The Department of Conservation (DOC) says it is making changes on its website and on the tracks to make people more aware of the significant hazards visitors face in winter on the three southern Great Walks.
DOC has reviewed its own off-season safety information and management systems following the death of 22-year-old student Yessica Asmin in May this year.
The Indonesian student was swept away crossing a stream on the Milford Track three weeks after the summer guided walking season finished.
DOC’s Conservation Services Director for the southern regions, Allan Munn, says the tragedy has prompted DOC to look at whether it could do more to highlight the risks of walking the Milford, Routeburn and Kepler tracks during the winter.
Allan Munn says tackling the three Great Walks out of season carries inherent risks and the review has found that DOC’s winter safety systems are fundamentally sound.
“We already provide detailed information about the track and conditions visitors face in winter,” Mr Munn says.
“However we also know in recent years more visitors with limited experience appear to be choosing to walk the tracks in late April and May and we need to respond to this trend.”
He says DOC has decided to:
- rework the Great Walk pages on its web and online booking pages to ensure visitors are more aware that facilities and supports are greatly reduced over the winter season
- upgrade promotional material and visitor information sheets to reinforce information about off-season hazards
- improve signs on the tracks and at huts that warn about winter avalanche and flood risk
- leave avalanche-prone bridges in place until Queen’s Birthday Weekend before removing them for winter
- use wardens to monitor huts on the cusp of the winter season.
DOC will also be setting up an independent expert group to provide on-going external advice on the wider systems it uses for managing safety in the outdoors.
Allan Munn says there is always an element of risk in outdoor activity and ultimately visitors are responsible for their own safety.
“The Department has looked closely at what it can do to provide as safe an experience for visitors as possible, and it makes sense to get an independent eye to look at our systems and what we do."
DOC manages nine Great Walks throughout the country, which are premier tracks that pass through diverse and spectacular scenery.
The internal review looked specifically at the Milford, Routeburn and Kepler tracks and whether there were things DOC could do differently to improve safety in winter, after the official guided walking season has ended.
DOC cannot comment on the detailed actions of the group involved in the May accident because this is being investigated by the coroner.