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Thousands of Great Walk spaces open up

A view to Mt Pillans from MacKinnon Pass on the Milford Track. Photo: Matthew Cattin

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More than 2000 booking cancellations have rocked the start of the Great Walk season, RNZ reports.

As Covid lockdowns continue to disrupt Auckland, Waikato and Northland, cancellations have led to one of the quietest Great Walk seasons in memory.

Fiordland Outdoors Co owner Christine Wallace said she has never seen a Milford Track opening as quiet as this year.

“I’ve never known on the opening day to have 24 empty spaces on the Milford Track so I don’t think it will ever happen again,” she said.

The Kepler and Routeburn tracks have also been quiet.

“There have been steady cancellations, but it’s really ramped up in the last 10 days. I think Aucklanders were really hoping something would change, they held their hut tickets,” Wallace said.

“But it’s been this week with the cancellation of the flights by Air New Zealand that they’ve sort of accepted it.”

The cancellations have been a silver lining for other trampers around the country, however.

“For every Aucklander that’s devastated they can’t go, we’re getting two South Islanders or outside of Auckland that are just ecstatic that they’ve picked up hut tickets last minute,” she said.

DOC has confirmed it is unable to roll over bookings to next season, but is offering full refunds.

Mammal wins Bird of the Year competition

In a controversial turn of events, the long-tailed pekapeka/bat has won Forest & Bird’s 2021

Bird of the Year/Te Manu Rongonui o te Tau.

This year was the first time a land mammal has been included in the annual competition, and the pekapeka won by a huge margin.

“Kiwis clearly love their native bat, and they have chosen our only native land mammal to be the 2021 Bird of the Year,” spokesperson Laura Keown said.

“I think I’m going to be fired.”

Auckland Council’s Ben Paris, known as the New Zealand Batman, said the story has flown around the world, and helped bring awareness to the species.

“Long-tailed bats, or pekapeka-tou-roa, are a unique part of Aotearoa’s biodiversity, but lots of people don’t know they even exist,” he said.

Kākāpō came in at second place, followed by titipounamu, kea and Antipodean albatross/toroa.

Tramper dies in Arthur’s Pass

The body of 37-year-old tramper Rebecca Woolley has been found in Arthur’s Pass National Park.

The Christchurch nursing student had been hiking Mt Aicken Track on Saturday with a friend, but became separated and failed to return to the car park.

A search and rescue operation was launched, and her body was recovered at 1:30pm on Sunday.

Woolley’s father, Brett, told Stuff the family was “devastated”.

“It’s just unbelievable that this could happen to her. We’re trying to process it, but we keep thinking she’s going to walk through the door, but we know that’s not going to happen,” he said.

“I believe from her tramping mate she was well-dressed for the occasion. They weren’t planning on staying out overnight, it was just an afternoon hike.”

Police are making inquiries into the incident.

Swedish company composts its baselayers

Swedish company Houdini has opened the world’s first clothing compost for used sportswear. 

Based in Stockholm, the company uses its compost as a test lab for its natural clothing line of biodegradable merino.

The company proves that natural fibres can transform into healthy soil which grows fruit and vegetables, which are supplied to a Michelin-starred restaurant called Agrikultur as part of the Houdini Menu.

The four-course menu includes smoked merino-wool-mushroom broth with pickled egg and baselayer beet baked in salt with Swedish goat cheese, pickled blackcurrant, coriander and ginger.

Read the full story here.

Project attempts to translate whale calls

Computer scientists are working on an artificial intelligence that may allow them to communicate with whales.

Known as the Cetacean Translation Initiative, the project could become the first time humans have been able to understand what whales are saying, and potentially talk back.

The first job in the project is to record four billion ‘words’ from sperm whales in the wild, though scientists admit they don’t know what a word consists of in the whale’s language.

Scientists may then be able to employ an interactive chatbot to engage in whale dialogue, though computer scientist Michael Bronstein said whales may not warm to the conversation.

“Maybe they would just reply, ‘Stop talking such garbage!’” Bronstein said.

Read the full story here.