TWO of Fiordland’s Great Walks are set to open fully this summer after major repair work, with bookings to open soon.
When the February floods hit, more than 78 Department of Conservation (Doc) tracks, including the Great Walks Milford and Routeburn tracks, were damaged or inaccessible 440km of walking tracks were put out of action.
Work on the tracks was able to be undertaken with $13.7 million allocated from Budget 2020 for repair work across the region.
Doc southern South Island operations director Aaron Fleming said this summer was a great opportunity for New Zealanders to get out on the country’s most well-known tracks.
“The Milford and Routeburn tracks are internationally regarded as some of the best hiking experiences in the world, bookings typically fill up very quickly, particularly over the peak summer weeks.”
In terms of booking figures, he said other Great Walks had a record opening week and if they were anything to go by, it was expected there would be huge demand for these tracks heading into summer.
Last season alternatives to the tracks were offered; the Milford MacKinnon Experience and Routeburn Return offered walkers parts of the tracks while other areas of them were repaired.
Fiordland Community Board chairwoman Sarah Greaney said the Great Walks were a major drawcard to the area and even the month’s delay in getting them open was costly to the Fiordland community, with an estimated $30,000 direct cost each day.
“Having them open is vital… we rely on them being open on time, each year.”
She believed the Kepler Track had received “reasonable bookings” so far.
Mr Fleming said hikers did still need to heed current warnings.
“While we have full confidence the tracks will be open this summer, we are still undertaking critical repairs, and minor repairs may continue into the walking season.”
Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage said extreme weather around the country had highlighted vulnerability to changing weather patterns.
A new Doc climate change action plan tackled the impacts of climate change on New Zealand’s biodiversity and Doc-managed infrastructure including tracks, huts and cultural heritage.
The plan set out a long-term strategy to identify the best actions for adapting to climate change which involved assessments of ecosystems and infrastructure vulnerable to climate change impacts, and the extent of that vulnerability.
Both the Milford and the Routeburn tracks were expected to open fully for the summer, with the Milford from November 30, and the Routeburn from December 7.
It was also hoped the Rob Roy Glacier Track near Wanaka would be open by summer.
During the storm, the Lake Howden Hut and 32 bridges were damaged, along with other huts, campsites, and facilities Hut would not reopen this season and walkers would need to plan to tramp all the way out to The Divide near the Milford Rd or vice-versa to Lake MacKenzie heading towards Glenorchy.
Bookings could be made from August 18 for the Milford, and August 19 for the Routeburn.