Soon after June's devastating storm, which wreaked havoc across Great Barrier Island, Nick Smith the Minister of Conservation at the time, spoke earnestly about the importance of immediate restoration and backed it up with a $2.5 million promise to get things back to normal. Five months later, and with the summer season fast approaching, there has been a sudden upsurge in enquiries regarding the availability of the Aotea Track, Great Barrier Island's iconic 3 day hiking experience. Will the track be open this summer? It’s a tricky question to answer.
Of course there’s no shortage of local opinion & speculation, and although DOC has circulated a steady flow of comprehensive updates over the last few months, it seems that an accurate forecast for the coming season is what’s required now. We thought Alistair Smith, DOC's man on the ground might be able to offer us something a little more substantial. “We’re at the stage now where it’s easier to report on what facilities are still closed rather than what's open. We’ve managed to reduce the number of closed tracks dramatically over the last 2 months” says Alistair. “When it comes to the Aotea Track, we’re committed to having some form of loop track joining the 2 huts (Kaiaraara and Mt Heale) with our highest peak Hirakimata (Mt Hobson) by the end of November.” The Kaiaraara Track is heavily damaged, with 10 slips and the loss of 4 bridges, making it unsafe to open this summer and according to Alistair, the new temporary loop track will utilise the South Fork track as a substitute. “The short stretch of track between Hirakimata and Mt Heale is equally damaged with a large slip destroying sections of structure and track and getting this stretch open and safe is of the highest priority” he says. “Although there’s more to do, recent repair work to the Forest Road will allow us to safely open this section of the track to the public by next month.” But according to Alistair, the Kaiaraara Track is a definite ‘no go zone’ and likely to stay that way until next summer at least. He acknowledges that the Department of Conservation have invested too much into this spectacular section of the Aotea Track to simply walk away from it.
“It’s going to be a slow and difficult process… approvals, tenders, logistics and an awful lot of hard work… but we are committed to the experience the Aotea track brings, and we are looking forward to delivering a high quality experience that meets or exceeds the expectations of our visitors” he says.
So, there we have it... The 2 night, 3 day Aotea Track Experience will be available this season, hopefully from December. That said - we’ll let you get back out there Alistair. Keep up the good work and thanks for the forecast.