Date: 31 July 2020
DOC is delighted to announce both the Milford and the Routeburn tracks will be open in full from 30 November for the Milford, and 7 December for the Routeburn.
DOC southern South Island Operations Director, Aaron Fleming says this summer is a great opportunity for New Zealanders to get out on our most iconic tracks.
“The Milford and Routeburn tracks are internationally regarded as some of the best hiking experiences in the world, bookings typically fill up very quickly – particularly over the peak summer weeks.
“This summer looks to be a perfect opportunity for kiwis to get out and explore our own backyards on these and the many other fantastic tracks we have around the country – and the communities that support them.”
The iconic Milford and Routeburn tracks were extensively damaged by an extreme weather event in February 2020.
A three-day storm saw one tenth of the region’s average annual rainfall dump on northern Fiordland between 4 - 6 February. This sparked a major search and rescue operation, damaged 440 km of tracks and wiped out key infrastructure including parts of the Milford Road.
The Milford and Routeburn tracks sustained heavy damage. Lake Howden Hut and 32 bridges were damaged, along with other huts, campsites, and facilities.
Repair work to the tracks has been ongoing with $13.7 million allocated from Budget 2020 to go towards repair work across the region.
Aaron Fleming acknowledges the huge amount of work the DOC team has been doing behind the scenes getting the tracks back to standard.
“We know people are really keen to get back out there, so last season we offered alternatives; the Milford MacKinnon Experience and Routeburn Return which gave users the opportunity to experience parts of these iconic tracks while avoiding the areas with the most damage.
“With repairs making great progress, we’re in the very happy position of being able to offer both tracks as the full through experiences this summer once more.”
Before hikers get too keen and head out early, they do need to heed current warnings, Aaron says.
“While we have full confidence the tracks will be open this summer, we are still undertaking critical repairs, and minor repairs may continue into the walking season.
“Every effort is being made to restore the tracks entirely, but there will be some changes. Howden Hut on the Routeburn will not be open this summer and won’t be available to book – walkers will need to plan to tramp all the way out to the Divide near the Milford Road (or vice versa to Lake MacKenzie heading towards Glenorchy).”
“While DOC is doing its bit to keep trampers safe, all those heading into NZ’s great outdoors need to be well prepared for their experiences. Let someone know before you go, check the weather and track conditions and make sure you take the necessary food, water, clothing and equipment.”
Despite any changes, DOC is still confident walkers will have as close to a traditional Great Walk experience as possible.
“If the booking figures for the other Great Walks – which had a record opening week are anything to go by, we’re expecting to again see huge demand for these tracks heading into the summer season.
“Nearby communities of Te Anau, Piopiotahi Milford Sound, Glenorchy and Queenstown provide plenty of other fantastic visitor opportunities and attractions to add to your National Park experience.”
“Plan ahead, mark your diaries and get ready to secure your spot for the summer.”
When will bookings open for both tracks?
Bookings for the Milford Track will open at 9.30 am on Tuesday 18 August 2020. The dates available will be from 30 November 2020 to 30 April 2021
Bookings for the Routeburn track will open at 9.30 am on Wednesday 19 August 2020. The dates available will be from 7 December 2020 to 30 April 2021
Can I walk the tracks before the season opens?
Bookings are required for Mintaro and Clinton Huts on the Milford Track and Routeburn Falls, Flats and MacKenzie Huts on the Routeburn track for tramps from October 27 (the start of the traditional Great Walk season for these tracks) until the start of the new walking season.
It is important to note that neither of these tracks can be walked as a full through trek until November 30 and December 7 respectively. This is because critical repair work will still be underway on the damaged sections. Dumpling Hut to Sandfly Point on the Milford and MacKenzie Hut to the Divide on the Routeburn are closed to walkers at that time. Bookings for those huts for the time period covering 27 October through to the new track opening dates, will be available from the start of September.
How confident is DOC that both tracks will open on these dates?
We’re working hard behind the scenes to ensure both tracks can be opened as soon as safely possible. We’re trying to manage the reopenings in a way that gives people the most certainty for their bookings.
While we can’t predict everything – flooding, storms, pandemics and other natural disasters can and do happen at any time which can impact timelines Our aim is to balance our best estimates for repairs to be complete, with the need to give people as much notice so they can plan their trips. It’s no fun for any of us when we have to cancel bookings.
What changes can I expect on the tracks?
There may be some minor disruptions on both tracks during the walking season. Walkers could expect to encounter workers undertaking gravelling and other minor repair work. However we don’t anticipate this to detract from the overall experience – we often undertake maintenance and minor repair work on other tracks in season.
How much will they cost?
I’m from overseas, can I book?
DOC is advising that people overseas should not make bookings while border restrictions are in place. Cancellation fees may be applicable.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions on travel, it is important you check the entry and exit requirements of any country before booking overseas travel and activities. For specific information on New Zealand entry, visit the COVID-19 website.
Travel insurance is strongly recommended.
My trip was cancelled because of the storm damage. Will I have priority booking?
Unfortunately not. All cancelled bookings were refunded in full and no priority will be given to cancellations.
Can I still book the Milford MacKinnon Experience or Routeburn Return?
No. These were offered as temporary solutions for the 2019/2020 season. Now we expect to have both walks running in full again, the alternatives are not required.
Will Howden hut be open this summer? If not, what is the alternative?
Howden Hut will not be open this summer and won’t be available on the booking system. Walkers will need to plan to tramp all the way out to the Divide (or vice versa to Lake MacKenzie). For those heading down the Greenstone track, McKellar Hut is open and available.
Further information on Great Walks
The Great Walks are premium multi-day tramps (and one canoe journey) that showcase the best of New Zealand’s landscapes, and natural and cultural values. The walks are well-formed and have a high standard of tracks and facilities.
International visitor growth and promotion of the Great Walks through DOC’s partnership with Air New Zealand has led to Great Walks bookings greatly increasing since 2012.
DOC limits numbers on these walks to protect the surrounding environments and maintain a quality experience for visitors. This means, in a normal year, it can be difficult for individuals and groups to secure bookings over peak times on the most popular walks. DOC is working to address this through expanding the Great Walks network and investigating the use of pricing as a tool to manage visitor growth.
'Do Something New, New Zealand' is part of an ongoing stream of work from Tourism New Zealand that encourages domestic tourism. It will continue across the year with the aim of helping drive demand to our tourism sector right across New Zealand.
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