Part of a six million dollar redevelopment in the Kahurangi National Park has been scrapped after the Department of Conservation deemed an ambitious cantilever structure a bridge too far in the fragile rock caves.
Limestone caves of the Ōpārara Basin at the top of the West Coast were identified as an 'Iconic Attraction' in 2016. The Ōpārara arches - an impressive natural rock bridge - was previously visited by tens of thousands of visitors, in spite of the difficult hike in.
11,000 people made the trip in the summer of 2017/18, according to DoC.
An ambitious access plan to increase visitors and protect the arches was given a $5.7 million Provincial Growth Fund grant.
This included a 65-metre-long cantilever walkway bolted into the cliff face and a 15-metre access bridge to redevelop the quiet corner of the National park and easy access to the river.
"Improving the facilities will make visiting the Ōpārara Basin safe and sustainable and will provide additional protection to the unique natural features," said DoC's project overview.
However, not everyone was a fan.
Forest & Bird were concerned about the effect that the access would have on the waterways.
"Many conservationists feel Ōpārara is already at full capacity," said Forest & Bird at the time and that there was "widespread concern" about developing the caves into a prime tourist destination.
Federated Mountain Climbers also raised concerns for the conservation of the natural beauty of the spot. The FMC were vocal opponents of a proposed suspended walkway through the Ōpārara Arch.
The habitat for Whio whio blue duck and relatively undisturbed waters were prone to damage. However, the one thing more fragile than the ecosystem is the brittle karst limestone.
"Following receipt of a detailed geotechnical report for the elevated boardwalk, it was decided not to go ahead with the structure," says Mark Davies, DoC's director of operations for Tai Poutini/Western South Island, in an Official Information Act response to Newsroom.
Development West Coast said they were aware of the change in plans.
Economic Development manager for DWC Jo Birnie said that the scale and delivery timeline had been affected by the realities of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"There's going to be a ramp and stairway instead, which makes sense to us," said Birnie.
"DoC has assured us that the safety of road users won't be affected."
"The Ōparara basin is a remarkable area of immense national and international significance," said Birnie and the DWC would continue to support a more modest improvement to the national park.
DOC said that the current Ōparara Upgrade, which made use of $5.7m in provincial growth funding, was on target to be completed under budget by December 2022.
While the proposed elevated, cliff boardwalk was scrapped it was never planned to extend into the arches, as described by the FMC.
DoC said the focus will be repairing the deteriorating McCallums Mill Road and Ōpārara Arch Track, to make sure the access is safe and sustainable.
The Ōpārara basin and Karamea is full of impressive giant rock formations such as the Moria Gateway and Ōpārara Arches.
An area rich with Moa bones and fossilised footprints plans for a sculpture park in the caves to celebrate the giant flightless birds were abandoned in 2017.
Correction: Updated 13 December to reflect the state of the current Ōparara Upgrade