Four German tourists have escaped serious injury after a bridge along Lake Waikaremoana Track collapsed, dropping them eight metres into water below.
The four foreigners were at the end of their multi-day tramp along Lake Waikaremoana on Thursday when they arrived at the Hopuruahine bridge near the track's pick-up and drop-off point. The Department of Conservation has confirmed a cable broke as they crossed and they plunged about eight metres into the river below. The tourists had some minor cuts and bruises but were not seriously hurt.
The suspension bridge is now the subject of a two-pronged DOC investigation which will determine why it collapsed, and whether there was any indication of stress during routine maintenance. DOC deputy director-general Mike Slater told Radio New Zealand that a DOC senior engineer has been sent to the scene to examine the bridge. A report is not expected until Saturday.
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister John Key, who is also Tourism Minister, said it would inappropriate for him to comment while the matter was being investigated. Conservation Minister Maggie Barry said she would await the outcome of the probe before commenting. "DOC take visitor safety very seriously and the department's chief engineer is urgently investigating to find out exactly how this happened," she said.
But Labour's conservation spokeswoman Ruth Dyson said incident was cause for alarm and it was fortunate no one was badly hurt. "This is good luck not good management. Our reputation cannot rely on luck. "The cable failure is not only extremely concerning, it leaves New Zealand vulnerable to harmful tourism reaction. This must be sorted immediately," she said.
The Lake Waikaremoana Track is one of New Zealand's heavily marketed nine Great Walks. The 46-kilometre tramp takes between three and four days to complete and features views from Panekire Bluff along with the Korokoro Falls.
The park is jointly run by DOC and Tuhoe and is still open to the public. In 1995 the Cave Creek disaster claimed the lives of 14 people after a viewing platform collapsed and plunged 30 metres into a ravine.
A commission of inquiry found the DOC-built platform had no building consent, no qualified engineers were involved in its design or construction and nails were used instead of bolts to secure the platform because a drill hadn't been taken to the site.
It prompted a safety review of DOC structures and many were repaired to bring them up to standard.