DOC deadline of 'this summer' as bridge building begins

by Kim Bowden - Jul 09, 2024

They have been closed for more than a year, limiting access to some of the area's top done-in-less-than-a-day walks, but now the Department of Conservation says work to have three bridges ready for action this summer is set to start.

Both the Blue Pools Track near Makarora and the Rob Roy Track in the Matukitkui Valley near Wānaka were effectively closed in May 2023 with little warning after safety issues were identified with suspension bridges en route.

In a statement last week, the Department of Conservation's Central Otago operations manager Nicola Holmes says remediation work on the bridges will now begin in "the coming weeks" after "in-depth engineering, geotechnical, and design assessments".

A new boardwalk between the Makarora and Blue Pools bridges will also be constructed, she says.

Although Ms Holmes says the department is "thrilled" to be moving forward with the construction phases of the remediation work, she does not commit her team to re-opening dates anymore specific than "this summer".

The department has received criticism for the amount of time it has taken to come up with an acceptable fix-it plan for the popular attractions.

In May, then Lake Wānaka Tourism chief executive Tim Barke told Crux work to reopen the "renowned" walking tracks had been "frustratingly slow", while some local tourism operators complained of lost revenue as a result of the closures.

But Ms Holmes says the remediation work being undertaken is "significant" and requires "bespoke engineering and logistics" - and that all takes time.

"Now having done the prep work we’re in a great position to press forward.”

She says she understands how "disappointing" the closures have been, but "safety is always at the heart of our decision making".

"We want to thank the community for their patience."

Prefabrication work has begun already offsite and contractors have built "notoriously difficult" winter working conditions into their timeframes for completion, she says.

"All going to plan, all three bridges are expected to open during the summer."

Prior to its closure, the Blue Pools Track was visited by approximately 550 people a day during peak times, while the Rob Roy Track attracted approximately 180.

Ms Holmes says there had been numerous instances where people had been ignoring the load limit signs for the bridges on the tracks.  

"Engineering advice was that they could not sustain that level of usage, and with visitor numbers continuing to increase, we needed to make them safer."

The bridge over the Makarora River on the Blue Pools Track was also at the end of its operational life, she says.

Main image (File): A suspension bridge on the Blue Pools Track has been closed for more than a year due to safety concerns.

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