SI bridges removed for winter

17:00, Jun 27 2014
Yessica and Sean
ILL-FATED TRIP: Yessica Asmin and Sean Mcnabb.

A bridge over the South Island waterway where an Indonesian tourist died is among 12 the Department of Conservation (DOC) has removed for winter.

The bridges on South Island tracks are removed each year because they are prone to avalanche damage.

Among the 12 is Pompolona Creek, where last month 22-year-old Yessica Asmin was swept away and drowned.

Asmin was walking the Milford Track with her boyfriend and a German tourist the pair had just met. They tried to cross Pompolona Creek on May 19, but Asmin lost her footing and was swept downstream.

The creek was one of eight waterways on the Milford Track where bridges were removed because of avalanche risk.

Poor weather hampered search efforts and Asmin's body was not found for two days, where it had been swept into the Clinton River.


At the time, searchers said Pompolona Creek had been in heavy flow because of recent rainfall.

DOC Fiordland district conservation services manager Grant Tremain said the bridges were removed from mid- to late May and would not be reinstated until as late as October or November.

The bridges would "just get absolutely mowed down" if they were not removed, he said. Track damage last year was the worst the department had seen in 45 years.

Once the avalanche hazard was high enough, staff were not allowed to work in the area, Tremain said. In 1984, a DOC staff member was killed in an avalanche.

The conditions on Milford Track change dramatically between seasons, reflected in DOC policy around hut bookings.

Over summer, huts can be booked online but tickets can be bought from DOC offices only during winter.

DOC's website advises only experienced, well-equipped trampers should attempt to cross alpine sections of the Milford Track in winter. It details the complex terrain the track crosses, including over 57 avalanche paths.

Tremain said it was important that people were free to access the back country, but that DOC strongly encouraged people to research and go into the visitors' centres to get up to date information on conditions.

Mountain Safety Council (MSC) avalanche programme manager Andrew Hobman said in Fiordland terrain, avalanches frequently "got airborne" which meant they were travelling even faster by the time they reached the valley floor.

"As DOC have discovered over the years, that destroys their bridges," he said.

DOC made it clear that bridges were removed and there were other dangers, including avalanche risk, Hobman said.

MSC outdoor land safety programme manager Nathan Watson said MSC supported DOC removing bridges over winter.

"Sure, having those bridges there all year round would be fantastic but [DOC] remove them for a good reason. That information is there, people need to do their research," he said.



The DOC-managed bridges which have been removed over winter: Milford Track: Mirror, Nicolas, Corkscrew, Waterfall, Pompolona, Baretit, Helens, Moraine. Routeburn Track: Deadmans, Potters. Rees-Dart Track, Mount Aspiring National Park: Upper Snowy Creek. Cascade Track, Nelson Lakes: One footbridge over Hukere Stream (bridges on three alternate routes are not removed). 

The Press