Stewart Island locals surprised by plan to triple tourist levy

A proposal to triple the levy for visitors to Stewart Island has received a backlash from the small community.

The Southland District Council is reviewing the levy, and believes more money is needed to fund essential upgrades.

Stewart Island's the only place in New Zealand charging a tourist levy to visit, and Southland District Mayor Gary Tong says it's a good thing.

"With a ratepayer base of just on 400 people, they can't do it on their own."

Introduced in 2013, the $5 fee is aimed at helping pay for infrastructure projects like footpaths, walking tracks and tourist facilities.

Over the last five years, they levy has brought in more than $750,000.

Collecting the levy from tourists is easy; the fee is simply added to the cost of an airfare or ferry ticket for those visiting the island.

Now the Southland District Council is proposing to triple the fee to $15 a visitor - a change surprising residents.

Southland District Councillor Bruce Ford says it was a major concern that it came out of left base. He's concerned such a hike could deter families and large groups from visiting Stewart Island.

But Mayor Tong believes it is the best option to pay for much-needed upgrades to the island's wharfs and jetties.

"The jetties are State Highway 1 to the island - they need to be up to spec."

The council's draft policy will now go out for public consultation.

Any increase to the levy, and who decides how it's dished out, wouldn't come into force until early 2021.