Heaphy Track reopens, thousands already booked in


A small West Coast town is looking forward to a busy summer of visitors with the long-awaited reopening of the South Island's Heaphy Track.

The popular Great Walk fully reopens on Thursday after being closed since last February, when storms destroyed a section of it including three bridges.

Nearly 12,000 people have already booked the Heaphy Track over the next eight months.

Development West Coast chief executive Heath Milne said the Karamea community was relieved to see the track opening up again, as the closure had been a significant blow to the local economy.

"We've had over 18 months with it closed and it's had a massive impact on the whole community there, particularly the accommodation and hospitality sector, which has lost a significant amount of jobs.

"We've seen a 75 percent drop in visitor numbers over that time, and that's led to up to a 90 percent drop in turnover for some businesses, so it's really great to see it back."

Milne told Morning Report tourism dropped about $6 million in GDP.

He said damage was extensive, with three bridge crossings taken out by the storms.

The crossings were moved and should now be resilient in storms, he said.

"Having that track reopen is just a godsend really."

The Department of Conservation (DOC) said more than 11,600 bed-nights had already been booked for track huts between 19 October and the end of June next year.

DOC western South Island director Mark Davies said the strong booking numbers showed how significant the Heaphy Track was as part of the Great Walk network across the country.

"We understand that the period that it's been closed has been significant, but we wanted to build greater resilience and sustainability into the repairs and the recovery and we've been able to do that," he said.

"We've got confidence that we've got a Heaphy Track that is way more resilient to future storm events, and so we can give that confidence to the communities of Karamea and Golden Bay."