Two days after bunks on the Milford Track sold out in record time, the Great Walk craze continued with technical issues blocking hikers from making reservations on the DoC website.
Frustrated hikers reported website outages of around an hour when they logged on to reserve spaces on the Tongariro, Kepler and Abel Tasman walks this morning.
"Just a few minutes before bookings opened at 930 the site crashed and stayed down for over an hour," said photographer Mark Scowen, who failed to secure a space on the Abel Tasman track.
After many unsuccessful calls through to the Department's offices in Wellington, Scowan said there was little DoC could do to help.
When the website resumed DoC offered to manually book him onto the route "but by then all of the dates that we were looking at were gone."
DoC's Wellington office confirmed that had spent the morning handling "multiple" queries about booking. However, they said that the website was back up and running by midday.
A spokesperson for the Department said the outage was the result of "a glitch" rather than a rush on sever demand.
For most users this was resolved by 10am but customers did have to log out of web browsers in order to make bookings, costing some their space on the walk.
"The bookings team apologise to any impacted customers and thank them for their patience while the issue was resolved," they said.
"There is still plenty of capacity across all the walks that opened today for people to book their spots."
Doc said 3,371 bookings were made today, with a total of almost 12,000 bookings since the first Great Walks opened on Wednesday.
Great walks in great demand
On Tuesday, unprecedented demand saw the Milford Track huts sell out within the first 15 minutes of listing, with peak holiday seasons filling almost instantly. However there were none of the technical issues reported today.
Even with borders partially closed demand far exceeds the supply of bunk spaces for walkers. Asking DoC as to how they plan to control the annual rush for huts, there was no obvious solution.
"It is disappointing for those who miss out," said Steve Taylor, Director of Visitation for DoC.
Adding more bunks and capacity is "not something we are looking at," he said, because of the delicate natural areas in which the walks take place.
"The limits on the track are there to protect the experience that exists, the historic and the heritage values. Adding bunks is something that we are not going to rush into."
Similarly price increases or quotas for New Zealanders are a difficult proposal and unlikely to have much effect, says Taylor.
Although Australians have shown an interest in booking walks, demand has largely been domestic with 85 percent of bookings this year by Kiwis.
"Changing international prices with closed borders wouldn't have a huge impact, and we want to make sure that this is an experience that is available to the broadest range of New Zealanders."
DoC has previously used walk pricing to try and control demand.
In 2018/19 Doc introduced international rates, to secure spaces for New Zealanders on the walks. This year differential pricing has been used to try and encourage more walkers onto less busy tracks and huts.
Demand has largely been domestic, with 85 percent of bookings this year by Kiwis
On some Great Walk tracks private operators on the same routes are charging up to 10 times DoC hut prices.
Although the guided experience is a very different product, aimed at overseas and luxury markets - "DoC could feasibly ask for more , and get it," says guide company Ultimate Hikes director, Noel Saxon.
"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."
Paparoa was added as a 10th Great Walk in 2020, with the Hump Ridge Track in Southland being assessed as the next to be added to the group.
With over 900 huts and long distance trails under their care, DoC hopes that hikers unable to book onto their Great walk of choice will still be able to enjoy New Zealand's outdoors.