It was very welcome news. Offered at a time when most Great Barrier Islanders were still dealing with the devastation from the "worst storm in living memory", Conservation Minister Nick Smith's $2.5 million dollar promise couldn't have come at a better time.
The immediate priority is the restoration of tracks and bridges, and the repair of huts, signage, campgrounds and the Department's office buildings. Once completed the new Aotea Conservation Park status will be implemented. The park will be New Zealand's largest area of possum free forest and with an overall area of over 12,000 hectares it will be Aucklands biggest conservation park.
The 'Pride of the Park' will undoubtedly be the recently completed and even more recently annihilated Aotea Track. It offers 25 kilometres of diverse hiking conditions and features natural hot springs, 2 large hikers huts and a visit to the islands highest point, Hirakimata (Mount Hobson).
Ironically, it was bad weather that stopped Dr Nick Smith reaching Great Barrier Island even earlier this year, to officially open the Aotea Track.
Before June's storm destroyed parts of the track and damaged boardwalks & bridges, numerous visitors enjoyed the 3 day island hiking experience. Our all inclusive packages with flights, transfers and hut fees were proving very popular with visiting hikers.
Enquiries for the Aotea Walk are still coming through regularly but until the repairs are completed we are having to offer alternative tracks and camping or backpacker style accommodation options.
Is Nick Smith's pledge to see the island DOC estate 'open for business' by this summer a little unrealistic? Time will tell but one thing is for sure.... as long as it's managed correctly, upgrading Great Barrier Islands DOC estate status from 'stewardship' to 'conservation park' should be a win-win situation for all concerned.
In his own words, "This new park will bring significant conservation, recreational and tourism benefits to Auckland. My ambition is that with improved facilities and stronger protection, we will see more Aucklanders choosing to visit and getting to know the natural wonders of their own city on Great Barrier Island."
Improved facilities, stronger protection and 'natural' wonders.
Sounds like good tourism to us...