Rees-Dart: Doc plans hut booking

Overcrowding at the Dart Hut in recent years has prompted the Department of Conservation (Doc) to look at introducing a hut-booking system for the Rees-Dart Track.

Doc Glenorchy visitor assets programme manager Richard Kennett said in the past few years, hikers had been spending two nights at the Dart Hut so they could tackle side trips down the Cascade Saddle.

On the busiest night of the 2010-11 season, 69 people slept inside the 32-bunk hut.

"Increasing use over the last few summers means we have to do something to manage the pressure on things like the septic system and the risk to people from an accidental hut fire, as well as the overall visitor experience."

The recently reviewed 2011 Mt Aspiring National Park Management Plan did not allow for an increase in the number of huts on the track, or an increase in the size of the Dart Hut, Mr Kennett said.

Instead, Doc was proposing to manage the risk and the visitor experience by adding all three huts on the Rees-Dart circuit to Doc's national visitor booking system from January 3 to February 28 each year, beginning in January 2013.

The Rees-Dart track is the first multi-day walk outside of the Great Walks proposed to be added to the booking system.

"We are conscious of unexpected delays due to poor weather and swollen rivers and people coming over Cascade Saddle, so our hut-booking operations will include a measure of flexibility for these situations," Mr Kennett said.

Doc had an established hut-booking system on other tracks in the region, including the Routeburn, Milford and Kepler tracks.

Tickets would be bought either online or at Doc Visitor Centres. Hut fees would remain the same, $15 for an adult and $5 for a youth a night.

"Including the Rees-Dart Track on the national visitor booking system is a simple way to manage the current demand.

"It doesn't result in any new permanent infrastructure and can be reviewed if demand decreases," Mr Kennett said.

Feedback on the proposal should be emailed to sgeh@doc.govt.nz by January 13, 2012.