2 Feb 2016

Alternative to Tongariro Crossing mooted

8:25 am on 2 February 2016

The Department of Conservation (DoC) is looking at ways to ease chronic overcrowding on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing - Emerald Lakes

Tongariro Alpine Crossing Photo: 123RF

Staggered transport drop-offs and the development of a rival crossing in Egmont National Park are two of the ideas being explored to alleviate congestion on the track.

Tongariro National Park operations manager Paul Carr said the alpine crossing had become a victim of its own success.

Traffic had grown by 30 percent over the past three years and more than 100,000 people now tackled the 19km walk each year - and, on busy days, up to 2000 people made the trek.

Mr Carr said the crossing was virtually at capacity, and queues for toilets and the steady line of walkers were detracting from the experience.

"I must admit it's not always a pleasant experience. It's not the wilderness experience that people are buying into or that people believe they are going to be doing with the alpine crossing, because you do technically have so many people around you while you're walking away, but it does filter out."

Encouraging transport providers to stagger drop-off times for walkers - who mostly arrived en masse at 7am - could help ease congestion, he said.

He had also been in discussions with his colleagues in Taranaki about developing the Pouakai Crossing as an alternative to the Tongariro Crossing.

"The track itself is absolutely stunning. I mean it definitely could be promoted as a sister crossing to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing for its stunning scenery, its lakes, its tarns, its river. Everything about it is definitely on a par with the alpine crossing, without a doubt."

An alternative in Taranaki?

Across on Mt Taranaki, Top Guides spokesperson Nick Brown agreed the Pouakai Crossing was a superb alternative to the Tongariro Crossing.

"It's just so diverse and it's not like a great easy path to follow. It's a little bit rough and ready, and I guess that's Taranaki to a T, quite wild.

"It's nothing like seven o'clock in the morning on the Tongariro Crossing, where you can't move forward unless someone else moves forward."

Top Guides head guide Nick Brown stops for a photo during the PouaKai Crossing.

Top Guides head guide Nick Brown stops for a photo during the Pouakai Crossing. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The Pouakai Crossing traverses the slopes of Mt Taranaki from North Egmont and negotiates the Ahukawakawa alpine wetland, before climbing the Pouakai Range and descending through the bush to Mangorei Road.

A highlight is the opportunity to witness the mirror-like reflection of Mt Taranaki captured in the tarns, or mountain lakes, on the Pouakai saddle.

At Holly Hut, seasoned Taranaki tramper Chris Thame said he could see the attraction of promoting the Pouakai Crossing but thought the track would need work to be suitable for international tourists.

"Yeah, it definitely needs some work on it. I don't believe they've done any work, done on it this side, for 12 or 15 years. I remember when they put some steps in further up but a lot of those have been washed out.

"Definitely, just this portion from Holly to the Pouakai probably needs a fair bit of attention. The other side is brilliant, going down to Mangorei Road - brilliant."

Ema Jensen and Jenna O'Brien - with Mt Taranaki in the background - on the Pouakai Crossing.

Ema Jensen and Jenna O'Brien - with Mt Taranaki in the background - on the Pouakai Crossing. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

First-time tramper Ema Jensen spoke to RNZ News after watching Mt Taranaki emerge from the evening mist over the tarns on the Pouakai saddle. For her, completing the crossing had been a life-changing experience.

"Oh my God, we ran. We ran here to make sure we could actually capture everything. It's just incredible. Now we've just got to traipse all the way back up again.

"I totally think it's worth it, absolutely, 100 percent, 200 percent. I mean, this is the icing on the cake. This is fantastic."

Ms Jensen and her walking buddy for the day (and cousin), Jenna O'Brien, hoped to return to the park with their children.

DoC regional partnership manager Darryn Ratana said over the next two years it planned to spend $400,000 upgrading the Pouakai Crossing, including re-routing a portion of the track across the Ahukawakawa wetland.

Mr Ratana said there were also plans to create a new track linking the Pouakai Hut to the regional gardens at Pukeiti, on the park's boundary, at a cost of up to $1 million.