Huts will likely remain closed until New Zealand is at Alert Level One
DOC has yet to make a decision on when huts and campsites could reopen, but has said all Backcountry Hut Pass holders will be able to extend the term of their pass while huts are closed.
The department said its facilities would not necessarily reopen when the lockdown ends and it wouldn’t say whether facilities would reopen under Covid-19 alert levels 1, 2 or 3.
“Given the dynamic and novel nature of the current situation, it is not possible to predict exactly how, when and where it might be appropriate to reopen facilities at this early stage of alert level 4,” a DOC spokesperson said.
“In making these decisions, DOC will assess the risk to staff, contractors, volunteers and visitors.
“DOC will use Ministry of Health guidance and Covid alert levels that describe physical distancing, mass gatherings, public venues, contact tracing requirements, non-essential travel, and other health measures recommended to the department.”
Given huts put trampers in close proximity with one another for an extended period of time, it could be some time before huts reopen. All alert levels above level 1 restrict travel and enforce or encourage physical distancing in public places and on public transport.
However, there is some good news for trampers. The department said anyone who has a Backcountry Hut Pass will be able to extend their pass for the period that huts are closed. Hut pass holders will have to take their pass to a DOC visitor centre, where they will be issued with a new pass with an extended expiry date.
Meanwhile, DOC has revealed that more than a dozen trampers were helicoptered off tracks after the government announced the country was heading into a four-week lockdown with just 48 hours notice.
Prior to the lockdown, DOC led an “aerial sweep” of the Heaphy Track and evacuated about 12 trampers and a hut warden off the track. A tramper and two hut wardens were also helicoptered off the Paparoa Track.
The department is now calling on people to dob in trampers who continue to use DOC huts and tracks. Information from residents near tracks and from social media posts showed a number of hikers were continuing to use tracks in the Waikato, including the Bridal Veil Falls, Mt Karioi and the Hakarimata Summit Trail. Barriers have since been installed on the Hakarimata Summit Trail with signs telling the public not to use the track.
“We are asking that if people notice behaviours that are not appropriate, to please report this at 105.police.govt.nz.”