Restrictions on tramping under Covid-19 alert level 2 have been relaxed, with no restrictions on most of the hut network.
Last year, as the country emerged from its first lockdown, the capacity of huts was restricted to 10 people or less and some tracks were closed where physical distancing couldn’t be assured.
This year, there’s a more permissive approach, with DOC lifting the hut occupancy limit to 50 people. This will affect the 80-bunk Pinnacles Hut in Coromandel and the 54-bunk Luxmore Hut on the Kepler Track.
The number of bunks that can be booked at Pinnacles Hut has been capped at 50, but trampers will have to self-police the 50-person capacity at Luxmore until the Great Walks season starts.
DOC heritage and visitors director Tim Bamford said it is not practical to ask people to wear masks while sleeping or eating or to always maintain a two-metre distance in huts.
“Our approach is to provide people with clear information on what they can expect when staying in a hut under alert level 2 and to let people make their own decisions about whether to continue, take a tent and camp, or cancel,” Bamford said. “People need to use their common sense and judgement when using DOC facilities and ensure they follow Ministry of Health advice. If staying in a hut they should do their best to physically distance (acknowledging that it’s difficult), clean surfaces regularly and wear a face covering, except when eating or sleeping.”
Those who cancelled a trip due to concerns about Covid-19 transmission could get a full refund, he said.
The 50-bunk limit at Luxmore Hut could mean booking cancelations for some Great Walks trampers if the South Island remains in level 2 when the season opens on October 26.
“If we get to the point where DOC has to cancel bookings, those who were last to book in the huts will be the bookings that get cancelled – i.e. last in, first out,” Bamford said. “However, we anticipate this scenario will be unlikely and that sufficient people will modify or cancel their bookings.”