The Heaphy Track Great Walk fully reopens as a through walk tomorrow with celebrations planned at the West Coast end.
A section of the track between Heaphy and MacKay huts has been closed since storms in February 2022 caused severe damage, including the loss of three bridges, most significantly the Heaphy River bridge.
The Department of Conservation is organising events tomorrow (19 October 2023) to mark the reopening and thank local communities affected by the closure for their patience while the track was partially closed.
DOC Buller Operations Manager Suvi Van Smit says DOC has been very mindful of the impact the closure has had on the communities at both ends of the 82-kilometre track.
“The Heaphy Track is an important asset for Karamea, the West Coast and Golden Bay. “The quickest most straightforward solution for replacing the Heaphy Bridge may have been to use the same design at the same place but we but had to ensure that whatever solution was put in place it would endure and this took time.”
A hydrology report found a new Heaphy Bridge at the old site could soon be threatened by future flooding.
The most resilient solution turned out to be to build two bridges, one across the Heaphy River downstream from the previous bridge, the other over the Lewis River with a small section of new track in between.
The new Heaphy Bridge is well above the 100-year climate change adjusted flood level, Suvi van Smit says.
“I want to pay tribute to the outstanding work done to get us to here – to all the DOC staff involved from dealing with the initial response to the storm damage through to where we are now with the Heaphy re-bridged and to Abseil Access and Westreef for the work they’ve done.” The day will start with Ngāti Waewae blessing the new bridge across the Heaphy River.
This will be followed by a community planting and morning tea at Kohaihai plus a ribbon cutting at the Kohaihai River Bridge which marks the start/end of the track on the West Coast side.
The event will then shift to the Karamea Pulse Energy Centre for presentations on the reconstruction work, the significance of the area to Ngāti Waewae and the history of the track.
Suvi van Smit says over 11,600 bednights have already been booked for track huts between 19 October and the end of June next year.
“It’s clear the word is out that this legendary Great Walk is fully open for business again Here’s hoping for a great summer for people to make the most of the Heaphy and everything else that Karamea and Golden Bay have to offer.”