• A sublime day on the Milford Track.
    A sublime day on the Milford Track.

Repairs to NZ’s badly damaged Milford and Routeburn tracks has finally begun.

The two iconic Great Walks were extensively damaged by an extreme weather event in February 2020.

A three-day storm saw one tenth of the region’s average annual rainfall dump on northern Fiordland between 4-6 February.

This sparked a major search and rescue operation, damaged 440km of tracks and wiped out key infrastructure including parts of the Milford Road.

The Milford and Routeburn tracks sustained heavy damage. Lake Howden Hut and 32 bridges were damaged, along with other huts, campsites, and facilities.

Grant Tremain, the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) principal ranger of recreation and history for Fiordland, says after months of planning, geotechnical work, tendering contracts and Covid-19 lockdown delays, the “crux” of the work has now been reached: getting out in the field.

“There’s been lots of stuff in the background,” Tremain told wilderness.co.nz, with initial repair work on the Milford Track completed between flooding and the first coronavirus lockdown, but the Routeburn is only getting underway now.

The upcoming work will involve dangerous tree removal from slips, clearing new tracks through the slips and building several new bridges.

A swingbridge is set to be built downstream from Routeburn Flats Hut, replacing the temporary bridge DOC installed in March.

New bridges are also set to be built on the Milford Track to replace damaged structures at Giant Gate Falls and Poseidon Creek.

Trampers will no longer have the use of the Routeburn’s Howden Hut due to it being damaged beyond repair by a slip caused by the flooding.

Geotechnical advice has ruled out building a new hut on the site. This will mean walkers will have an extra hour’s walk between The Divide and Lake Mackenzie Hut.

None of the huts on the Milford Track are damaged.

While the work will get both tracks up to full use Tremain expects the broader flood repair work in the national parks will take around three years to complete at a cost of about $40 million.

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