'Failures at multiple levels' in DOC before Cape Kidnappers track slip seriously injured hikers

The Department of Conservation says it has moved swiftly to improve its visitor safety systems after an internal investigation showed significant failures in the way it assessed the Cape Kidnappers track which was the scene of a rockfall that seriously injured two Korean tourists in January.

A DOC investigation report out today says the two visitors were returning to Clifton in Hastings from a walk to the gannet colony when they were struck by a rockfall while walking along the beach. They ran toward the sea where they were pushed out further into the ocean, struck by rocks and seriously injured.

The report finds that those tasked with assessing the risks to visitors limited their thinking to just 1.5 kilometres - the DOC-managed land - of the total nine kilometre walk.

It says there were failures at multiple levels in implementing the department's organisational and risk and visitor management policies. Failures resulted in misunderstanding and confusion around risk, promotion of the hike and what part of the hike was being assessed.

DOC’s Director of Heritage and Visitors, Steve Taylor, says the department accepts there were significant failures in assessing the risk of the Cape Kidnappers track "and we should not have promoted it as a Day Hike as this may have led people to believe it was without risk".

DOC has already taken steps to ensure that risks are assessed and addressed properly in future, he says. 

It has carried out full safety assessments of all the short walk and day hikes promoted in 2018 and established a whole new team responsible for improving the way it does do this work.

The department has also established a new governance structure to oversee visitor safety and introduced regular reporting.

It has also created a principal advisor of visitor risk role and made the appointment. 

Mr Taylor says DOC is also working towards improving training and support on risk assessments for operations staff, working with GNS to standardise the way geological risk assessments are carried out on DOC visitor sites and reviewing the department's quality control systems.

DOC is supporting a quantitative risk analysis, initiated by the Hastings District Council, to fully assess the risk of further rockfall on the Cape Kidnappers walk.

"Until we have a full understanding of all the risks associated with this walk, the DOC section of the walkway (about 1.5 km) will remain closed and we will not be promoting it," Mr Taylor says.