Concerns over popular West Coast track

The 5.5km Point Elizabeth walk between North Beach and Rapahoe hugs coastal cliffs. Photo: DOC
The 5.5km Point Elizabeth walk between North Beach and Rapahoe hugs coastal cliffs. Photo: DOC
A number of options are being explored for reopening the popular Point Elizabeth Walkway at Cobden, with repairs estimated at up to $500,000 after the latest landslip.

The 5.5km walk between North Beach and Rapahoe hugs the coastal cliffs on the flanks of the Twelve Apostles Range and is popular with Greymouth locals both for walking and mountainbiking.

The Department of Conservation has closed the track at the Cobden end “due to an impassable slip”.

It remains open from the Rapahoe end, although the northern section has also been subject to a large slip in the past 12 months after heavy rain.

DOC Greymouth acting area manager Darrell Haworth told the West Coast Conservation Board meeting the department had commissioned a geotech report with options to stabilise the slip.

“It’s not fantastic news. All three options have inherent risk,” Mr Haworth said.

The slip was about 20m long but with a potentially much larger risk area.

DOC was now convening a project panel to assess the next course of action before contracting out the work, estimated at up to $500,000.

Point Elizabeth is one of several West Coast DOC tracks compromised after heavy rain bursts in the past few months.

Western South Island director Mark Davies said the Heaphy Track ‘great walk’ had been closed since February due to “major loss of infrastructure” when bridges were wiped out by flooding.

That and other track closures in the early part of the year, including the Paparoa Track ‘great walk’ and the Old Ghost Road, meant the department was conscious of the “reputational risk” to the West Coast as a visitor destination.

“That was pretty uncomfortable,” Mr Davies said.

On the Heaphy Track, three bridges were either extensively damaged or destroyed at the Heaphy River, Gunner River and Pitt Creek.

Mr Davies said the department had successfully bid under the Cyclone Dobi budget package for the Heaphy repairs, which were going to take time.

The repair package included a climate change assessment on the damaged section of track to review alignment and the location of a new bridge across the Heaphy River, for example.

“We’ve also got challenges with availability of contractors and supplies ... At this point I cannot comment on when the track will be open as a through experience,” Mr Davies said.

He noted the Heaphy was an important economic contributor to both the Karamea and Golden Bay communities at this time of year.

The department was also working closely with the Backcountry Trust which operates storm-hit Old Ghost Road between Lyell and Seddonville.

“It survived Cyclone Dobi in February but didn’t survive two weather events in April and early May.”

Mr Davies noted a series of “extreme thunderbursts” in May had dramatically affected every stream crossing on the DOC administered section on the first 16km of track up the Lyell Valley.

Full repair costs were not yet known but the trust had gained funding from the national cycleways project for extreme weather events, Mr Davies said.

Meanwhile, Mr Haworth said the slip which closed the Paparoa Track between the northern end of the Escarpment and Pororari Hut in April had not moved again after repair.

The track reopened in the second week of May but it had been subject to closure again at other points following bad weather.

The condition of the yet to be opened Pike 29 Track was “exceptional” however the department was managing a number of other closures or storm damage repairs, including on the Coal Creek Falls Track at Runanga, while the Kirwans Track at Inangahua had been closed for some time due to storm damage.

- Brendon McMahon
Local democracy reporter

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