Lake Waikaremoana. Photo: Tom Allan

Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk is reopening to the public on January 10 next year, but repairs to the walking track will continue beyond its opening, and any effort could be compromised by Genesis or another Cyclone Gabrielle.

A spokesperson for Te Uru Taumatua, Ngāi Tūhoe’s Tribal Authority, told BayBuzz the Waikaremoana Great was evacuated prior to Cyclone Gabrielle’s arrival, on February 17, so manuhiri could have time to return to their homes safely.

“What followed were large slips that caused road closures at each entry point in to Waikaremoana,” they said.

Management of lake levels is a matter of contention between Te Uru Taumatua and Genesis.

“We learned that Genesis had released water from the lake to make some room to catch and the hold the rainwater coming from Gabrielle. The rivers would have still been releasing the water Genesis spilled into it when it arrived. This action contributed to the flooding and multiple road closures between Waikaremoana and Wairoa.”

Nine days on from the cyclone the team could finally get across the lake to assess the impacts on the Great Walk, they said.

“Lake levels remained high, and it was over Genesis’s maximum operating range by 30%,” they said.

“Due to the lake level, the team could not do a full inspection as most of the Great Walk track was under water. Day Shelters and campsites were up to 1 meter under water.”

They said when waters finally receded in early April 2023, the team was able to do a full assessment and found broken bridges, track wash outs, sewage leakage at the huts and campsites and, parts of the track still remained under water.

“The wet winter weather brought more bad weather and more road closures and kept lake levels high. This also prevented our team from maintaining the track and bringing it back to a safe standard.”

The spokesperson said repairs to the Waikaremoana Great Walk were underway and will continue beyond its opening in January, where Te Uru Taumatua would realise the new Te Urewera Track standards through further water tabling, culverts, box steps, retaining, and new timber bridges.

“Not just repairing but improving the track significantly,” they said.

“Panekire Hut has had a repaint inside thanks to Megan Dimozantos and her very keen volunteers from the Back Country Trust. Their mahi has brightened the hut up significantly.”

They said a repeat Gabrielle could potentially undermine or undo these efforts, so could Genesis.

“If Genesis chooses to store and hold that water, this will undo these efforts. The addition of culverts, unblocking of waterways and track work will better manage surface flooding, and a dry El Nino summer will help too,” they said.

“This is a rock and a hard place scenario; any investment is subject to being washed away by Genesis – but the Tuhoe and Te Urewera Boards made a call to get as much as possible open in order that our regional communities and wider get to enjoy Waikaremoana after the tough year faced by all. The teams are tired. We’ve had big calls to make against impossible blocks and we still don’t have any DOC resource through.”

A Genesis spokesperson responded to BayBuzz with a previously-issued media release by saying data did not support the suggestion the management of lake levels by Genesis led to the damage and subsequent closure of the walk.

“High lake levels this year were due to the number of successive weather events in the catchment. This is highlighted by data that includes the average inflow to Lake Waikaremoana being higher in the 12 months to June 2023 than any other 12-month period since records began in 1930, and almost twice the long-term average.”

They said Genesis had tried to engage constructively in discussions about the walk over recent months with Te Uru Taumatua and Department of Conservation (DoC).

“This has included the offer of financial support to help get the walk open. This was in recognition of the unprecedented weather events and our desire to work together to address this challenge. That offer was initially rejected but still stands,” they said.

“There are ongoing issues around the location of some portions of the track which require further discussion, especially in the context of future wet years, and Genesis remains open to constructively participating.”

The Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk hut bookings are available now on the DOC website.

You can pre-book your stay in the huts and the campsites. Hut wardens will be based at the huts to welcome visitors and share updates of what is happening in Te Urewera. Water taxi will be available six days a week, closed on Sundays.   

Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air


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