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.
“DOC supports the use of an evidenced-based Issue Specific Advisory Group that focuses 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.”
– Bhrent Guy, Operations Manager Tongariro District
“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 have chosen to recruit an Issue Specific Advisory Group which will utilise insights to identify what is causing 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 is 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 Terms of Reference guides the Issue Specific Advisory Group.
The advisory group will only focus on safety issues relating to recreational tramping/hiking on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It will not explore topics related to site congestion and visitor numbers, site access (such as parking and transport), infrastructure, toileting, environmental leave no trace themes or cultural topics unless these are directly relevant to safety issues.
The MSC, with the support of DOC and Ngati Hikairo, will manage the process and facilitate the advisory group. The MSC will collaborate with DOC and Ngati Hikairo to narrow in on the most appropriate interventions/solutions and ensure that they are realistic and appropriate.
Upon completion of the advisory group process, the group will be disbanded, however, the MSC may choose to reconvene the group at a later date to assess the intervention/s against the pre-defined success measures. This process may include a review of the intervention/s to determine their effectiveness and could result in either a continuation, an update or adjustment, an increased rollout or ceasing of the intervention/s.
It is not the role of the group to implement any suggested initiatives, however, individuals within the group may play a role in implementing them because of other affiliations or organisations they work for.
Further insights will be prepared for the advisory group for their use during this process. This may include other evidence or research available through third-party sources and supplied by the MSC. In the meantime, interested parties are encouraged to read A Walk in the Park? available from the MSC website.
For more information please contact Bevan Smith, Partnerships Advisor