Trampers around New Zealand are left feeling disappointed and disgruntled by the Department of Conservation’s online ticket purchasing process, as DOC struggles to cater to unprecedented demand.
Within minutes of being available to the public, slots for various DOC huts and campsites around the country were sold out.
On Tuesday, the Milford Track sold out in just 15 minutes, which set the scene for how the following days would play out. On Wednesday and Thursday, sites crashed due to a record surge in ticket buyers.
* Great Walks: Milford Track slots for upcoming season sell out in ‘record time’
* More Department of Conservation huts and campsites can be booked online
* Great Walks bookings open next week
Ocean Rhind, from Auckland, had been preparing to book the Whanganui River Journey for months but when it came to the booking date, she was left empty-handed – despite being well prepared.
“I was fully logged in and prepared to book on two separate devices, and right on the dot I clicked in, only to see that by the time the page finally loaded all the beds were sold out,” she said.
“I was really surprised because I expected the Southern walks to sell out, but I thought this one would take a little longer.”
Rhind is a regular on the New Zealand tramping scene, having previously tackled the Routeburn, Kepier, Heaphy and Abel Tasman Great Walks, but said that this year feels unusual in its high demand.
“It’s quite crazy this year – I’ve managed to book Great Walks well into the season in previous years, but I doubt I will be able to this year.”
Rhind said she was “so sad to miss out”, especially given it was a large trip planned with a big group of close friends.
“It’s disheartening to know that it’s now going to take me much longer to finish all the Great Walks.”
Bruce Davey, from Christchurch, was faced with glitching systems and a crashing website during his numerous attempts to book a hike.
“I tried to use the site on Wednesday, but the track I was looking to reserve, Paparoa, was sold out within two minutes of the bookings opening.”
Not ready to admit defeat, Davey tried again on Thursday morning, this time for the Abel Tasman route.
“I was on the site at 9.15am ready for a 9.30am opening, and it was all working until about 9.20am when the site got very slow and unreliable.
“It got worse and worse and by 9.40-ish it was completely non-responsive. It had crashed.”
Davey said he was eventually able to make a reservation after DOC responded to his email, apologising for the delay and suggesting he keep trying, but was still put out by the exhaustive process.
He put the high demand down to “the crazy system” used by the Department of Conservation.
“I suspect that they have tried to stagger demand by splitting the Great Walks over three days – with some being available on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – but obviously they haven’t planned their server to be sufficiently robust for the peak demand.”
Department of Conservation’s heritage and visitors director Steve Taylor said DOC “acknowledges it is disappointing when people miss out on their bookings due to this high demand” – especially when it is for peak dates.
He said while bunk spaces on the Great Walks tend to sell quickly when bookings open each year, there has been a particularly large surge this year.
Milford sold out in “record time” while “bookings on the Heaphy and Rakiura are well up on last year”.
“There was a 98 per cent increase in bed nights sold on the Heaphy Track this year compared to last year and there was a 62 per cent increase in first day sales for Rakiura,” he said.
“Bookings for New Zealanders on Milford, Heaphy and Rakiura remain very high, at 84 per cent, 94 per cent and 85 per cent respectively.”
When questioned on whether DOC could expand campsites and DOC huts to cater to the rising demand, Taylor said the Great Walks have a limited number of bed spaces in order to “keep numbers at an appropriate level”.
This ensures the “natural and cultural heritage surrounding these walks is protected and that people have a high-quality experience on them”, he said.
“While it wouldn’t be appropriate to expand the number of bed spaces available on these walks, we have been working to ensure Kiwis can access their Great Walks through initiatives such as differential pricing and also increasing the number of Great Walks.”
For those that have missed out on tramping opportunities, Taylor’s suggestion is to simply look out for what else is available.
“Our advice is to consider all 10 Great Walks which all offer stunning nature and landscapes,” he said.
“There are also guided options or camping on the walks which allow this.
“DOC manages 14,000km of tracks across New Zealand and just under 1000 conservation huts, so we really encourage people to find an opportunity that’s right for their skill level, prepare well and get out there.”