Minister explores options for Tongariro crossing

Press Release – New Zealand Government

Options to re-open the full Tongariro Alpine Crossing for next summer are being explored by Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith, GNS Science, DOC staff, iwi, Taupo MP Louise Upston and representatives of the local tourism industry.Hon Dr Nick Smith

Minister of Conservation

31 March 2013

Media Statement       

Minister explores options for Tongariro crossing

Options to re-open the full Tongariro Alpine Crossing for next summer after last year’s eruptions are being explored by Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith, GNS Science, DOC staff, iwi, Taupo MP Louise Upston and representatives of the local tourism industry, during a visit over the weekend.

“The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is New Zealand’s most popular Great Walk, attracting over 70,000 trampers and bringing an economic benefit to the Taupō region of more than $100 million each year. We need to explore all the options on how it might be possible to re-open the full crossing for the next season while responsibly managing public safety,” Dr Smith says.

Tongariro erupted last August and again in November resulting in extensive damage to the Ketetahi Hut and sections of the track. It was possible in December to re-open a section of the track from the Mangatepopo end but an exclusion area around the Te Maari craters means trampers cannot complete the crossing and need to do a return trip.

“The re-opening of the full track is a difficult decision because there is always some risk in an active volcanic area and a 100 per cent safety guarantee has never and will never be possible. The dangers to trampers in an eruption event like what occurred last year are the raining down of large boulders and pyroclastic ash cloud flows that travel at immense speeds incinerating and poisoning everything in their path.

“Options to reduce risks include improved monitoring of seismic activity and gas levels so that warning systems can be quickly activated to get people off the mountain if activity levels increase. This is not fool-proof as eruptions can occur without any warning.

“Further options are being explored including the possibility of re-routing or developing sections of track away from the high risk area. This would take time, be of considerable expense and may prove to be a waste if the risk levels naturally subside or if the volcanic activity shifts to a different part of the mountain.  Decisions on the way forward will be made on the best scientific advice available, with public safety being the priority.

“There are also practical problems at the Mangatepopo end of the crossing with so many trampers now having to return via the same route. I am exploring with the Department what extra facilities may be needed in respect of toilets, shelters and car parks to better accommodate the change in visitors’ use.

“Final decisions on which options to proceed with need to be made by the middle of the year so we can meet the demand when the 2013/14 summer season arrives and ensure the preservation of this significant cultural and spiritual icon of local iwi.”

ENDS

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