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Hump Ridge prepares for ‘Great’ status

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September 2021 Issue

The Hump Ridge Track is set to become a Great Walk in 2022. George Driver finds out what’s in store for walkers.

Upgrades to the country’s next Great Walk will get underway soon, but plans for a new hut on the Hump Ridge Track have been put on hold.

The Southland track won the contest to become a new Great Walk in 2019 and DOC put $5m towards upgrading it, with work expected to be completed later next year.

The three-day walk skirts the southern coastline, before climbing through native forest to the tops of Hump Ridge where views of Fiordland and to Rakiura/Stewart Island can be enjoyed amongst impressive limestone tors. It was built in 2001 and is run as a semi-private walk, offering a touch of luxury to the Great Walks portfolio. Rather than huts, it has lodges and trampers can upgrade to a king-sized bed with linen and towels provided for an extra $250. People can also pay for hot showers, order hot porridge and dehy meals and even buy beer and wine (but you can’t BYO). If you want to travel light, sleeping bags can be hired at the lodges and packs helicoptered to the first hut (for $100). 

But the added luxury comes at a price. The Hump Ridge will be the most expensive Great Walk at $295 for two nights in a bunk – nearly double the price of the Milford Track. And, unlike on other Great Walks where children under 18 are free, the Hump Ridge is only half price for children under 14.

Fortunately, the extra dollars go to a good cause; the trust spends the income on community projects. 

It is run and maintained by a community trust and Hump Ridge Ltd chair Don Frengley says work upgrading the track is expected to start in early spring and will involve resurfacing large sections, adding some boardwalks and realigning sections to make the gradient easier.

“Last season was quite wet and it was very muddy through some sections, so the upgrades should make walkers considerably happier,” Frengley says.

The trust is also upgrading the track’s two huts, installing new septic systems and adding more solar power to accommodate the expected rise in numbers.

However, initial plans for an extra hut on the walk have been put on hold. DOC was reportedly planning to build a hut between the existing lodges to make it a four-day walk, but Frengley says this has been delayed due to “the stringencies of Covid”. Frengley says most of the $5m budget will be spent on track upgrades, leaving little room for a new hut (especially considering Mintaro Hut on the Milford Track cost $3.4m).

“DOC said the budget has required attention elsewhere and so at the moment we don’t know when the new hut will be going in. But it’s certainly not off the planning list. All of the architectural designs have been done. So it will be a matter of when the budget comes free.”

However, DOC southern South Island operations director Aaron Fleming says a new hut is now off the cards.

“The current huts already meet or exceed Great Walk standard so no further work is planned,” Fleming says.

Without the extra hut, the Great Walk will be one of the most challenging, covering 61km over three days, including a 1000m ascent on the first day – nearly double the length of the Routeburn with one less hut. 

Frengley says the number of walkers on the track has increased by a third since it was announced as the next Great Walk and people can already book for the 2022/23 Great Walk season.

“Last season was a record for us,” Frengley says. “The support from New Zealanders was outstanding.”

Although the trust currently manages and maintains the track, there is no on-going agreement with DOC. Frengley says retaining the community dividend is a bottom line.

“The community built it and have put so many hours into getting this up and running, so most certainly the community needs to see real benefit out of the track on an ongoing basis.”

Fleming says “the intention” is for the trust to continue managing and maintaining the track.

Paula Slack walked the track with friends in February, staying in the bunkrooms, and says it is Great Walk-worthy and another hut isn’t needed.

“Having walked the Kepler, Routeburn and Abel Tasman, I reckon it is good enough for a Great Walk,” Slack says. “The current huts have great facilities offering everything you could need.

“I personally don’t think it needs a third hut. We did the walks in good time and none of our group are marathon    runners.”