Great walk on track to be open for summer

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The newly built bridge at Giants Gate on the Milford Track replaced the old one which was damaged in the February floods.
John Henderson, of John Henderson Construction, looks over the new Mintaro Hut on day two of the Milford Track.

REPAIR works millions are set to be completed for the summer opening of the Milford Sound Great Walks.

In February, flooding caused damage across the South, and Fiordland had more than 820mm of rain 10% of the region’s annual rainfall, 600mm of it in a 24-hour period.

More than 78 tracks on public conservation land were damaged, totalling more than 440km, and Great Walks, the Milford Track and the Routeburn Track, were hit hard, with 32 bridges damaged.

The Department of Conservation (Doc) was allocated $13.7 million for infrastructure repair in the 2020 Budget.

One of the bridges which needed replacing was the Giants Gate Bridge on the Milford Track, and for the past three weeks a team of contractors has worked on building the new one.

Site manager Matthew Thom said they had spent most of the winter on a “bridge-building spree” and began work at Giants Gate just as heavy snow hit the region.

“It’s quite a big logistical effort.”

Working in such a remote area could be challenging; materials had to be flown in and there were lots of sandflies.

“We put in a heap of preparation before we fly in to these jobs… also having a team that is up to it as well, we’re fortunate to have a strong team.”

Doc principal ranger Grant Tremain said it would be “fantastic” when the track opened to walkers on December 1.

“Just with everything that has been happening with floods and Covid-19, the idea we have people walking the Milford Track in 2020 is just phenomenal.”

Some days, he had not thought that would happen.

“Hats off to everyone coming together and all the New Zealanders that have shown interest in walking it.”

He described the destruction he saw after the flooding, which included 11 major landslips across the track and waist-high water.

“The window wasn’t massive for getting this work done, but yeah, we’ve got there.”

Destination Fiordland manager Madeleine Peacock said getting the Milford and Routeburn tracks open again was challenging but exciting.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming people back.”

She said it would be many New Zealanders’ first time walking the tracks.

“It’s just a really great experience, there’s something really cool about Kiwis getting together outdoors and having a shared experience.

“It’s going to be a fun season… it’s going to be how it used to be for Kiwis before international tourism was really big here.”

While the Mintaro Hut was not damaged during flooding, its replacement was nearing completion.

Located on day two of the Milford Track, the 30-year-old hut was discovered to have been in a potential rockfall zone.

The new hut was about 2km from the existing site and included the hut warden’s quarters, a suspension bridge and track work to the new site it should be open by March 2021, and the estimated cost was $3.4 million.

Undertaking repairs across all damaged tracks was estimated to be a three-year programme.

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