Date: 30 April 2013
High visitor numbers and high visitor satisfaction have been highlights of Fiordland's summer Great Walks season, which finished on 30 April 2013. The Department of Conservation is now preparing to convert the huts and tracks into winter mode.
What makes for the greatest Great Walks season? The friendly and competent Conservation Rangers are a key component, and visitors love them.
Clive Rule, Conservation Ranger on the Routeburn track
During the season (October-April) DOC rangers staff Fordland's Great Walk tracks. They do everything from helping first time trampers with advice and support, to making sure the huts are clean and keeping the sewage treated.
They clear vegetation, maintain the tracks, trap pests (like possums, stoats, and rats), and are experts on their patch of Fiordland.
They ensure huts are warm and welcoming for the daily influx of new arrivals, keep the weather reports up to date, and give informative hut talks in the evenings – as well as ensuring everyone has arrived safely.
This season saw higher walker numbers than usual. Despite some dramatic weather in January, it has been a great summer for getting out into public conservation land, and people have been doing just that.
Compared with the 2011/12 summer, 1,471 more people walked the Routeburn and 1,422 more walked the Kepler. There was a 1% decrease in walkers on the Milford Track this year, mainly due to weather related January cancellations on a usually fully booked track. Bookings for next season have already opened.
Walker at Lake Harris on the Routeburn Track
An increase in walker numbers reflects an increase in awareness about Great Walks, thanks to national promotions like the Air New Zealand safety video featuring Bear Grylls and filmed on the Routeburn.
"It is fantastic to see an increasing number of people keen to get out into our national park," said DOC Te Anau Area Manager, Reg Kemper. "This year has also been a good year for biodiversity on Fiordland Great Walks, with strong local and national business partnerships providing extra support and funding to protect these areas and their potential for biodiversity."
Walkers at Dumpling Hut on the Milford Track
The Kepler, Routeburn and Milford tracks are open to the public year round, but with reduced winter servicing and hut fees.
DOC staff are currently preparing for winter. This involves closing the summer toilets and removing waste, turning off the gas at the huts, the rangers leaving residence and removing bridges that are located on avalanche paths.
The tracks become more technical during winter months due to snowfall, avalanche risk, shorter daylight hours and no staff or communications available on the tracks. Trampers need to have a higher level of competency, carry their own communications, and be prepared for winter conditions.
While not staffed, DOC conservation rangers periodically visit huts during winter to check their condition and collect hut tickets.
DOC Visitor Assets Tracks and Heritage Ranger
Phone: +64 3 249 0245