A swarm of earthquakes shook Rotorua on 25 January. The largest was a magnitude 4.9 earthquake which struck at 8.12am at a depth of 5 km. Okataina, 20 km east of Rotorua, was the epicentre for the shakes.
The Department of Conservation (DOC), which manages the walkway on behalf of the Lake Okataina Scenic Reserve Board, was made aware of a significant slip approximately 250 m from the Lake Okataina Carpark shortly after the swarm ended and closed the track pending a geotechnical assessment.
DOC Rotorua Operations Manager George Taylor said an engineer has now visited the site and noted parts of the slip are highly fractured and unstable.
“We are advised ongoing rockfall and slipping is expected in the short term. Potentially this will include large boulders.
“Given this risk it is not appropriate for anyone, even my staff or contractors, to enter the slip area at this time,” Mr Taylor says.
Consequently the popular track remains closed along its entire length from both the Lake Okataina entrance and the Humphries Bay entrance.
The track closure comes mere weeks before one of Rotorua’s largest running events; the Tarawera Ultra Marathon which is scheduled for 13 and 14 February.
“The Department has met with the race organisers to update them on the current state of play and work through a contingency plan that will allow the event to go ahead,” Mr Taylor says.
“We share their disappointment in this situation, but unfortunately, even if it were safe to start stabilising the area immediately, it would still take longer than two weeks to complete – so there really is no other option but to execute the contingency plan for this event.
“Safety is a top priority and where the risk is so high, we must be vigilant before re-opening.”
Mr Taylor said Lake Okataina Scenic Reserve is an area of particularly high cultural value to Ngāti Tarawhai. Representatives of the hapū visited the site to view the damage and supported the indefinite closure decision.
DOC will provide further updates as plans to reinstate the track are developed.