The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a challenging day hike that travels 19.4km right through an area of active volcanoes. Although beautiful, it can be dangerous if you are not fully prepared to enter an alpine environment. Extreme weather, terrain and the long distance have resulted in this track having the highest number of search and rescues in New Zealand.
The crossing is part of Tongariro National Park, which is managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC). It is also home to Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro, the local hapū of the area who are the Kaitiaki (guardians) for the mountain and the surrounding area.
The Mountain Safety Council (MSC) and its partners have identified the Tongariro Alpine Crossing as being one of the leading hotspots for tramping incidents. With 292 people involved in search and rescues over 7 years it is the most of any walking track in New Zealand. In the 2016-17 summer, nearly 20% of all search and rescue for trampers in New Zealand was on the crossing.
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 32, a hotspot chapter devoted to the Central North Island contains insights specifically pertaining to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
– Bhrent Guy, Operations Manager Tongariro District
DOC supports the use of an evidenced-based Issue Specific Advisory Group that focusses on addressing the safety issues unique to the New Zealand outdoors. DOC will be working closely with the MSC as they lead this independent process and we’re looking forward to collaborating on the solutions that will improve visitor safety in our parks and recreation areas.
As kaitiaki (guardians) of our ancestral lands, part of that role is to ensure the safety of manuhiri (visitors) whilst within Tongariro National Park and the surrounds. Ngāti Hikairo welcomes MSC and are looking forward to the collaborative work to address the adequate preparation of visitors before entering this often harsh environment. We want to ensure manuhiri leave this place safely with lasting memories.– Bubs Smith — Ngāti Hikairo
As a long-time member of a SAR Co-ordinating Authority in this country and a rescue helicopter crew that has picked up many injured hikers off the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, I welcome this truly prevention focused initiative. I fully support the implementation of an independent expert advisory group led by the Mountain Safety Council. The ability to approach this complex issue through an evidence-based lens and then develop targeted solutions will provide a much better opportunity for addressing the rising number of SAR incidents.– Senior Constable Barry Shepherd, NZ Police
The Mountain Safety Council and its partners chose to recruit an Issue Specific Advisory Group which utilised insights to identify what caused people to experience safety issues and to use their expertise to develop specific targeted interventions that aim to reduce the number of safety incidents on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Broadly speaking, the aim of this process was to achieve a reduction in the rate of people requiring search and rescue. Specific success measures will be defined for each intervention prior to implementation.
The advisory group has published a report which outlines the key issues which are causing incidents on the track and the eleven solutions which it proposes should be implemented.
MSC, DOC and Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro met in November 2019 to discuss the proposed solutions within this report. The parties mutually agreed there is an intention to progress these ideas towards implementation.
During this meeting each proposed solution was discussed in detail and an action plan developed to identify which party would lead the collaborative work. It was agreed that all eleven proposed solutions have merit; however, due to a range of factors, not all were suitable for implementation immediately and a phased approach would be required to progress them.
Several of the proposed solutions have already been implemented by DOC. While not exactly as this report outlines, these interventions are similar to what was proposed. All parties agree that these interventions need time to progress and have their impact monitored before any decisions on further refinements are made.
Three of the proposed solutions were agreed to in principle but will not progress at this time. This is due to the impending Treaty settlement process and the need for changes to be made to the Tongariro National Park Management Plan and management policies.
MSC will take responsibility for leading the work on all other proposed solutions.
For more information please contact Bevan Smith, Partnerships Advisor