Opening address

Paul Davey, Chief Executive, Waitomo District Council, PO Box 404, Te Kuiti, NZ

President, Michael Chalker; Conference Convenor, Peter Dimond and members of the organising committee; distinguished guests and delegates.

Fifteen years ago, in September 1985, Waitomo Caves hosted delegates of the Australasian Cave & Karst Management Association to this area. It is my real pleasure to again welcome conference delegates here to Waitomo today. I bring greetings and apologies from His Worship the Mayor, Wally Bain, who cannot be with you.

Fifteen years ago caves meant little to me - I was living in Hawkes Bay on the East Coast and Waitomo Caves was many miles away and did not feature in my understanding at all. In the four years since I have lived in the Waitomo District I have come to realise the importance of this area's cave and karst systems, both nationally and on an international scale.

Your attendance here for this conference provides clear evidence of the duty we all have to protect, preserve and promote these unique landforms. Thank you for that foresightedness and enthusiasm that you bring.

We as a District Council also have a responsibility to ensure sympathetic zoning of the area and our District Plan ensures any ongoing development of the caves systems is tempered with a need to respect the sensitive structures that comprise the caves environment.

Show caves are a major tourist attraction - 450,000 per year through the Waitomo Caves attest to that. Commercially well-managed caves are a better proposition in my view than the uncontrolled use of wild caves. We must be aware though that the world is littered with failed tourist caves and we must learn from those failures.

Amenity Zoning of potentially commercial caves in our District is essential to ensure that conditions relating to sustainability development which is sympathetic to the environment are complied with. Of course the economic benefits of the cave and karst systems in Waitomo should not be underestimated. It may interest you to know that around $16.5m is the annual turnover in the Waitomo area associated with tourist related projects and there are 175 full time positions based on the Caves and their associated infrastructure.

We see our role as a District Council as a partner with the Waitomo Caves community and we recently funded a tourism development workshop for the Waitomo Caves area. This partnership must extend to an ongoing education programme to understand the potential of these fragile systems. We must plan for the future increase in tourism numbers that have been identified. This increase in the tourist stream must not, though, jeopardise the character of the cave systems. Knowing the people associated with the caving management and operations in Waitomo and having some appreciation of the qualifications of the delegates present at this conference, I am confident that the management of caving, in particular in Australia and New Zealand, is in good hands.

The conference convenor and his committee should be congratulated for the programme that they have prepared. It has much to commend it and I hope you all can contribute to the success of the conference and gain much from your involvement.

I extend to you all a warm welcome and I hope that you gain an appreciation of the beauty and uniqueness of the wider Waitomo District.

Let the conference begin!