With its proximity to Wellington, the Tararua Ranges are one of the most frequently visited Forest Parks in the country. There are approximately 152,000 visitors each year, of which 130,000 come from Wellington. The ranges act as a natural divide between Kapiti and Horowhenua to the west and Wairarapa to the east.
The Tararua’s have a long and proud tramping history. The New Zealand Forest Service established it as the first State Forest Park in 1954 and New Zealand’s first tramping club, the Tararua Tramping Club, built one of the country's earliest dedicated tramping huts, Field Hut, in 1924.
The 116,535-hectare Tararua Forest Park covers more than three-quarters of the Tararua Range. Since 1987 it has been administered by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and extends from the Pahiatua Track in the north, to the Remutaka Saddle in the south. The main access points are from Holdsworth on the eastern side, and Otaki Forks on the western side.
Among New Zealand trampers, the Tararua Ranges are widely considered to present some of the most challenging conditions. Despite the relatively low elevation, the combination of rough, steep and densely bushclad mountains and frequent severe weather which often produces gale force winds, driving rain and little visibility, the Tararuas provide a true test of tramping ability.
MSC’s Insights Publication A Walk in the Park? provides an in-depth exploration of tramping participation and incidents over the past ten years. Starting on page 42, the publication features a hotspot chapter devoted to the Tararua Ranges, containing insights specifically pertaining to the area.
With 186 people involved in search and rescue over 7 years (2010 – 2017), the Tararua Forest Park was the third highest conservation area for search and rescues, behind Fiordland and Tongariro National Parks. A further 5 fatalities in 10 years (2007 – 2017) makes the park the top spot in the North Island for tramping fatalities.
In March 2019 the MSC, with the support of the Department of Conservation (DOC), established a temporary Issue Specific Advisory Group for the Tararua's. The purpose of the advisory group was to:
DOC supports the MSC establishing an Issue Specific Advisory Group focused on the Tararua’s. We’re looking forward to contributing and working together to implement solutions that will improve visitor safety.
– Kathy Houkamau, Operations Manager Wairarapa – Pou Matarautaki
The Tararua’s are an often-underestimated place to go Tramping that can have significant consequences for unprepared participants. It’s great that MSC are now able to lead this process based on the insights they’ve developed in the last few years. We’re looking forward to being a part of this advisory group process.”
– Sergeant Anthony Harmer, NZ Police
Between June and October 2019 the Advisory Group met on two separate occasions. Following a design-thinking process, utilising incident and participation data, the Advisory Group developed eight proposed prevention solutions.
The proposed prevention solutions are detailed in the following report. Following feedback from a wider Reference Group, and discussions with DOC, some of these solutions have been selected to progress at either a local or national level. A short summary is contained following each proposed solution.