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New great walk, a labour of love

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September 2019 Issue

The Hump Ridge Track is the newest addition to the Great Walk family, and its success is a testament to the Southland community.

From songs of the right whale in Te Waewae Bay to echoes of pioneers amongst ancient podocarps, the Hump Ridge Track is a trail of stories.

Its next chapter, as New Zealand’s 11th Great Walk, has just begun.

Announced in June by Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage, the 61km sea to summit track is a jewel of the Southland Coast, crossing beach, forest and subalpine landscapes.

Typically a three day, 61km loop, the track will receive around $5 million in funding to bring it to Great Walk standard for a 2022 opening season.

Upgrades are under consultation, but may include new accommodation near the Percy Burn Viaduct, easier gradients, upgrading gravel surfaces and new sections of boardwalk.

The announcement brings the South Island’s Great Walk total to seven, following the construction of the West Coast’s Paparoa Track which opens in December.

Great South general manager business and strategic projects Stephen Canny is excited by the announcement but admits he’s a little biased.

“The decision made by DOC and the minister is a very pragmatic response – to develop a route that is already a destination in its own right,” he says.

“They don’t have to start from scratch as the first principals are all in place and it’s actively maintained.”

The track will likely continue to be managed by the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Trust and DOC.

Canny has been invested in the Southland track since 1990, when he became involved in the restoration of the Port Craig Viaduct – a “labour of love” for the community.

He says the track, which was canvassed and developed in the mid-90s for a 2001 opening, was very much a community-driven effort.

The majority of the $5.75 million needed for the project was raised by community fundraising, Canny says, and massive volunteer hours made it possible.

“The current figures for volunteers is 30,000 hours on the track and 75,000 on the viaduct restoration,” he says.

“It shows the passion for the pre-European history, our industrial history and the really magnificent environment.”

Local guide and author Greg Wilson says the people of Tuatapere are ready and waiting for their opportunity to step up.

“Generally, it’s been welcomed and people have been positive all around,” he says.

“There is plenty to do down here in the outdoor adventure scene, and people in Tuatapere have been hoping to provide more, but we haven’t had the numbers.

“When the numbers arrive, the activities and tours will kick off.”

Wilson has lost count of the times he’s been on the Hump Ridge Track, and he has spent a season guiding walkers over it.

The views are “stunning”, he says, and the changes in altitude bring a distinct variety of flora.

“You’re going from sea level to alpine to sea level, and you have everything in between. I don’t think anything else really does that,” he says.

Wilson says the track is currently achievable for anybody with a reasonable level of fitness, but admits the long days can be a challenge, and an additional hut and grading work will make a difference.

“It’s a great track to start with, but being made a Great Walk will open it up to more people than can do it in its current state, and it will bring a lot more people into our corner of the world,” he says.

Community trapping efforts have seen the return of species once prevalent in the area, and a Great Walk status may bring increased predator control.

“It’s great to see how access and good conservation programmes can achieve wonderful outcomes,” Canny says.

“Access can have a detrimental effect on an environment, but this is not the case here, where access [has allowed us to] put active protection in place.”

Northland’s Te Paki Coastal Track – considered by some to be a shoe-in for selection – missed out this time around, but DOC is continuing its work to progress it towards a Great Walk standard.

DOC director heritage and visitors Steve Taylor says the track can only be achieved in collaboration with its treaty partner.

“The proposal to develop a Great Walk in the Far North also needs to be looked at as part of a considered and strategic vision for sustainable tourism development in the region, and to build connections across Northland,” he says.

The Hump Ridge Track

  • When to go: The track can be walked all year around, but it can experience snow in winter.
  • Highlights: Okaka Lodge offers grand views of Te Waewae Bay and access to the nearby towering limestone formations and tarns; three large historic viaducts; Aurora australis may be seen at night in winter; and being close to Rakiura’s dark sky sanctuary, stargazers will be delighted by the night sky year round.
  • Cost: Prices for the 2019/20 season start at $245, but may be subject to change in 2022.