Delays to the reopening of one of the Upper Clutha’s most popular tourist destinations have left Makarora business owners dismayed at what it will mean for the town’s post-Covid recovery.

The Blue Pools Track in Makarora was abruptly closed in May last year after the Department of Conservation (Doc) announced major maintenance work was required at the site, including the total replacement of one of its two suspension bridges.

While a Doc spokesman originally said it hoped to have the track opened to the public by March this year, tender documents obtained by The News show work is not expected to begin until April, and will take about five months to complete.

The manager of Wonderland Makarora Lodge, who asked not to be named, said although Doc had been providing them with updates as recently as last month, they had not been made aware of any delays and found the news ‘‘very upsetting’’.

‘‘It is the biggest tourist attraction here.

‘‘We’re only 8km from it, so we get irate guests coming in here that can’t get across.’’

While the manager could not comment on whether bookings at Wonderland had been impacted by the bridge closure this summer, they said the number of visitors who were leaving disappointed was troubling.

‘‘Often the question is, ‘‘well what else can we do?’, which tells you that it is one of the primary things they think they can do here.

‘‘The West Coast in the South Island must be one of the toughest places to run tourism [in].

‘‘You have these huge storms and the roads get washed away and we have snow in winters, everything closes down.

‘‘And then Doc goes along and closes down our most popular thing through our whole summer, the first summer that we are basically recovering from Covid.’’

Wilkin River tour operator Jets Danyel Watson said she appreciated the work Doc was doing was essential, but it was equally vital to recognise the impact the delays would have on the township.

‘‘It’s a big draw card for Makarora, and without it, it is significant.’’

No bridges burned . . . The Blue Pools bridge, which the Department of Conservation have announced will be closed until at least March 2024 for major upgrades.

Although Mrs Watson had not had a chance to crunch the numbers, she believed the closure of the bridges had impacted the number of trampers venturing out on the three-to-four day Gillespie Pass Circuit, which incorporates the Blue Pools’ bridges.

‘‘I just know that we’ve had a very slow November for tramping in the area.

‘‘Normally everyone’s chomping at the bit for the snow to melt to get up the Gillespie Pass.’’

The added cost of catching a jetboat across the river, as opposed to simply crossing the bridges, was likely motivating some trampers to consider alternative walks.

‘‘People who would normally walk in via the Blue Pools and catch the jetboat out now have to pay an extra $30 to get in, so that might sway their decision as well.’’

According to data released by Doc last year, the Blue Pools and Makarora bridges were visited by about 550 people a day last January, and about 75 people were crossing per hour during peak time.

Doc Central Otago operations manager Nicola Holmes said it was pleased to have the tender process under way, but could not yet offer any clear timeframe on when the work would be completed.

‘‘Things such as contractor availability, materials and weather can and do affect project timelines.’’

Doc was keen to get the bridges reopened for the community ‘‘as soon as practical’’, she said.

It would continue to work with businesses impacted by the ongoing closures.

The original March timeframe had been a ‘‘broad estimate’’ made before the site had been adequately assessed.

‘‘Since then we’ve been doing a lot of work to understand the work ahead — geotechnical reports and detailed engineering across all three bridges, which all take time.

‘‘We’ve also included a boardwalk replacement project as it makes sense to do the upgrades at the same time, rather than having to close the track again at a later date to complete this work.’’

She asked people to prioritise their own safety and respect the closures while they were in effect.

‘‘They are closed for a reason; please follow the directions on the signage and keep yourself and others safe this summer.’’