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Great Walks repair work begins

Damaged beyond repair, Howden Hut will not be replaced. Photo: Luke Bovie

Repairs to the badly damaged Milford and Routeburn tracks has finally begun – but will it be completed in time?

Two tracks, tens of millions in funding and two months to complete it.

That’s the scale of work starting this week to repair both Milford and Routeburn tracks ahead of reopening this summer.

The two Great Walks were badly damaged by flooding in January and are set to undergo major track clearance and bridge rebuilding ahead of reopening in late November.

Grant Tremain, the Department of Conservation’s principal ranger of recreation and history for Fiordland, says after months of planning, geotechnical work, tendering contracts and Covid-19 lockdown delays, the “crux” of the work has now been reached: getting out in the field.

“There’s been lots of stuff in the background,” Tremain says, with initial repair work on the Milford Track completed between flooding and the first coronavirus lockdown, but the Routeburn is only getting underway now.

The upcoming work will involve dangerous tree removal from slips, clearing new tracks through the slips and building several new bridges.

A swingbridge is set to be built downstream from Routeburn Flats Hut, replacing the temporary bridge DOC installed in March.

New bridges are also set to be built on the Milford Track to replace damaged structures at Giant Gate Falls and Poseidon Creek.

Trampers will no longer have the use of the Routeburn’s Howden Hut due to it being damaged beyond repair by a slip caused by the flooding.

Geotechnical advice has ruled out building a new hut on the site. This will mean walkers will have an extra hour’s walk between The Divide and Lake Mackenzie Hut.

None of the huts on the Milford Track are damaged.

While the work will get both tracks up to full use Tremain expects the broader flood repair work in the national parks will take around three years to complete at a cost of about $40 million.

He advises trampers to adhere to any warnings or closed track signs.

“If a track is closed it’s closed for a good reason,” he says.

He also encourages all trampers to get the most up-to-date information from the visitor centres in Queenstown or Te Anau, before walking either track

Tremain says the high demand for Great Walks this summer is “fantastic” to see, particularly as it will almost all be domestic bookings due to border closures.

The Milford Track reopens on November 30 and the Routeburn reopens on December 7.