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DOC says it's striving to get the gorge's Tunnel Loop track open as soon as possible after being closed by a slip during storms early this year. Photo: TERESA RAMSEY

Windows open but DOC ‘dropped the ball’

The famed Windows Walk track in the heart of Karangahake Gorge has been reopened after being closed for more than a year due to storm damage.

However, other popular tracks throughout the region still remain inaccessible to the public, which the local MP says DOC should prioritise reopening to assist with the economic recovery of the region.

Slips, debris and other damage from last summer’s storms have affected some tracks in the region, while geotechnical and safety concerns have caused the closure of others. 

The Department of Conservation (DOC) said the closed tracks required a lot of work to bring them back up to a safe standard.

“There is no timeframe for clearing or reopening the Crown Tramway track [in Karangahake Gorge]: we face a significant challenge with a large slip,” DOC acting Tauranga operations manager Zane Jensen said. 

“The slip covers approximately 60 metres of track, which means it is impassable for walkers. It will remain closed for the foreseeable future, and we do appreciate this will be disappointing for people who enjoy this walk.” 

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However, Zane said DOC was striving to get the gorge’s Tunnel Loop track open as soon as possible. 

The Windows Walk was also recently reopened, he said, following safety-focused remedial work including the installation of barriers to keep the public away from dangerous adjacent mining tunnels. 

He was confident the closure of the Karangahake Gorge tracks hadn’t severely impacted tourist numbers, stating the tracks remained “popular and busy”. 

Cathedral Cove was another story, with DOC closing the track permanently following a large slip which rendered the track unsafe. Beach access has been reinstated via the sea, but visitors are still unable to get too close to the arch due to a risk of falling rock.

The DOC website also has warnings advising of several other track and hut closures in the Thames-Coromandel district, including several near the Tapu-Coroglen Road, the Golden Cross track in Maratoto, and a section of the Coromandel Walkway connecting Fletcher Bay and Stony Bay. 

Coromandel MP Scott Simpson said he was unhappy with the delay in reopening Cathedral Cove and other tracks in the area, and said DOC needed to prioritise repairing the tracks to assist with the economic recovery of the region.

“The Department of Conservation has dropped the ball in terms of its responsibilities to our wider community to get tracks open,” he said.

“We’ve got a local economy that has suffered three consecutive summers of incredibly poor trading … those businesses have had to deal with 11 months of having the main highway closed, so I think the Department of Conservation has an absolute obligation to make [opening Cathedral Cove] a priority.” 

DOC acknowledged the impact the closure of Cathedral Cove had had on local businesses, and said it would work with the local community as it worked to remediate the area.

An information leaflet on the DOC website addressed the Cathedral Cove closure directly. 

“Cyclone Gabrielle washed away complete sections of the track and we were not prepared to risk staff or contractors’ safety by commissioning work at a site where access was challenging and the land was still moving,” the statement said. 

“DOC has a responsibility to manage and inform visitors of the risk in areas where they are going. There is risk to anyone who uses those tracks. Reinstating them would be a complex and potentially costly job, with no ‘quick fixes’.

“We need to plan for resilience against climate change and regenerative tourism that connects communities to nature.”