Doc rebuked for poor state of Stewart Island tracks

The Department of Conservation was on the receiving end of cutting criticism about poorly-maintained tracks on Stewart Island after putting its hand out for a fund targeted for local residents.

Doc had asked for $425,000 from the Stewart Island visitor levy, which is used to fund infrastructure on the island.

The levy was raised by the Southland District Council (SDC) from $5 to $10 from next year and would rise to $15 in 2025.

Visitor levy committee chairwoman Julie Keast said the Rakiura track had been substandard for some time.

She expected the track’s gravel construction could be partly responsible, as gravel was not readily available on the island.

But it was the job of central government to fund the track, not the visitor levy.

SDC councillor Bruce Ford, who lives on the island, said there were plenty of complaints about the track, but the fund could not be used for the upkeep of the track.

"We never have enough money for the things we prefer to do, let alone a government agency."

"[Doc Rakiura acting operations manager] Dale [Chittenden] conceded the track was in a poor standard and he needed help, but he needs to go to Wellington to get that help," he said.

"It should've, could’ve been established to a higher standard earlier on.

"If a boardwalk had been installed instead, it would have lasted longer," she said.

Ms Keast said the committee was sympathetic to Mr Chittenden and the standard of the track.

"We all felt really sorry for him ... They seem to struggle to get sufficient track maintenance funding."

The committee had recovered surveys from people who had walked the track expressing their disappointment at the condition of it.

They had been "expecting a much better standard track" and "the investment in the track was not enough and hadn’t been for a number of years."

Mr Ford said the tracks were continually being complained about.

Doc had put its hand out to receive $425,000 from the levy fund. Doc wanted $30,000 annually for 10 years for track maintenance and $125,000 for the replacement of the Chocolate Swamp boardwalk.

A successful $70,000 application from the fund made in 2017-18 had still to be uplifted by the department.

Doc’s existing Rakiura track charges were well below the rates set for its other Southern based Hump Ridge, Kepler and Routeburn tracks.

Doc manages the Rakiura National Park, which covers 80% of the Stewart Island land area where about 450 residents host close to 40,000 visitors each year.

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