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DOC reject panel’s picks for next Great Walk

The Tarawera walk could include a trip to the summit crater. Photo: Giiki/CreativeCommons

An independent panel tasked with picking the next Great Walk wanted new tracks up Mt Tarawera and through North Canterbury’s Molesworth Station to be in the running, but these options were abandoned by DOC.

DOC has $12.7m to develop one or two new Great Walks by 2021, and is investigating the Te Paki Coastal Track, the Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds, and the Hump Ridge Track in Southland.

However, an independent panel appointed by DOC rated a new multi-day walk up Mt Tarawera as a ‘clear second choice’ and also wanted to see a new track through Molesworth Station investigated. The panel consisted of Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC), New Zealand Recreation Association (NZRA), New Zealand Māori Tourism, Tourism New Zealand and Tourism Industry Aotearoa.

FMC president Peter Wilson said it had been considering a shortlist of seven proposals and made a unanimous decision recommending the Te Paki, Tarawera and Molesworth tracks be further investigated, but the latter two were overruled by the department.

“That was really disappointing,” Wilson said.

NZRA chief executive Andrew Leslie said the top three walks were a clear standout for the panel, but DOC didn’t progress with the Tarawera and Molesworth walks for practical reasons, including negotiations with iwi.

“We were keen to have more North Island walks so more New Zealanders were able to access them and to spread the tourism benefit,” Leslie said. “The Hump Ridge Track is in close proximity to existing Great Walks, but that could also mean it takes pressure off the ones nearby. We also felt that the Queen Charlotte Track is doing well as a walk at the moment, so there was less to be gained from making it a Great Walk compared with developing a new walk.

“It was bitter-sweet, but the outcome is still going to be great for the country.”

Wilson said the Tarawera track would have enabled a new experience with iwi involvement that would help attract more tourists to the Rotorua area.

DOC’s director of recreation, tourism and heritage Gavin Walker said the Tarawera and Molesworth walks had “significant potential” but the tight time frame to create the new walks ruled them out. Issues around access up Mt Tarawera needed to be resolved with local iwi, while the future of Molesworth Station is currently under review.

“But they present very good opportunities for consideration in the future, if further expansion of the Great Walks network is desirable,” Walker said.

Unlike the Te Paki, Hump Ridge and Queen Charlotte tracks, neither the Molesworth or Tarawera trails have been developed yet and would have added something new to the track network. But they also would have been the most expensive to build.

A DOC report said it would cost $7-8m to develop the Tarawera walk and there was also a 50 per cent probability that Mt Tarawera would erupt in the next 150 years.

The Molesworth track would have cost $9-11m to build, including three huts, a number of bridges and track upgrades.

By contrast, the Queen Charlotte, Hump Ridge and Te Paki walks could all be developed within DOC’s $12.7m budget. The report said the Queen Charlotte Track could be opened with almost no further work, but DOC could spend $1m on increased maintenance, marketing and a roving warden and build a hut on the track in future.

The Hump Ridge Track would cost $3-4m for track upgrades and the Te Paki Coastal Track would cost $3-4m to build two huts and do minor track upgrades.