DoC huts on four more of the Great Walks huts went on sale this morning, with Otago's Routeburn Track being quick to find takers.
Yesterday the nearby Milford Track sold out in record time, with all 120 bunks filling up over the Great Walk season in just 15 minutes.
In spite of zero international visitors, demand for Great walks remained strong last year says DoC. In previous seasons 50 per cent of hikers came from abroad for the South Island Great walks but their absence was hardly felt.
Hut capacity was at 84 per cent across all walks, with Rakiura the Abel Tasman and Paparoa tracks at over 90 per cent capacity.
With over 15,000 trampers last summer. the Abel Tasman saw the most overnight visitors in its many huts and campsites. This was over four times the number seen by the limited Milford Track Huts.
"It has been fantastic to see so many New Zealanders take advantage of these walks while border restrictions have been in place," said DoC's Director of Visitors Steve Taylor.
75% more New Zealanders undertook a Great Walk last summer that the previous season he says. However, DoC expects the 21/22 "may be slower as people look to keep their options open for changing border restrictions."
So, if you missed out on a space in a hut last year, this week may be your chance to book.
Routeburn Track: How to book a late Great Escape
Missed out on bunks? This year high demand has seen the picturesque Routeburn huts fill up over several key dates around Easter and New Year.
However, unlike the Milford track there are still plenty of spaces in DoC facilities - for those who know where to look.
Tramp and Camp
If you are willing to forgo the creature comforts provided by a roof over your head and are willing to carry a bit more – camping the Great Walks is a popular option.
Some Great Walks including the Routeburn have space for tented camping, which are rarely full.
You'll need to bring your own food and cooking equipment as most campsites do not share facilities with. Note, you'll want to pack as lightly as possible. There is no point bringing a four-man tent as allocated space is limited and - by day three – you will feel the extra weight.
Like huts, booking ahead is essential.
Where are you going?
The Routeburn is a one-way track, meaning you have the option of walking Routeburn/Glenorchy to the Divide or from the SH72 back towards Glenorchy.
Far fewer hikers start at the Divide. With some strategic planning, you can stitch a route together in this direction.
While there are 120 spaces in Doc Huts on Milford and the Routeburn, the Routeburn rarely books out.
This is primarily because the Routeburn is a far shorter route. At 32 km vs the Milford's 54 many walkers approaching from Glenorchy decide to skip one of the huts and head straight to the Falls Hut.
The Routeburn Flats huts are rarely full. This means if you're willing to mix camping and hut stays, you can often find space quite late into the season.
Routeburn road relay
It's all very well walking three days into the Fiordland national park, but you'll need to arrange transport back out.
Glenorchy Journeys runs a shuttle bus between Queenstown and both ends of the walk. There is also the option of transferring to Te Anau. However there is no direct shuttle between the Divide and Routeburn, if you're trying to reclaim a vehicle from the carparks. infotrack.co.nz
If you're driving, Track Hoppers relay service will relocate your vehicle with a key lock box at the end.
There's nothing like seeing a relay driver run past you on the route to make you speed up.
De luxe huts
If camping isn't your thing, and you've missed out on a space in the DoC hut, there is always the option of an upgrade.
Ultimate Hikes is a tour operator running guided walks out of private huts on the Milford and Routeburn tracks. At $2230pp to do the Milford - and $1,475pp for the routeburn - it's quite a mark up from DoC prices, but not a fair comparison.
This includes transport, guides and cooked meals and accommodation for the route.
Purists may insist on carrying a tent and a Primus stove - but there's a lot to be said for a steak dinner waiting at the end of a day's walk.
Avoid the shoulder season
This year 2021/22 is the first time DoC has introduced shoulder season prices. However this is not to encourage more walkers
The price increase for off-peak huts in September and May are designed to deter inexperience hikers from booking out of Great Walk season.
DoC's Director of Visitations, Steve Taylor said the decision to increase prices was "in recognition that some visitors sought to gain a cheaper Great Walk experience in the shoulder seasons"
Taylor said the price difference of off-peak prices reflected the increased difficulty and reduced demand for the walks in winter. With some bridges being out of action and many facilities such as
"A high level of skill, hardiness and experience is required in winter and the services in the huts … and on the tracks is reduced due to the winter conditions," says Taylor.
Out of season Milford and Routeburn huts cannot be booked online, and are only ticketed via DOC information centres.