The Te Paki Coastal Track has missed out on being named New Zealand's 11th Great Walk, but work to add it to the list of the country's premier multi-day tramps will continue according to the Department of Conservation.
In 2017 DoC invited nominations for a new Great Walk, eventually whittling the contenders down to the Hump Ridge Track in Southland, Queen Charlotte Track in Marlborough, and Te Paki Coastal Track, a three- to four-day walk around the northern tip of the North Island.
On Sunday Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage announced that Hump Ridge had been chosen.
DoC will now spend about $5 million bringing the track up to Great Walk standards, and extending it from a two-night to a three-night tramp. Great Walk status will also give it a massive marketing boost, with Tuatapere, the main access point, expected to experience a tourism boom.
Ms Sage said, however, that work to turn the Te Paki Coastal Track into a Great Walk would continue.
The track showcased a "highly significant" part of the country, and boasted cultural values and iconic locations that arguably surpassed those of better-known walks.
There was no timeline as yet, she added, but the Te Paki experience could only be truly "great" if it was founded on a strong and meaningful partnership with iwi, and was part of a wider plan for sustainable tourism development across the Far North.
Ngāti Kuri chairman Harry Burkhardt said he supported the concept of a creating a Great Walk, but did not believe it was DoC's role to lead it.
The project needed to be led by iwi on the Aupōuri Peninsula to ensure a strong connection to people and place.
"We can tell a deeper story and provide a deeper experience. We are the only ones who can tell the story," he said.
The Te Paki Coastal Track links Spirits Bay with the Te Paki dunes at the top of 90 Mile Beach, passing Cape Reinga and Cape Maria van Diemen along the way. Basic campsites are provided, but walkers need to take their own tents and cooking gear.
Track upgrades would be required if it was declared a Great Walk, as well as the construction of trampers' huts spaced about five hours apart.
The other finalist, Queen Charlotte Track, won't be progressed to Great Walk status because of "insurmountable challenges" around guaranteeing permanent public access to all sections of the track.
New Zealand currently has nine Great Walks, three in the North Island and six in the South. A 10th, the Paparoa Track, is due to open in December.
Hump Ridge, which was created by a community trust as a job-creation project when logging of native forests was halted in the area, is due to open as a Great Walk in late 2022.