 metres which vary in height according to the contours of the ground. It runs on pneumatic rubber tyres.
  • The projected cost of the monorail and associated facilities is $170million.


  • This will be a tourism asset of the highest quality that enhances New Zealand’s competitiveness as a tourism destination and helps maintain a unique and sustainable 21st century advantage. It will give potential visitors one more reason to “tick the box” to come to New Zealand.
  • It will deliver on the promise of the 100% Pure campaign that is shown to visitors overseas but which in reality showcases much of New Zealand that can be difficult to access.
  • The journey is a green-growth initiative that will assist the national rebalance towards productive growth and overseas revenues and away from consumption.
  • With substantial reduction in carbon emissions compared to existing modes of transport to Milford Sound, it will materially assist in decarbonising the Milford Sound tourist economy and thereby have a strong impact on the overall tourist economy.
  • It will have substantial appeal to high-spend emerging tourist markets that are expected to have a positive impact on future tourism growth to New Zealand.
  • Visitor numbers to Milford Sound have dropped by over 20% since 2006. The round trip by bus is 580kms, takes up to 13 hours and shoehorns thousands of visitors into a narrow operating window.  The monorail would enable staggered arrival times and provide a much better experience for visitors.
  • The monorail won’t compromise the World Heritage status of Te Wahipounamu. This is an area of 2.6 million hectares. Since 1992 there have been three visitor centres, hotels, lodges, cafes with associated car and bus parks and new roading constructed in Te Wahipounamu. UNESCO the controller of World Heritage sites will fully respect the decision of DoC because of the integrity of the DoC hearing process which has included public submissions. There is an international precedent for development of tourism infrastructure in a World Heritage site – e.g. Kuranda Skyrail near Cairns through 7.4kms of rainforest.


  • The Experience will promote regional growth in associated services such as scenic cruises, accommodation, equipment rental, food and beverage outlets, guiding services, shuttle services, bike rentals and repairs, trekking and tramping opportunities and outdoor retail goods
  • During the construction period of up to 36 months there will be a construction work force on site of up to 140 personnel with up to a further 300 jobs amongst Southland and Fiordland suppliers of materials and machinery supported for the much of the duration of construction. Virtually all of the construction workforce will be engaged and accommodated in the Fiordland and Southland areas.
  • Once operational, the Experience will have a peak seasonal workforce of close to 100 personnel with around 65 full time positions identified. The bulk of the workforce will be located in the Te Anau region.
  • At the completion of the construction phase, it is proposed that the construction service track becomes a mountain bike track and becomes a critical leg of the Three Lakes Ride, a multi day journey between Lake Wakatipu , Lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri.
  • Riverstone has offered subject to approval of its application to create the track between Te Anau Downs and Te Anau township. No assistance from the national cycle ways fund has been or will be sought.
  • It is expected that numerous concessionaires will look to develop services and facilities associated with this ride as with the Otago Rail Trail. Additional concession revenues to DoC and significant growth in soft shoulder period food ,beverage and accommodation services and facilities are expected for Te Anau and Manapouri in particular.
  • Riverstone Holdings will have a marketing budget of $3million per year and will market New Zealand, Queenstown as the start of the journey, and Te Anau as the end destination. It will promote as many of Te Anau’s attractions and activities as possible in the destination package. This is 20 times the current budget of Destination Fiordland and will bring a significant increase in visitor numbers to Te Anau.


  • The project represents an early and significant example of working collaboratively with DoC in its aspiration to strengthen its contribution to tourism and to foster recreation, use and enjoyment of the DoC estate by people of all abilities including those who are aged , infirm or disabled.
  • Substantial concession royalties will provide DoC with funds for use in projects involving endangered species and areas under threat requiring preservation and restoration. The journey has the potential to become the leading single contributor to the conservation economy in New Zealand.
  • The project is environmentally robust. Construction methodologies have been designed to minimise the footprint and these have been audited by DoC.
  • An iterative approach over eight years has allowed discussions with DoC and neighbours to ensure sensitive areas of conservation land and areas of recreation significance have been avoided.
  • The area to be traversed while of immense back country appeal is not wilderness, is not classified as remote and is not National Park.
  • Riverstone has satisfied DoC that by use of a monorail over the DoC estate it has the capability to manage the existing volume of visitors to Milford Sound and then double that number without both any diminution in the visitor experience and any detrimental increase in the footprint on that estate.


  • The developer Riverstone Holdings Ltd is a New Zealand owned company with the controlling shareholder being a fourth generation South Island family with substantial interests in land development, tourist accommodation, farming and cherry orchards.
  • The directors of Riverstone Holdings Ltd are Bob Robertson and John Beattie.


  • A vocal minority want to stop the project. They divide into three groups: those who want to keep the area for themselves; those with competing business interests; and, those who oppose development per se.
  • The first group comprises existing recreational users of the area. They are concerned that, small though it may be, the footprint of the monorail will disrupt their use of the land. However, the area in question is vast (47,000 hectares approx) and multiple uses can easily co-exist. The benefit of exposing more people to this great part of our country is large, and it makes stewardship, and knowledge and understanding of the area more widespread.
  • The second group run existing businesses that would compete with the Fiordland Link Experience. The degree to which they will be affected depends on the choices of visitors to the region. The overriding point, however, is that commercially self-interested parties should react to competition by improving their visitor offering, not by knee-capping potential competitors via cynical objections at the consenting phase.
  • The third group has parachuted in from out of town. It appears opposed to development for ideological reasons and advocates encouraging people to stay longer and walk more. That is easier said than done. These are not solutions for those who are time constrained, nor those who lack the physical strength to go on sizeable walks, including our many elderly visitors.
  • Some Te Anau residents opposing the project who are also members of Save Fiordland advocate building the Haast to Hollyford road down the west coast. This would destroy hundreds of hectares of native forest and sensitive wetlands and seems contradictory to their environmental preservationist principles.
  • To progress as a country we must decide whether to create economic benefits for NZ Inc as a whole, or stay captive to special interest groups who have their own agendas. Do we want to create jobs and enable more people to see more of our beautiful country, or slowly grow poor, slip further down the world GDP per capita rankings and keep the environment the preserve of a select few?


Supporting tourism growth

  • A high profile contributor to tourism in New Zealand, enhancing New Zealand’s competitiveness as a destination
  • A new domestic tourism opportunity, giving Kiwis a new way to see their country
  • An attraction in its own right – a unique experience to be enjoyed
  • Contributing to the country’s tourism brand by providing an experience in line with New Zealand’s international image marketed as Pure NZ
  • Supported by comprehensive and effective international marketing with a multi-million dollar yearly marketing budget
  • Attract foreign investment

Enhancing the visitor experience

  • Providing a world-class back country experience
  • Taking 320kms of road travel out of the current 580km round trip to Milford Sound
  • Providing access to back country New Zealand to people of all ages and abilities
  • Offering sustainable, managed access to areas previously only accessible to a privileged few

Providing jobs and business opportunities

  • Offering a wide range of opportunities for additional businesses
  • Providing green-tech development with a number of spin-off capabilities
  • Up to 140 jobs will be involved in the construction of the monorail
  • Up to 300 more positions will be created in the Fiordland/Southland area, providing contract services and supplying materials
  • At its seasonal peak, the monorail will employ up to 100 staff
  • An annual $3 million budget spent effectively on international marketing and promotion is expected to stimulate an extra 20,000 tourists to New Zealand per annum
  • Hundreds of additional new jobs throughout the New Zealand tourism sector as a result of increased visitor numbers

Supporting the conservation of the region

  • Supporting DOC’s vision of sustainable, managed tourism for the conservation estate
  • Substantially reducing carbon emissions for the region
  • Improving visitor appreciation of the conservation estate – building greater domestic stewardship (Kaitiakitanga)
  • Delivering increased concession revenues to DOC to support conservation goals and initiatives focused on reducing biodiversity loss and introducing conservation programmes for threatened or endangered species
  • Increasing awareness of New Zealand’s green commitment and encouraging investment in sustainable, green-tech development
  • The ability to spread visitors travelling on the monorail over more of Fiordland will allow DOC to sustainably manage the impact of a growing visitor stream to Milford Sound

Stimulating local business opportunities and regional development

  • The project is expected to stimulate new and existing concessionaires, food and beverage, hospitality, equipment hire, vehicle hire, guiding and tourism service operators
  • The potential value of additional concession revenues is expected to exceed the concession revenue created directly by the monorail
  • The mountain bike trail created by the construction track will become an attraction in its own right and is capable of coping with thousands of mountain-bikers riding the length of the trail
  • The economic benefits to Te Anau and Manapouri from the mountain bike ride will be significant, as has been seen with the Otago Rail Trail.

Supporting local investment and tourism

  • Increasing the opportunity for visitors to stay longer in the region and spend more
  • The project will revitalise Te Anau, Manapouri, Fiordland and those businesses and employees in Queenstown affected by the downturn in numbers
  • The project office will be based in Te Anau and our company will become a major supporter of local tourism businesses and initiatives
  • During the 30 month development, most of the staff required for the construction are expected to be based at Te Anau
  • The monorail’s staff are also expected to be based at Te Anau
  • Project annual marketing expenditure of $3million – 20 times the size of Destination Fiordland’s current budget