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August 2012 Issue
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How long does it take to walk track?

With so many variables, it's hard to estimate track times. Photo: Elduke via Flickr
Ever wondered how the Department of Conservation estimates track times? There’s no hard and fast rule

We’ve all been there. Out for a Sunday walk in the bush you come across a track sign indicating it’s another two hours to the car park only to find an hour later you’ve emerged from the bush and are back at the car wondering what to do with the rest of your day.

Wilderness has obtained details of how various DOC offices around the country estimate track times. The information supplied by DOC reveals a mixed bag of methods, with many using historical times from the old Forest Service days.

DOC’s deputy director-general science and technical Kevin O’Conner said there are “significant” challenges in applying a consistent approach to estimating track times. The most common issues cited by regional DOC staff were:

* Range of different track users with widely differing abilities

* Type of track

* Condition of track

* Weather conditions

* Terrain traversed

* Volume of other people using the track

O’Conner said DOC staff would be keen to have a nationally consistent track time formula. “Many staff see merit for track users in having a consistent basis to estimating track times across the country,” he said, with the proviso that local adjustments can be made in cases where a time estimate was “clearly at odds with staff experience gained from walking the track”.

Here’s how some conservancies around the country estimate track times:

Maniapoto/King Country: Slower staff walk the track. They are asked to walk at a leisurely pace taking regular short breaks and stopping at points of interest.

Waikato: Prefer to establish a range that describes the difference between fit, experienced walkers and those who enjoy places at a more leisurely pace. Estimates are based on historical information and reality checked by experienced staff walking the tracks.

Taranaki: Engaged a contractor to walk every track in the park and to time his distances from signpost to signpost. He was asked to walk at a constant speed at all times and record the results. This established a consistent base time for every track.

Weightings were then applied to the different categories of tracks (Routes, Tracks and Paths) to take account of the different types of users on these tracks.

All central North Island and Whanganui: Times initially calculated based on the Naismith rule with the following weighting then added:

Track Condition factor

1.00 – Applied where walking conditions are on a hard sealed and smooth walking surface e.g. asphalt, concrete

1.25 – Applied where the walking surface is smooth e.g. compacted aggregate

1.33 – Applied where the walking surface is rough, uneven and/or boggy

1.5 – Applied in extreme conditions where there is heavy vegetation and the walking surface is rough, uneven and / or boggy

Weight Factor

1.0 – Applied for day visitors where is it expected the person will carry either no pack or a lightweight day pack.

1.2 – Applied where visitors are expected to carry an overnight pack.

Marlborough Sounds: Walk the track with the same equipment as a user would – i.e. pack with overnight gear for a tramping track, day pack for a day visitor and camera bag for a short walk.

A fit ranger would walk the [tracks] then, for every hour walked add 5 to 10 minutes depending on terrain and other obstacles such as a river crossing that may cause problems or a tricky bluff that needed to be negotiated.

For short walks, an older member of staff would walk the track and add 10 to 15min for anything of an hour or more depending on terrain.

Coastal Otago: There’s so much variation in terrain, fitness levels and traffic that the preferred approach is to simply walk the track and add about 25 per cent to allow for people taking their time.

Southland: Based on the time taken to complete a track inspection. These times are then reality checked with other staff who have visited.

Stewart Island: Historically based but if a track is upgraded the following approach is used:

* Check with visitor centre staff to confirm any discrepancies in current times;

* Check hut book data for any comments on variances;

* Have one of the team walk it at tramper’s pace (normally carrying 20 litres of fuel and a