Summer goal for Blue Pools and Rob Roy Glacier tracks reopening

by Lauren Pattemore - May 02, 2024

The Department of Conservation is hoping it can reopen two of its popular Mount Aspiring National Park tracks by the summer. 

The tracks have both been shut now for 12 months due to safety concerns related to bridges on each of the routes.

After seeking engineering and geotechnical advice, DOC now needs to upgrade the bridges, several of which cross major rivers in the national park.

The time taken to reopen the tracks has been called "frustratingly slowby Lake Wānaka Tourism chief executive Tim Barke. 

He says these walking tracks are "renownedin Wānaka, and the closures have impacted on tourism and community wellbeing. 

But Mr Barke's gone into bat for the government department, saying it's in a "no-win situationwith cost pressures and cuts, which he says has a direct impact on public access to conservation areas and tourism infrastructure. 

"There has been frustration from businesses, visitors and locals, but there is frustration from DOC as well. They want to get it done as quickly as possible...They work really hard."

DOC released a media statement earlier this month saying it has been directed by the government to find 6.5 percent savings from its budget, and it is now identifying where it can cut back to achieve those savings.

Wānaka Bike Tours and Hike owner Neil Ready says during previous summer peaks, his business could expect to run a few shuttles a week to the Blue Pools track, but they are no longer receiving any revenue from this.

DOC is in the process of finalising a contractor to undertake the works needed on the Blue Pools track.

Its Central Otago operations manager Nicola Holmes says they will be able to provide a clearer timeline for when the bridges on that track can safely reopen once the contractors in place.

She says they'd received multiple reports that more than double the amount of the maximum load of people were walking along the bridges at one time.

This raised "serious concerns for visitor safetyand the bridges were closed in May 2023, Ms Holmes says. 

"Engineering advice was sought, which recommended the bridges could not safely sustain that level of usage without additional redundancy measures being put in place.

"Since the closures, we’ve been working with expert engineers to make the bridges safer.

"Engineering and geotechnical work – including plans for a new boardwalk at the Blue Pools site - has been completed, and tenders for the works contract recently closed, and we’re now in the process of negotiating and signing contracts." 

She is anticipating the work will take several months to complete, factoring in the winter weather conditions as well as delays in global shipping and the supply chain caused by unrest in the Middle East, rock and ground conditions, and contractor availability. 

"In the meantime, we’ve been working with suppliers to source materials required for the work – such as specialised steel cables and the sockets that connect these to the anchor systems."

Meanwhile plans for the swing bridge on the Rob Roy Glacier walk are further behind the Blue Pools. 

Ms Holmes says the department is continuing to work with engineers on design drawings for this project, and will have an update on timeframes shortly.

"Our goal is to have the bridges reopened ahead of next summer.

"We look forward to seeing the community enjoying them once more."

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