More problems with Great Walks booking system

The Milford Track is one of New Zealand's 10 Great Walks. Photo: ODT files
The Milford Track is one of New Zealand's 10 Great Walks. Photo: ODT files
People have reported problems booking huts and campsites on the Milford and Lake Waikaremoana Great Walks for the summer.

Disappointed people took to social media to vent their frustration today. 

The Department of Conservation apologised, saying there were 11,000 people logged in waiting for bookings to open at 9.30am.

The system was struggling so it decided to do a reset that would have looked like a crash to some people, it said.

The Doc website crashed last year when 10,000 people from New Zealand and overseas tried to book a walk on the Milford Track in the South Island's Fiordland National Park. 

The site came back online shortly after and the 7500 spaces sold out within hours, leaving thousands disappointed and without a spot.

Doc had earlier provided assurances that last year's issues would not be repeated.

New Zealand's 10 Great Walks are the country's premier and most popular tramping tracks. Every year, thousands of people from New Zealand and abroad try to secure a space on one of them.

Federated Mountain Clubs president Megan DiMozantos was not confident Doc would get it right this year.

A lot of time and money went into planning Great Walks hikes and bookings should be allocated on a "Kiwi-first" basis so people did not miss out, she said.

"We believe... New Zealanders should get first dibs on the Great Walk bookings once they open before they're opened to internationals and to commercial."

Gerard Hindmarsh - an avid tramper with a lifelong interest in New Zealand's back country - said the booking system was frustrating and impossible to navigate.

People struggled to secure dates and thousands missed out each year, he said.

"It's a hectic affair and there's thousands of Kiwi trampers that are still left extremely disappointed that they can't get their dates and it's impossible to often book long weekends or school holidays on some of our most popular tracks, which sell out completely."

Having access to the tracks was "New Zealand's legacy" and opening up the booking system to residents three months before the rest of the world would ensure locals did not miss out, Hindmarsh said.

Doc's director of heritage and visitors, Cat Wilson, said more Kiwis than ever before were hiking the Great Walks after the department introduced cheaper pricing for New Zealanders in 2018 to better manage international demand.

Differential pricing and opening bookings at times better suited for New Zealanders had immediately increased the number of locals on the tracks.

"Even with international visitors returning over the past year, the Great Walks continue to attract high levels of domestic tourism," Wilson said.

"Previously New Zealanders made up 40 percent of visitors, whereas the year-to-date mix is about 63 percent New Zealanders and 37 percent international visitors."

The department had made changes to the website and tested it ahead of bookings for Milford and North Island's Lake Waikaremoana Track opening Tuesday morning.

Wilson would not elaborate on what those changes were, but was confident there would not be a repeat of last year.

Great Walks bookings 

Bookings for the 10 Great Walks will open for stays from July 1 in 2024 to June 30 in 2025 on these dates at 9.30am:

May 28: Milford Track, Lake Waikaremoana Track

May 30:  Abel Tasman Coast Track, Rakiura Track, Whanganui Journey

June 5: Routeburn Track, Paparoa Track

June 6: Kepler Track, Heaphy Track, Tongariro Northern Circuit

- source Department of Conservation