‘Piopiotahi - New Zealand as it was forever’

Milford Opportunities works to uphold Piopiotahi Milford Sound’s extraordinary natural and cultural heritage, enhance and sustain the visitor experience and harness opportunities to support the communities of Southland and beyond.

The Milford Opportunities Project is a collaboration between Ngāi Tahu, the Department of Conservation, Southland District Council, the Ministry of Transport, Waka Kotahi, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The project involves three stages:

  • Stage one: establishing context, vision and objectives (completed in
    September 2018).
  • Stage two: consultation, engagement and research to develop a Milford
    Opportunities Masterplan (launched in July 2021).
  • Stage three:
    • Phase one (current phase): testing the feasibility of the Masterplan’s
    • Phase two: design, planning and implementation

Read on for more on the project, its origins, the Masterplan and phases of work

A masterplan for Piopiotahi

The Milford Opportunities Project launched its ambitious and innovative masterplan for Milford Sound Piopiotahi, the Milford corridor and the region surrounding it on July 28 in Te Anau.

Click here to read the digital version of the masterplan.

Click here to read the summary of the masterplan.

The masterplan makes recommendations that ensure:

Milford Sound Piopiotahi maintains its status as a key New Zealand visitor icon and provides a world-class visitor experience that is accessible, upholds the World Heritage status, national park and conservation values and adds value to Southland and New Zealand Inc.

The key concepts are:

  1. Recognise and develop landscape conservation and cultural experience.
  2. Establish a new governance model
  3. Facilitate broader Murihiku and Southland benefits
  4. Charge international visitors an access fee
  5. Introduce a zero emission coach-based transport model
  6. Establish a new Te Anau hub and enhanced developments
  7. Develop multiple experiences along the corridor structured around key nodes
  8. Encourage sustainable practices and use of green technology
  9. Reorganise Milford Sound Piopiotahi to remove visitor conflicts
  10. Modernise infrastructure at Milford Sound Piopiotahi

More details of these are available in both the masterplan and the summary.

The masterplan is not a statutory document and the final decision on any changes rest with Government. Currently, the Milford Opportunities project is focussed on testing the feasibility of the Masterplan’s recommendations, including a significant programme of public and stakeholder engagement.

How we began

The project came out of discussions between Southland District Council and the Department of Conservation about the issues around congestion at particular times in Milford Sound Piopiotahi and on the Milford Road.

Milford Sound Piopiotahi is one of New Zealand’s most popular visitor attractions and iconic destinations in the world. 870,000 visitors went to Milford Sound Piopiotahi in 2019, with tourism growth forecast to continue, reaching 1.2 million by 2023 and 2 million by 2035. It is located in part of New Zealand’s largest National Park (Fiordland) and holds UNESCO World Heritage status.

The current Milford Road corridor and Milford Sound Piopiotahi itself are under stress. This requires new thinking to safeguard the core character and values, World Heritage status, conservation values and the visitor experience.

The project was included in the Southland Regional Development Strategy and in 2017 a governance group was created to look at how the future of Milford Sound Piopiotahi, the road, the Te Anau basin and the wider region should be developed and managed.

Original members included representatives from iwi, Southland District Council, Queenstown Lakes District Council, Department of Conservation, New Zealand Transport Agency, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and two tourism business operators. The governance group was led by independent chair Dr Keith Turner. For more information on the stage two governance group click here.

The project is in three stages, with stages one and two now complete.

Stage 1

Stage one was to establish context, vision and objectives and was completed in September 2018. Key to this stage was the development of the project’s working vision and pillars. 

Piopiotahi – New Zealand as it was, forever


sandy millar xGLIM1n9hUY unsplash 1

Mana Whenua values woven through

Iwi place in the landscape and guardianship of mātauranga Māori me te taiao (Māori knowledge and the environment) are recognised. Authentic mana whenua stories inform and contribute to a unique visitor experience

Milford Sound 32

A moving experience

Visitors experience the true essence, beauty and wonder of Milford Sound Piopiotahi and Murihiku/Southland through curated story-telling, sympathetic infrastructure and wide choices suited to a multi-day experience


Tourism funds conservation and community

The visitor experience will become an engine for funding conservation growth and community prosperity

Milford Project busy 08

Effective visitor management

Visitors are offered a world class visitor experience that fits with the unique natural environment and rich cultural values of the region


Resilient to change and risk

Activities and infrastructure are adaptive and resilient to change and risk, for instance avalanche and flood risks, changing visitor trends, demographics and other external drivers

phil botha BWn0 x6lA9k unsplash v2


Manage Fiordland National Park to ensure ongoing protection of pristine conservation areas, while enabling restoration of natural ecological values in other areas

34Artboard 1icon tech

Harness innovation and technology

Leading technology and innovation is employed to ensure a world class visitor experience now and into the future

Stage 2

In stage two, consultants carried out extensive engagement to develop research papers to back up options chosen for the masterplan.

Alongside the research work, engagement with the community, key stakeholders, national interests and the New Zealand public was held over the 18 months of the development of the masterplan. Two nationwide surveys asking questions around the ideas received in the engagement meetings, surveys, and reference groups were held in July and October 2020.

The research and engagement findings helped the governance group make the final decisions on the concepts and recommendations which are included in the masterplan.

The masterplan went to Ministers in May 2021 and then to Cabinet in June 2021.

It was then launched to the public in Te Anau on 28 July 2021.

Stage 3

The project governance group has recommended to Government that the project moves at speed into stage three – the design, planning and implementation phase.

With visitor numbers still low because of the pandemic, there is an opening to deliver many elements before the numbers return.

A new governance group will be formed, with independent chair Dr Keith Turner returning to lead it. A new project team will also be developed. The project will be hosted by the Department of Conservation, but will be an independent function.