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April 2020 Issue
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Climate change concerns for Great Walks

Lake Howden Hut was hit by a landslide in a February 2020 storm. Photo: Luke Bovie

The increasing frequency of monster storms has DOC concerned for the future of Great Walks.

For most of February, the Routeburn, Milford and Paparoa tracks were completely or partially closed due to damage sustained in severe weather events.

Though the new Paparoa Track opened in March, the Milford and Routeburn tracks will remain partially closed indefinitely.

The final 7km of the Milford Track was badly damaged by slips, making the northern end impassable.

On the Routeburn, nine major slips have closed the track between Mackenzie Hut and the Divide Shelter.

Lake Howden Hut was damaged beyond repair and the Routeburn Flats Twin Bridge was destroyed, though it has since been replaced with a bridge on loan from the closed Hollyford Track.

DOC southern South Island operations director Aaron Fleming said the department is feeling the impacts of climate change.

“While Great Walks are closed quite regularly due to slips, flooding or avalanches, and we have the walking season in place to factor in the winter conditions, we are seeing an increased frequency of extreme weather events with increased severity,” Fleming said.

“These impacts of climate change will continue to worsen for decades to come and will be significantly exacerbated by the end of the century unless urgent action is taken now to cut emissions.”

Fleming said DOC’s flexible budgets allow for destructive weather events, but the department will likely have to seek additional funding to cover the February 3 storm.

Staff, too, “from right across the department” have needed to be reshuffled, which causes concerns for the future.

“These events take up significant resources and can reduce our capacity in other areas. This is a concern as these events will likely increase,” Fleming said.

DOC and NIWA are researching structures that will better stand up to extreme rainfall events.