Concern over congestion on popular Hokitika Gorge walkway

4:45 pm on 5 December 2023
The 90-year-old Hokitika Gorge swing bridge is now closed, but the surrounding site remains open.

The 90-year-old Hokitika Gorge swing bridge is now closed, but the surrounding site remains open. Photo: Supplied

Tourist operators are concerned the Hokitika Gorge walkway may struggle with an influx of summer visitors following its bridge closure.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is keeping an eye on the scenic site on the West Coast as visitors arrive this summer.

It follows the closure of the original gorge swing bridge, by the Westland District Council.

In August, the council announced the historic bridge was no longer safe and pending a replacement, close from 1 October.

Visitors can still walk the gorge track from either end, using the new swing bridge built further up the gorge - constructed when the site was extended in 2021-22.

At the West Coast Conservation Board's 30 November meeting, board member Ashley Cassin said there was "quite a bit of concern" from Hokitika tourist operators about the capacity of the site given the bridge closure.

Concern centred on how the site would cope with an influx of summer visitors, particularly as people couldn't use it as a through walk, Cassin, a Westland district councillor, said.

With the old bridge due to be dismantled, congestion on the now separated sections of track was a particular concern, Cassin said.

There was also talk of "facilities under stress" across the wider site including car parking, toilets, and the impact of tour buses.

DoC Western South Island director Mark Davies said the department is keeping a close eye on the gorge area this summer.

It had seasonal rangers checking the site plus contractors servicing the toilet facilities at the site.

"Everything is maintained to the normal standards," he said.

The spectacular gorge visitor site is a key tourist asset for DoC in the Hokitika area.

Visitor numbers have increased since the loop track and the second swing bridge, further up the gorge, were constructed.

Replacement of the now closed council-owned bridge has yet to be finalised. The section of track leading to it is also on council road reserve.

On 1 December, Westland Mayor Helen Lash said to some extent visitors needed to "tolerate what's there this summer".

But people should still visit as the overall experience of the site remained "awesome".

"It is absolutely open. People are enjoying it. For those that have never been there, they won't know any different," she said.

However, a replacement for the closed gorge bridge is still being worked through with the department.

"It's something that hasn't been to council table for something final," Mrs Lash said.

The council had set aside $50,000 in the annual plan plus it secured $450,000 from the government's Tourist Infrastructure Fund.

DOC has previously undertaken to provide the council with technical support through an in-kind arrangement.

Mrs Lash said she and chief executive Simon Bastion were due to meet with DOC about the next steps.

"We need to have a look at what's needed and then, whoever's responsibility it is, we need to get in and do it."

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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