Many visitor sites across the North Island have now reopened after months of inspections and repair work in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle and other storms, the Department of Conservation said. 

The extreme weather events earlier this year caused widespread damage to conservation areas, tracks, campgrounds and huts, and heritage sites. and native species and habitats, with Northland, Auckland, Coromandel, and Hawke’s Bay being the most affected regions.

Staff have checked, cleaned up, and reopened about 80% of roughly 500 visitor sites closed, DOC director of cyclone recovery Dan Heinrich said. Among the reopened sites are popular walks such as Te Whara Track at Bream Head in Northland, Goat Island Walkway north of Auckland, Huka Falls track in Taupō, Hakarimata track in Waikato, and tracks in the Kauaeranga Valley in Hauraki.

Cyclone damage was recorded for more than 240 tracks, 29 roads, six public and staff huts, and 28 structures such as bridges, stairs, boardwalks, and wharfs on offshore island. Toilets, water tanks, and car parks were also hit.

“It’s been a massive task. Not all sites were damaged, but all required work to inspect them, clear slips, move fallen trees from tracks, and do minor repairs to make them safe to reopen,” Heinrich said.

“We’re continuing to work to clean up and repair damage at sites and replace lost infrastructure such as fences and trap networks to restore previous levels of protection for threatened native species and habitats.

“Our focus now is on the remaining closed visitor sites, a third of which have major damage, requiring more assessments, planning, and complex work.

“The constant rain and continuing land movement means we’re facing some complex and dynamic challenges at some locations, which we’re working to resolve with geotechnical experts. The weather has also slowed repair work.”

Landslides and erosion caused severe damage to coastal walks such as Mount Mania at Whangarei Heads, Te Henga Walkway in West Auckland, and Cathedral Cover in Coromandel, which all remain closed.

“People need to take extra care if visiting conservation areas in cyclone-affected areas. Soils are saturated, land is still moving, and rivers flooding more easily due to gravel buildup. Be prepared to take extra time or turn back if needed,” Heinrich said.

DOC said they will work with Treaty Partners, stakeholders, and local communities to consider options and develop plans for the most damaged sites. Temporary solutions may be implemented to partially open some sites to visitors while long-term planning and repairs are carried out.

In some places where repair or rebuild is not feasible, other options will need to be considered, Heinrich said.

“We need to use the cyclone recovery as an opportunity to build in resilience to future climate change and work with others to achieve enduring solutions.”

DOC heritage experts have also been assessing important cultural heritage site for damage, and initial results suggest most damage is minor, but this work is ongoing.

DOC biodiversity teams have also been assessing cyclone impacts and found about 160 native species and habitats have been adversely affected. Work is underway to evaluate the next steps for recovery.

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