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July 2022 Issue
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Tongariro Alpine Crossing visitor limit ‘not a cure-all’

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is less crowded in winter and walker numbers may be capped in summer. Photo: Derek Barrett

A Tongariro Alpine Crossing shuttle operator is worried a cap on visitor numbers won’t in itself alleviate congestion on the popular day walk.

Colin Baker of Ruapehu Scenic Shuttles has met with DOC and other tourism operators to discuss overcrowding on the crossing.

He said most operators at the meeting were in favour of a visitor limit.

“I’m happy for a cap to be put in place, but it needs to be properly thought out,” he said.

Baker wants the morning rush hour on Mangatepopo Road to be addressed. That’s where most people start the 19km walk.

He suggested limiting road access to 25 people – one bus or two vans – every 15 minutes in the peak summer season.

DOC’s Damian Coutts said steps were being taken to prevent overcrowding, but no decisions had been made about trialling a visitor limit on the crossing.

“Numerous reports and studies over the past two decades have questioned the environmental, cultural and social sustainability of the walk when there are too many people – some days have seen in excess of 2500 on the crossing,” Coutts said. “We are looking at a range of daily maximum visitor numbers. Ngāti Hikairo [hau kāinga or home people of the Tongariro area] has suggested 800.”

Baker said protecting the environment was more important than his bottom line  but 800 was too low.

He thinks 1000 visitors would be the optimum number on a normal day and up to 1500 in busier holiday periods.