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Pop-up parking lots for Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Nearly 150 cars were parked along the Mangatepopo Road over Labour Weekend. Photo: National Park Village

If you’ve been waiting for the next public holiday to tick the Tongariro Alpine Crossing off your bucket list, you might have to take public transportation to get to and from the track.

There are about 65 car parks at Mangatepopo, which were chockablock over Labour Weekend. The National Park Village Facebook page reported that there were about 150 vehicles parked along the Mangatepopo Road on the Sunday afternoon. At the Ketetahi side, there’s space for about 100 cars at the car park and on the roadside. On busy days, those both fill quickly, leading to overflow parking that’s damaging to vegetation.

To address the parking issue, DOC is considering a plan to close Mangatepopo and Ketetahi roads over peak visiting times, instead offering ‘pop-up’ parking lots with up to 400 car parks near the road ends with buses to transport trampers to the trailheads.

DOC’s Tongariro National Park operations manager Paul Carr said the pop-up parking lots would be most useful during busy public holidays, because it’s mostly Kiwis who self-drive. He said roughly 80 per cent of visitors to the park currently take public transportation.

The track is one of New Zealand’s busiest, with 110,000 visitors last year, 75 per cent of which were internationals. The busiest day was over Easter weekend, when 2100 people visited in one day. DOC is expecting 130,000 total visitors this season.

“It’s the only tangible solution we’re looking at for this season,” Carr said, adding that a working group is looking at what the comfortable carrying capacity of the track is, along with viable long-term options for growth management.

“We’re trying to be forward-focused, to come up with a solution that’s not only reactive to the current [transportation] issue, but more to address a 50-year fix. The solution is not constantly investing in pavement, or making roads wider, or making car parks bigger because, as history has shown, the trends change quite a lot.”

Carr said there’s currently high pressure at Ketetahi road end because most people opt to park their cars there and take a bus to the other end at Mangatepopo where they start the walk. In establishing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing’s comfortable carrying capacity, a number of factors are considered. Carr said in addition to the sensitive alpine environment, there are cultural issues to take into account.

“It’s a hugely significant mountain. We have to respect the fact that it is New Zealand’s first national park, the fourth national park in the world, and it was gifted to us from Tuwharetoa.”

In preparation for the coming season, DOC is also installing six new toilets along the track.