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New Zealand’s tenth Great Walk is now open.
The Paparoa Track welcomed its first set of walkers this weekend in spite of landslips and setbacks that have dogged its construction on the wild West Coast.
However, trampers hoping to make the full 56km trip will be disappointed.
The first track to be added to the list in a quarter of a century, only a limited section of New Zealand’s newest Great Walk was opened to hikers who had booked into the track.
Despite December 1 being the official opening date, large sections of the route are still unpassable. A large slip between the Moonlight Tops Hut and Pororari Hut has seen this section closed to foot traffic until at least December 22.
With more extreme wet weather forecast, it could be difficult to predict track conditions.
This weekend the Department of Conservation insisted that “the official opening of the new Paparoa Track will go ahead as planned” and an opening ceremony was held on Friday in Blackball, at the southern end of the track.
“We are regularly undertaking repair work to tracks and structures on walks throughout New Zealand. It is just bad luck that we’ve had this happen right before opening,” said mark Davies, Doc’s Western South Island Operations Director.
944 hikers from 177 groups were registered and had booked into Doc huts during December. Doc says these hikers have all been given refunds and the opportunity to walk or cycle part of the track, though the landslip has left much of the middle section unpassable.
“Doc appreciates that for some visitors it may be difficult to change their travel plans at this late stage, so we wanted to enable them to experience some of New Zealand’s newest Great Walk,” said Davies.
Since construction started on the track in 2017 the 56 km track has cost $12m to build.
It’s expected to bring in domestic and international tourists and a renewed interest to the previously remote parts of the West Coast.
Although unable to complete the journey US journalist Sebastian Modak told the Herald that the little he saw of the track was spectacular.
“I walked around five, six hours so less than 10 per cent of the whole track. But the range of landscapes you pass through is breathtaking,” he said, walking the track which was included in The New York Times’s list of 52 destinations to visit in 2019.
In his experience, New Zealand is unique in putting tax payers’ dollars towards a project like this and tourist infrastructure on this scale.
Although it’s predicted to get busy, with huts fully booked, Modak was sure hikers would be “able to find some solitude somewhere on the 56km.”
The building works have included four new suspension bridges and two huts, which sleep up to 20 trampers.
The huts are almost fully booked through the ‘Great Walk season’ which runs until April, with up to 77 groups expected to walk the route each week.