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Rescue package for Fiordland huts and tracks

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The government will spend $13.7m repairing huts, tracks and other infrastructure in Fiordland damaged by a severe storm in February. 

The storm knocked out 79 tracks (a total of 440km), two huts, seven campsites, 32 bridges, 500 traps and two car parks, when nearly a metre of rain fell in three days.

To put that money into perspective, the new Paparoa Great Walk cost $10m to build.

The spending will mean the Routeburn and Milford tracks should be ready to reopen for summer — the walks have been partially closed since February. Significant work will also be undertaken on the Hollyford, Greenstone-Caples and Rees-Dart tracks.

The news will likely be well-received from Fiordland businesses, who have been calling for investment in tourism infrastructure so the region is ready for when tourists return.

A $5.7m project to upgrade tracks, toilets and the road to the Oparara Arches in Kahurangi National Park is also set to get underway. The upgrade was controversial after DOC investigated creating a light show and installing lifesize moas in the natural limestone formation, but now it appears there will be a more modest upgrade to facilities.

Billion-dollar boost for conservation

The government has also announced $1.1b investment in conservation in this year’s budget, which is expected to create 11,000 jobs.

While the bulk will go towards predator control and other environmental projects, some money will also pay to maintain and upgrade huts and other recreational facilities.

The spending includes: $433m on regional environmental projects, creating 4000 jobs over five years; $200m to fund jobs improving tracks, huts and for predator control and environmental restoration; $148m for DOC pest control projects; $100m to control wilding pines; $40m to control pests and weeds on rivers on Crown land; and $27m to control wallabies.

The wilderness reopens

Trampers around the country have been getting back on tracks since overnight tramping has been permitted under level 2.

The Otago Daily Times reports three international tourists have resumed the Te Araroa Trail after a seven-week hiatus in Wanaka and are hoping to finish the trail before the snow arrives.

Trampers will be looking forward to experiencing the country with few overseas tourists — operators in Tongariro are calling it a once in a lifetime opportunity for Kiwis to experience the Tongariro Alpine Crossing without crowds, the NZ Herald reports.

Huts have reopened but are capped at 10 people per hut, while some huts on Mt Taranaki are being limited to half of capacity and trampers are advised to take a tent and disinfectant cleaner.

The Mountain Safety Council is warning people to prepare for winter conditions after the lockdown, which has effectively seen the season for outdoor recreation jump from summer to winter. DOC says there has already been snow on the TAC and hikers should be prepared for snow and ice.

However some DOC tracks have remained closed – the Hakarimata Summit Track, the most popular track in the Waikato, remains shut as DOC says it is too narrow to enforce physical distancing.

While trampers are relishing the end of lockdown, some have been enjoying their neck of the woods without people. The Aspinall family, which farms beside Mt Aspiring National Park, told the Otago Daily Times farming has been easier without trampers, climbers and tourists heading through the farm to access the park.

Kiwi-killer captured 

The ferret believed to have killed five kiwi in Pukaha National Wildlife Centre has been caught. 

The kiwi were killed while trapping was banned in the park under Level 3 and 4. 1 News reports trapper John Bissell spent four days with his dog Katy hunting down a ferret in the 930ha reserve.

Another native bird killer has also been caught. A 22-year-old Dunedin man who shot a kererū has been sentenced to 175 hours of community work, the Otago Daily Times reports.

Meanwhile, in Taranaki, a PhD student has been putting GPS tracking collars on possums to understand their range and movements to aid pest control. Stuff reports 15 possums have been collared and tracked for 10 months, with preliminary results showing they range 15-25ha over open land. The student hopes to track another 100 possums over the next year.

A $1.5m project to double pest control in the Kaimai Mamaku Range has also been announced. The partnership between DOC and local councils will hopefully see pockets of kōkako, kiwi and kākā in the forest grow.

Nepal braces for tourism disaster

One of the hiking capitals of the world is bracing for a year without tourists, 9 News in Australia reports.

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and many regions depend on tourism to survive, but the country is currently closed to overseas tourists and has virtually no domestic tourism to see it through. Fortunately, Nepal has so far remained relatively unscathed from the virus, recording less than 300 cases and one death.

This week’s great read

Wired has published an excellent feature on the psychological state of those who get lost in the woods. The article looks at how,when people become lost, they become compelled to keep moving and end up walking in circles, overcome by an irrational state of mind. The feature details a sad case of a hiker who died after stepping off the Appalachian Trail to go to the toilet.

Learn te reo in the mountains

Wilderlife online magazine has published a guide to te reo words and phrases to use in the mountains which help explain the names of some of the country’s most well-known features.