DOC says an investigation into restricting the number of walkers on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (TAC) has been put on hold after visitor numbers plummeted due to Covid-19.
In January, DOC said it was considering restricting the number of people who could enter Tongariro National Park during peak times as a way to manage one of the most popular tracks in the country. At the time, Conservation Minister Kiri Allan said the department wanted to make sure park facilities weren’t overwhelmed and it was looking at trialling a cap on numbers.
However, Tongariro operations manager Connie Norgate has now confirmed the work has been put on hold.
“The impact of Covid-19 has seen significantly reduced visitation to Tongariro National Park which has helped maintain an excellent standard of visitor experience and reduce impacts which our iwi partners have been asking for,” Norgate said. “Because of this, there has been no further work done on investigating what limits may be appropriate and how they may be affected.”
The number of walkers on the TAC dropped by 72 per cent over summer, while trampers on the Tongariro Northern Circuit dropped 26 per cent and visitors to the Tongariro visitor centre dropped 69 per cent.
Plans to trial restricting visitors to the national park would have proved controversial, with public access to national parks enshrined in law. However, the National Parks Act does allow for access to be restricted “for the preservation of the native plants and animals or for the welfare in general of the parks”.
Norgate said restricting public access could be imposed under the existing law.
“Applying restrictions is provided for within the Tongariro National Park Management Plan and would most likely only apply to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which has been our most significant pressure point,” Norgate said. “At this stage, however, that is still some way down the track.”
DOC has taken a more active approach to managing the trail in recent years, after complaints of toilet paper littering the track and queues forming at bottlenecks. DOC put in parking restrictions in 2017 and later that year said it was investigating charging trampers a fee on the crossing.