Regional Development Minister Shane Jones - Photo: DOC / Rodney Allen
Taranaki's tourism earnings are set for an annual boost of about $4 million a year after confirmation of a $13.3 million Provincial Growth Fund investment in Egmont National Park.
First announced in April ahead of a feasibility study, Regional Development Minister Shane Jones and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage confirmed funding Wednesday afternoon.
The Taranaki Crossing Project will expand and upgrade an existing 30km network of tracks, and create a walk from Dawson Falls to the end of Mangorei Rd at the base of the Pouakai Ranges.
Mr Jones said aside from the tourism benefits the project would create between 20 to 30 jobs during construction and a further 12 long-term jobs.
"The PGF-funded business case shows that once complete, the Taranaki Crossing is expected to increase visitor numbers by 35,000 to 40,000 by 2025, with about 20 percent expected to be from overseas.
"This in turn will boost Taranaki's tourism economy by $3.7m annually, increase opportunities for iwi and others to invest in tourism-related businesses and support conservation efforts in the region, while also opening it up for everyone to enjoy responsibly."
Mr Jones said the region's eight iwi were behind the project.
"The iwi are integrally involved, the local people, they believe that it will not only create tourism and upside in terms of boosting GDP but it will enhance people's access to the maunga and the ability to go around the maunga."
Mr Jones said with the right planning Taranaki would be able to cope with the expected number of visitors.
"It's a balance, isn't it? If we want to boost tourism in Taranaki then the best I can do really is find the putea (money) with Minister Sage to build the infrastructure and then ensure the infrastructure is future-proofed," he said.
"I just want Taranaki people to embrace the prospect that for in order for tourism to take up some of the slack in the economy we've got to be prepared to take a risk."
Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said Taranaki Maunga was a unique and special place with a rich cultural and natural history.
"Around 20km of track from Dawson Falls road end to North Egmont and through to Mangorei Rd will be improved to provide walkers with a safer and more interesting experience, creating the backbone of the Taranaki Crossing walk," Eugenie Sage said.
"The new network will mean that walkers can enjoy short walks, day and multi-day walks on tracks completed to a standard that is safer for both experienced and less experienced walkers."
Ms Sage said the existing Pouakāi Hut would also be upgraded to create a 20-bunk hut for people wanting to stay overnight on the maunga.
Ngāti Ruanui Asset Holdings chair Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said the south iwi - which owns the Stratford Mountain House - welcomed the investment.
"It's important, it signals the Crown is aware of the work that's been done on the mountain, but it also signals that our maunga and the protection of the tracks and the infrastructure around it is being invested in and that's been a concern for quite some time.
"To be honest the maunga is in a state of disrepair from our perspective and there's a lot of work that needs to be done.
"There's obviously clear damage from the possums and obviously clear damage from other pests that need to have some radical intervention. The other side of it is these tracks need to be having more investment and the budgets haven't been there."
Ms Ngarewa-Packer said tourism was underdeveloped in the region and that presented a huge opportunity for iwi and the wider community.
New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom said the announcement was significant because the national park had long needed investment.
Mr Holdom said the tourism implications were huge.
"If you look at a wider tourism plan we've got a little bit of work to do on State Highway 43 to get that sealed and that will create that connection between central North Island through to the maunga and then we want those visitors to go to our towns, to spend money and stay in our accommodation and go out to our restaurants.
"The maunga is one of our primary attractions between that and the coast and it's about creating an experience that we can create some employment and wealth creation opportunities off."
Physical work on the Taranaki Crossing will begin in February 2020 and the project is expected to be completed by December 2022.
Its total cost is $19.13m and additional funding would be provided by the Taranaki Regional Council, the Department of Conservation, the New Plymouth District Council and New Zealand Transport Agency.
Other PGF announcements
Mr Jones also made three other Provincial Growth Fund announcements in Taranaki today.
Infrastructure company First Gas has been given about $260,000 to help assess whether its existing pipeline network could be used for the transportation of hydrogen.
The company is also contributing a similar amount to the project.
Mr Jones said it was possible as hydrogen became a more important fuel it would not be necessary to build infrastructure to support it from scratch.
"I'm a great believer in seeing what infrastructure we have in our own country and how it might be adapted to serve a purpose that's different from when I grew up."
New Plymouth company Acos Filler got a $300,000 loan to commercialise machines it has developed to fill and cap carbonated drinks, and in particular craft beer bottles.
It was expected the investment would create 10 jobs within 12 months and help the company develop into an export business.
New Plymouth Airport received $57,000 to begin exploring a realignment of its runway, which is the shortest in the country.