Cave risks new life as 'theme park' with proposed tourism revamp

Opponents of a proposed tourism revamp for a small West Coast settlement say it would become a crazy theme park if the plans were implemented.

The honeycomb caves and arches of the Oparara River Basin attract more than 20,000 visitors a year.

Now the Government wants to boost those numbers and the Department of Conservation's come up with some ambitious plans.

"It's about bringing the pre-history of the Oparara basin to life, the giant moa, the haast eagle, and then taking people through on a narrative through to today," DoC's Bob Dickinson told Newshub.

To do that, DoC is proposing spending more than $3 million on things like light shows, potentially rebranding Karamea as 'Moa town' and installing life-sized Moa statues in the native forest.

John Mansell runs the Karamea Holiday Park and thinks it's a great idea.

"I believe the department of conservation will be responsible enough to preserve nature and they may make it a fully manned post up there, so they'd have control over far more than what they have at present," he told Newshub.

But opponents say the concept would be look like a crazy theme park.

Forest and Bird's Jen Miller says the cave network is precious and fragile, and home to precious flora and fauna that wouldn't cope with increased tourist numbers.

"From my perspective I just can't believe this is seriously being considered - I really hope that the Government and DoC will have a rethink about this," she told Newshub.

DoC's plans for the cave will undergo a feasibility study to test their impact on their environment and the real potential for boosting tourist numbers.