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Department of Conservation to hike Great Walk prices

Mar 20, 2024

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is hiking its Great Walk prices, saying it is facing increasing budget pressures.

The 18 percent price change will come in from July across Great Walk huts and campsites, but the Paparoa Track will only increase by six percent.

It comes after a surge in DOC accommodation prices last year, with huts doubling in price in some cases.

The department said it had been more than four years since prices were reviewed while upkeep costs continued to climb.

Heritage and Visitors director Cat Wilson acknowledged it was a sizeable increase.

"DOC is under increased budget pressure from rising construction and maintenance costs and reduced revenue due to the impacts of inflation, extreme weather events including Cyclone Gabrielle, and other economic pressures on New Zealand," Wilson said.

"While Great Walk fees don't cover the full costs, the revenue raised contributes to maintaining, repairing, and improving the huts, campsites, tracks, and structures and balances the cost burden between users and taxpayers."

There would be more discounts on offer to New Zealanders doing it tough following a review of DOC's discount policy, she said.

DOC was offering a new 25 percent discount to community services card holders and was reintroducing youth and child fees for Great Walks - half the adult price.

The maximum discount for an organisation that contributes to conservation and recreation has been reduced to 20 percent.

"Great Walk experiences continue to be affordable, with options ranging from $19 to camp on the Abel Tasman to $92 for a hut on the Milford Track at peak season for New Zealand residents," she said.

International visitors would continue to pay a 50 percent premium on most Great Walks.

"It is also worth noting that the country is incredibly well served with a huge variety of scenic DOC walks and facilities with price points for all budgets, including many that are free for everyone to enjoy," Wilson said.

Last year's accommodation price increase saw standard hut fees increase from $5 to $10 and serviced hut fees moving from $15 to $25. It applied to huts, lodges, some campsites, the West Coast's Paparoa Track, and off-season rates for some Great Walk huts.

The Paparoa Track's hut prices increased to a level similar to other popular Great Walks. Different fees for international visitors were also be applied to the Paparoa Track during the summer period, which were at a rate of 1.5 x the domestic hut fees.

At the time, Wilson said some prices had not changed in 15 years and did not reflect present day costs.

Earlier in March, DOC director-general Penny Nelson told Parliament's environment committee "the department is not currently financially sustainable for what we're being asked to do".

It was spread too thin, and its work was being curtailed by a lack of funding, she said.

The National government intends to cut the Department of Conservation's budget by 6.5 percent, and Nelson said it would be looking for direction from ministers about what to prioritise later this year.

When asked by Checkpoint why price increases were not greater given the trouble DOC was in, Wilson said it did not want the Great Walks to become unaffordable.

Wilson said DOC was only trying to keep up with inflationary costs and increasing prices further may be looked at in the future, but not at this time.

DOC was unable to charge day walkers on public conservation land and there were no plans to change that, she said.

The opening dates for the upcoming Great Walks season will be announced in April.

Main image (Supplied/DOC/Graham Dainty)

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