28 May 2024

Great Walks booking system hits problems again

3:11 pm on 28 May 2024

By Georgie Hanafin

The Department of Conservation has apologised to trampers after its booking system crashed for spots on two of the country's Great Walks this summer.

Disappointed people vented their frustration on social media about missing out on huts and campsites on the Milford Track and Lake Waikaremoana walk as soon as bookings opened for the 2024/25 season at 9.30am.

One person reported the system crashing at 9.31am, while others complained of error messages, lost bookings or discovered all spots had been taken within minutes.

It is the second time in two years that the Department of Conservation's (DOC) booking system has failed, despite assurances the situation would not be repeated.

In a statement, DOC apologised and acknowledged people's frustration, saying 11,000 people were logged into its booking system at 9.30am, which struggled for the first 11 minutes.

Heritage and visitors director Cat Wilson said the slow response times was concerning so the system was rebooted after 15 minutes, resulting in a "patchy and frustrating" first hour.

"We are really sorry this has been a poor experience. It doesn't meet people's expectations and it doesn't meet ours," she said.

"Due to the patchy experience we decided to reset the system, which would have looked like a crash to some people.

"We are disappointed it wasn't the smooth experience we were hoping for. We have lost patience with the vendor and will have serious conversations about the future to avoid this happening again."

The Hump Ridge Track near Tuatapere.

The system for booking slots on the Great Walks has been plagued by crashes in recent years. File photo. Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

By 11.15am, there were about 2800 bookings for the Milford and 400 for the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walks, DOC said.

The DOC website crashed last year when 10,000 people from New Zealand and overseas tried to book a walk on the Milford Track.

The site came back online shortly after and the 7500 spaces sold out within hours, leaving thousands disappointed and without a spot.

Frustrated trampers took to social media with complaints of missing out after a similar crash occurred in 2021.

DOC had earlier provided assurances that last year's issues would not be repeated.

New Zealand's 10 Great Walks are the country's premier and most popular tramping tracks. Every year, thousands of people from New Zealand and abroad try to secure a space on one of the tracks.

'New Zealanders should get first dibs'

Earlier, Federated Mountain Clubs president Megan DiMozantos said she was not confident DOC would get it right this year.

A lot of time and money went into planning Great Walks hikes and bookings should be allocated on a "Kiwi-first" basis, so people did not miss out, she said.

"We believe... New Zealanders should get first dibs on the Great Walk bookings once they open before they're opened to internationals and to commercial," she said.

Gerard Hindmarsh - an avid tramper with a lifelong interest in New Zealand's back country - said the booking system was frustrating and impossible to navigate.

People struggled to secure dates and thousands missed out each year, he said.

"It's a hectic affair and there's thousands of Kiwi trampers that are still left extremely disappointed that they can't get their dates and it's impossible to often book long weekends or school holidays on some of our most popular tracks, which sell out completely," he said.

Having access to the tracks was "New Zealand's legacy" and opening up the booking system to residents three months before the rest of the world would ensure locals did not miss out, Hindmarsh said.

Earlier, DOC's Cat Wilson said more Kiwis than ever before were hiking the Great Walks after the department introduced cheaper pricing for New Zealanders in 2018 to better manage international demand.

Differential pricing and opening bookings at times better suited for New Zealanders had immediately increased the number of locals on the tracks.

"Even with international visitors returning over the past year, the Great Walks continue to attract high levels of domestic tourism," Wilson said.

"Previously New Zealanders made up 40 percent of visitors, whereas the year-to-date mix is about 63 percent New Zealanders and 37 percent international visitors."

The department had made changes to the website and tested it ahead of bookings for Milford and Lake Waikaremoana Track opening Tuesday morning.

Wilson would not elaborate on what those changes were, but had said she was confident there would not be a repeat of last year.

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