The Department of Conservation has admitted it got it wrong when it allowed contractors to blast a rock overhang on the Truman Track at Punakaiki last year.
DOC came under fire from conservation groups after using explosives to blast away a sandstone overhang on the popular walking track, following a rockfall near a viewing platform.
A report to the West Coast Tai Poutini Conservation Board said the overhang and the cavern beneath it were unique geological features and DOC had put the safety of tourists before its duty to conserve the nature features.
An internal investigation by the department has now confirmed that view.
The report found although the decision to remove the overhang was made for public safety reasons, it overlooked statutory requirements to protect significant geological features.
DOC operations director Mark Davies said: "Our people are often tasked with making complex decisions about matters concerning public safety, and in this case, we didn't get it right.
"If we had made all the appropriate considerations, we would have endeavoured to leave the overhang in place, and instead taken steps to manage the safety of visitors at the site differently.
"Depending on the level of risk deemed acceptable these measures could have included further signs, further barriers, or fully or partially closing the track."
DOC would now introduce improved measures to ensure better protection of natural and heritage features, Mr Davies said.
Although visitor access and safety was a vital consideration, DOC's first priority was to protect New Zealand's natural and cultural heritage, he said.
"The review found DOC visitor risk management systems needed improved provisions for guiding staff appropriately through complex statutory considerations."
The report made nine recommendations for improvements. These include updating systems to include triggers to seek further expert advice and consulting appropriately with iwi and stakeholders. Work is under way to implement the improvements.