The popular Heaphy Track, a renowned hiking trail linking Tasman to the West Coast, is set to reopen after being closed for over a year due to a storm in February 2022.
This comes as great news for the residents of Karamea, a remote town located 1.5 hours from Westport, who are preparing to celebrate the event.
The closure had a significant impact on the region, as highlighted by Heath Milne of Development West Coast: "It certainly had a big impact on numbers coming into the area. It went from several thousand to the hundreds really."
Moreover, Milne encouraged visitors to extend their stay in Karamea, a town nestled between mountains and sea, to fully appreciate the region: "A Heaphy Track experience is not complete without stopping for at least one night in Karamea. Here’s your chance to discover something new, wild, remote, and authentic. You’ll be surprised at the places you can explore from this tiny town."
The economic repercussions of the track's closure were felt acutely by local businesses. Maggie Seeman, who owns The Last Resort accommodation, reported a dramatic decrease in bookings: "It was huge. We lost probably 60 or 70% of our bookings." Despite the setback, Seeman remained optimistic about the reopening, even suggesting a celebration: "Oh well we'll probably have a party!"
Similarly, Philip Higgs, owner of Karamea Motors/Express, which facilitates transportation to and from the Heaphy Track, observed a complete halt in business following the closure: "Well when the track went out in February, what eighteen months ago, it just died completely."
The storm damaged parts of the Heaphy's coastal track and a significant bridge across the Heaphy River. Mark Davies of the Department of Conservation explained the decision to make the track more resilient rather than opting for a quick fix: "We could have built another bridge in the same location relatively quickly but that was not a good investment and would have been more than likely lost in the next severe storm. So we've gone down the valley, and gone up the hill and built one bridge. And built a new section of track up and built another bridge."
As the reopening on Labour Weekend approaches, locals are enthusiastic about showcasing all that Karamea has to offer. Vanessa Kingan of Helicopter Charter Karamea urged visitors to explore the area: "There's heaps of great swimming holes around here, lots of great family friendly wee walks. The bird life is amazing."
Adding to the appeal of the region, Philip Higgs noted the welcoming nature of the West Coast community: "Not many places you can go down the local pub and just people will talk to ya, because that's what we do."
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