31 May 2023

DOC set to announce booking dates for Heaphy Track, most other Great Walks

10:37 am on 31 May 2023
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Heaphy Track. Photo: Crown Copyright DOC

A small West Coast community says fully reopening the Heaphy Track will breathe fresh life back into their town.

Last February, storms destroyed three bridges and damaged the track, reducing trips to in and out only without a helicopter transfer.

Karamea businesses say it has caused a significant drop in visitors, but they are hopeful that will soon change.

There was only one road in to Karamea, and at the end of it lies an entrance to the Heaphy Track which winds close to 80km towards Golden Bay.

Karamea Village Hotel manager Rochelle Crossman said the Great Walk was a huge drawcard for the town.

"Through the summer months, we'd get a lot of the walkers coming through. Even though they may not stay in the village, they'll come in and have a beer and some lunch or something before they head out of town."

In the winter, she said, mountain bikers would usually stop by and it had been tough seeing fewer people coming through.

Hopes were high for the upcoming Great Walk season.

The Department of Conservation had confirmed it was on track to fully reopen in October, and it would announce booking dates in June along with most other Great Walks.

It was exciting news for Crossman.

"Just the amount of people that it should bring back through the district. Good for the local Four Square, the cafes, and all of our businesses really."

She was hopeful more promotion of the different activities in the area could encourage more people to stay longer.

Helicopter Charter Karamea has been choppering trampers over the impassable part of the track along with a scenic flight.

Vanessa Kingan said communities at both ends of the Heaphy had suffered.

"At the time when the flooding happened, it was really important to us as members of our community to look at what we can do to help drive more people right through the track."

While uptake had been positive, she couldn't wait for the Heaphy to fully open again.

"You talk about the track opening again and you see a great sense of relief and joy on people's faces, locally business-wise and speaking to people in the Golden Bay community because they've equally been impacted."

Engineers have found the 147-metre long flood-damaged Heaphy Bridge on the Heaphy Track, cannot be repaired.

Engineers had found a 147-metre long flood-damaged Heaphy Bridge on the Heaphy Track. Photo: Supplied / Department of Conservation

Development West Coast tourism and destination manager Patrick Dault said there had been a big drop in visitor spend with some tourism operators recording an occupancy drop of up to 70 percent.

"We've seen visitor numbers drop from 500 monthly visitors to the i-Site to less than 65 in the month of July only, and in April, from a peak of 1200, almost 1300 to about 300."

Fully reopening the track would be a significant milestone, he said.

"It says that this hopefully is the final chapter in to what was an incredible journey of, not only of Covid, but of climate change and resilience, and this means that it sets 2023, 2024 for success."

DOC Buller operations manager Suvi Van Smit said it was exciting to see the progress being made after the Great Walk was extensively damaged.

"The scale of the damage meant major repair work was required to be able to reinstate the track as a through walk as the damage included three bridges destroyed or washed away," she said.

The final stage involved building two bridges including one further downstream of previous one across the Heaphy River and the other across the Lewis River.

"These bridges will replace the Heaphy Bridge which was destroyed by ex-cyclone Dovey.

"The two-bridge solution was decided on after a hydrology report found that current erosion patterns and predicted flood levels and flows meant a new bridge at the old site would soon be threatened."

The booking dates for the next Great Walks season, including the Heaphy Track, will be announced in June.

Last month, the Department of Conservation's booking website crashed for several hours when 10,000 people tried to book the Milford Track at once.

A week later, bookings for other Great Walks were postponed due to ongoing technical issues with plans to open for booking in mid June.

In a response to an Official Information Act request, DOC's Heritage and Visitors director Catherine Wilson said it was extremely disappointed to have experienced these issues, but it was happy with the IT provider's response so far and impressed with the effort put in to resolve the problems.

"The Department is currently undertaking commercial negotiations with our booking system provider.

"These negotiations were scheduled under our existing contract with the provider and are not a result of the issues we experienced with the Great Walks booking system in April 2023.

"However, the issues have given extra importance and a higher level of sensitivity to the process."

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