Coronavirus: Department of Conservation closing visitor centres, cancelling hut bookings

The Department of Conservation (DoC) is temporarily closing its visitor centres to the public and cancelling all hut and campsite bookings due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The visitor centres closed on Sunday and all bookings from Monday are cancelled.

It includes bookings for all Great Walks for the rest of the season up to June 30, 2020.

Director-General Lou Sanson says the closures and cancellations are for the safety of visitors, volunteers and staff so community spread is prevented.

"Social distancing is key to preventing the community spread of COVID-19. Given the risk of potential community transmission, we have decided to cancel all accommodation bookings, including Great Walks," he said.

"We are also temporarily closing our visitor centres to the public for the same reason. Although the doors are closed, our staff are only a phone call or email away and can still help people who want information."

Everyone who is affected by cancelled bookings will receive a full refund. Rangers will be visiting tracks and facilities to alert people and see if they're complying.

The Government announced New Zealand is at Alert Level 2 for COVID-19, meaning the disease is contained but the risk of community transmission is growing.

DoC says although non-bookable campsites and backcountry huts are still open, they will be shut if New Zealand reaches Alert Level 3.

People must ensure they maintain minimum separation requirements and follow all personal hygiene guidance. DoC also emphasised that their accommodation can't be used for self-isolation.

"Spending time in nature is great for our mental and physical wellbeing, and we're still encouraging people to get out there - you just have to follow the latest advice.

"We recommend finding your own space outside with walks and activities that take less than a day, and avoiding activities that could leave you reliant on hut use."

More information is available on DoC's website.