Taking a break on the Routeburn Great Walk
Image: Rob Suisted | ©

Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


DOC compliance team has followed up with a small number of tour operators after an annual check of Great Walks opening bookings.

Date:  10 August 2021

Checks are being made on six guided walking companies operating on the Heaphy, Paparoa and Rakiura tracks to ensure they have not made incomplete or unauthorised speculative bookings and are not occupying more than 50% of Great Walks hut space, after irregularities were picked up.

Great Walks bookings are sold on a first-in first-served basis from the date that bookings open. Tour operators, like all people booking a Great Walk, need to book when bookings open to the public and include the full names and details of anyone they are booking on behalf of. Bookings cannot be made speculatively and on-sold at later dates.  

“Speculative or non-compliant bookings have been a hot topic this year as Great Walks grow in popularity. The downside of this popularity does mean that there will be a few people who try to get around the system and that’s where DOC’s visitor centre and compliance teams come in,” says DOC Heritage and Visitors Director Steve Taylor.

“The compliance team works with DOC visitor centre staff who review all bookings related to their local Great Walks and report any that look suspicious.”

“If operators are found to be in breach of their concession agreements, they must either update their bookings or have the places cancelled.”

“This compliance action is in addition to standard work undertaken each year by visitor centres to check any irregular bookings with the public, operators, school and community groups.”

Steve Taylor says speculative bookings by tour operators and others is a relatively uncommon issue

“Compliance action has only been necessary with six operators whose bookings equate to roughly 0.2% of Great Walk hut and campsite spaces across the coming season.”

“However, where it does occur, we have systems in place to identify and respond to it.”

“Peak season dates on the Great Walks can book out fast and it’s important access is equal for everyone. Anyone who abuses the system does so to the detriment of the public and the vast majority of concessionaires and agents, who offer an important service on these walks and play by the rules.”

“If people do suspect a business on the Great Walks may be operating outside of the rules, they should alert the local DOC visitor centre.”

DOC will continue to monitor bookings as the year progresses.

More information on booking the Great Walks

  • There is still space to book onto a Great Walk this year by visiting the Great Walks page
  • While DOC has strict rules in place that prevent people speculatively pre-booking bunks on 9 of the 10 Great Walks, the exception is on the Abel Tasman Coast Track which has by far the largest amount of accommodation space compared to other Great Walks (e.g. Abel Tasman Coast Track has a capacity of 250,200 bednights – DOC hut and campsite spaces – on offer each year, the Great Walk with the next biggest capacity is the Heaphy with 101,969 bednights, the Milford Track has 22,472 – see table).
  • On the Abel Tasman guiding operators can make a limited number of bookings without (initially) providing client details. This is permitted through long-standing guiding concessions. These operators can only book up 7 additional spaces (without names) once they have 2 confirmed customer bookings. While 19 operators are permitted to do this on the Abel Tasman Cost Track, only 2 operators regularly do. These operators make little impact on public bookings as they book spaces in large campsites that are seldom full.
  • Our opening day bookings data showed that public/independent bookings made up 93% of total bednights booked, concessionaires made up just 4% of bookings and 3% are school or community groups.
  • Additionally, on the Great Walks where concessionaires are permitted to book DOC accommodation (for example this isn’t allowed on Milford, Routeburn or Kepler tracks), they are limited to only ever taking up a maximum of 50% of a hut or campsite’s spaces. This rule is applied collectively to all concessionaire bookings so that no more than 50% of a facility can be booked by concessionaires, and 50% always remains available to the public.

More information on how DOC manages great walks bookings


For media enquiries contact:

Email: media@doc.govt.nz

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