After a 15 year hiatus, Milford Sound’s popular Lady Bowen Falls walk has reopened to allow visitors walking access to the region’s highest waterfall.
The short walk was closed to the public in 2002 amidst concerns around rock and tree slides but reopened on Monday using a boat to transport visitors beyond the unsafe 120m of track.
The purpose-built boat is owned and operated by Milford Sound Tourism, a joint venture between the two biggest local operators Real Journeys and Southern Discoveries, each with 49%, and Southland District Council with the balance.
DOC and MST had been working on the reopening since 2014 and considered a number of options to engineer around or mitigate the unsafe 120m section of track including a tunnel, a concrete c-section walkway, a steel portal before deciding on the barge/pontoon system.
The conservation department confirmed that the $370,000 investment into the construction of the track, pontoon and ferry was funded by MST, while the background work completing risk assessment on the track was jointly funded by DOC and MST which was then known as the Milford Sound Development Authority.
Before walking access was closed, it was one of the most popular short activities in the Milford Sound which according to a Venture Southland report is forecast to receive more than 1m visitors in 2019.
This is up from 457,000 in 2012.
The walk now begins from the wharf at Freshwater Basin. The boat transports walkers 120m across the basin, disembarking on a small pontoon. From there the track goes through native bush winding its way up to a viewing area of Lady Bowen Falls, with iconic Mitre Peak visible on the other side of the fiord.
The entire return journey including the boat ride takes approximately 30 minutes to complete, and will be ideal for families, according to DOC Te Anau operations manager, Greg Lind.
Lind added: “It’s been great to work with Milford Sound Tourism to explore ways we could safely offer this experience to visitors once more. Their general manager Tim Holland has been instrumental in getting this project completed in time to enjoy for the remainder of the season.”
“Lady Bowen Falls has a lot of history, and at a lofty 162 metres high it’s one of those bucket list items people have on their lists to see when they come to Fiordland National Park.
Holland said it is fantastic to be able to provide another memorable activity for visitors to Milford Sound to enjoy.
“After exploring many different options, we decided boat transport was the safest way to manage that part of the track. Plus – it’ll provide a whole new experience for people at one of New Zealand’s most iconic sites.”
The cost is $10 per adult and $5 per child for the boat ride. An official opening event will be held 15th March.