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Northland track closures a danger for the unprepared

Te Whara Track in Whangarei Heads, which begins or ends at Urquharts Bay, is one example of a Northland track that is still open. Photo: Denise Piper

The closure of the Herekino Forest Track near Kaitaia meant trouble for a group of five Auckland women.

Having driven more than four hours to Kaitaia, the women decided to complete a different trek on part of the Te Araroa Trail after discovering the Herekino Track was closed.

But they were not adequately prepared for the weather-beaten trail, which was affected by treefall, and did not allow enough time, Northland police search and rescue co-ordinator senior sergeant Cliff Metcalfe said.

With darkness and wet weather closing in, and just one torch between them, the group made the ‘right call’ to get help, Metcalfe said.

The five trampers were found by search and rescue, and given warm clothes, food and assistance to get out.

Metcalfe said the rescue, which occured on May 12, is an example of the dangers of track closures. But with many people simply ignoring track closures and walking around barriers, a greater fear is that someone will come to grief on a closed track.

“Tracks are closed for any number of reasons – there could be a big slip and it’s dangerous – but if people choose to ignore that, it places them at risk and anyone else that has to look for them,” Metcalfe said.

A mixture of slips, muddy tracks and kauri dieback has closed eight DOC tracks in Northland. A further two tracks have safety alerts while another track, the Kauri Bushman’s Walk near Dargaville, will be closed during July to raise awareness of kauri dieback.

DOC communications advisor Abi Monteith said some of the track closures were only temporary while the department built tracks, fencing and boardwalks to keep people away from kauri trees to prevent the spread of kauri dieback. Large slips or fallen trees due to Northland’s wet summer and autumn have also resulted in long-term closures.

But four of the already-closed tracks and 10 other tracks in Northland could be closed permanently as part of DOC’s efforts to reduce the spread of kauri dieback disease. A total of 35 tracks in the upper North Island are proposed for full or partial closure, on top of the popular Waitakere Ranges and Okura Bush Walkway in Auckland.

Monteith’s advice for anyone looking to do a walk – whether it is short or multi-day – is to check the DOC website for track closures or alerts.

“This will provide information on current track conditions, which is particularly relevant during winter, and advice of any track closures.”

Metcalfe agreed that checking track closures before heading off is important. But he said it is also vital to check the weather and be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

Trampers should have enough food, water and equipment to survive 24-hours in the bush, including warm clothing – even in Northland, Metcalfe said.

“It’s our changeable weather and changeable conditions that catches people out. People think Northland is nice and fine and sunny, but it’s going to bite you.”

– Denise Piper

Closed tracks in Northland

  • Fig Tree Track in Maitai Bay, closed for safety concerns.
  • Hauturu Highpoint Track and Waiotemarama Loop Track near Opononi, closed due to a slip. Hauturu could be permanently closed due to kauri dieback.
  • Herekino Forest Track and all tracks within the Herekino Forest, closed until further notice due to muddy tracks, trees blocking some areas, and kauri dieback concerns from local iwi and hapu.
  • Kaitaia Long and Short Track, closed until further notice due to three large slips and kauri dieback concerns from local iwi and hapu. The Kaitaia Kauri Bush could be permanently closed due to kauri dieback.
  • Lookout Track in Waipoua forest, closed due to kauri dieback and could be permanently closed.
  • Warawara Forest near Pawarenga, closed until further notice due to two large slips on the track, and kauri dieback concerns from local iwi and hapu.
  • Kauri Bushman’s Walk near Dargaville, closed in July to raise awareness of kauri dieback and could be partially closed.
  • The Duke’s Nose in Whangaroa Harbour, partially closed due to safety improvements.
  • Mangamuka Tramping Track, warning danger due to mud, slips and treefall.