When I was invited to accompany Alistair Smith from DOC on an inspection of the new Okura Walkway track upgrade last Friday, I jumped at the chance. At this time of year, when the kowhais are flowering, sections of the track are covered in a carpet of golden flowers, and dozens of drunken tui serenade walkers as they pass by. I have been missing my regular runs up to the cottage and back.
The metal gate locked across the bridge makes it pretty obvious that the track is closed, but apparently there have been numerous runners ignoring the signs and climbing over the the rail. Contractors have been recording vehicle licence plates, so some people may soon be hearing from the authorities and facing the consequences.
To prevent the further spread of kauri dieback, the track has been divided into several hygiene zones, and each time we entered a new one we had to stop, re-clean our boots, then spray them with Trigene. The track workers are required to scrub and spray every item of equipment that comes in contact with the ground when they move from one zone to another.
The first improvement that I noticed was that all the steps have been filled with metal, making them much safer to climb in slippery conditions. At the top of one flight, we encountered the first section of new boardwalk.
A lot of it is much higher off the ground than I had anticipated. This is because regulations require the slope to be fairly shallow so that users don’t slip. The grade of the old track has meant that the boardwalk needed to be extended in several areas so that it gets close enough to ground level at the end.
I thought the contractor and his team have done an excellent job of curving the walkway through the kauri trees, and I reckon the final result will be very attractive. We learned that it has been quite a challenge fitting construction to the local conditions while staying within the strict regulations imposed by the specifications.
A couple of weeks ago I had heard that construction was ahead of schedule, but the recent torrential rain has slowed things down considerably. The projected track re-opening on October 22nd may be delayed if things don’t improve. During one of the storms last week, the creek next to Dacre Cottage that you can normally step across was running at breast height, and far too dangerous to cross.
We were a bit gutted to discover that there has been a completely new slip where the track first reaches the shore of the estuary. A large kowhai tree is now lying in the sea, and an even bigger kowhai is leaning out precariously and looking as if it is about to go. This section of the walkway will probably have to remain closed until funding is found for a major repair.
A bit further on, I inspected the old slip area near the bottom of the last staircase. This is still extending northwards – if you look closely at photo 9 you can just see a crack extending almost to the large tree at the top of the picture. Most of the track to the right of this is probably going to slump into the estuary in the near future.
The first bit of work on this upgrade was 120 helicopter trips to deliver timber, bags of metal, bark and other construction materials. Unlike the previous work on the track, there has been little damage to the bush that I could see, partly because they were able to use the existing drop zones. There does seem to have been a bit of a miscalculation about exactly where the metal would be needed, because there are a few unused bags at the end of the construction area, and some muddy sections of trail at the beginning where more gravel is needed.
Both the creeks at Karipiro Bay were their normal depth, so we were able to cross with dry boots, and climb the rather slippery trail to the northern section of the walkway. This is of much lower standard than the southern part, but the traffic is significantly less due to the fact that most visitors start at Haigh’s Access and turn around at the cottage. There is also an easier route to Stillwater around the coast, except at high tide as the contractor found out the hard way!
There is one exception to the narrow, rather muddy trail north of the cottage, and that is where 30 metres of Geoweb has been installed to protect a single mature kauri. Unless you look closely, there is not much sign of the Geoweb holding a mixture of bark and gravel in place. It is slightly springy due to the bark, and will probably be quite enjoyable to run over. The track workers have laid nikau fronds, ferns and other material along the edge to hide the fabric. It will be interesting to see how this looks in a few year’s time.