Tourists and others wanting to tramp the Tongariro Alpine Crossing should read the following letter from an Australian tourist. TRM have posted warnings about NZ’s most popular one day walk for many years as the physical difficulties and reliance on good weather are too often under stated in promotional material. But in this case the tourist had done her homework but was not prepared for the lack of cell phone coverage at the finish. We suggest this is an accident waiting to happen…
Taupo & Turangi Weekender article: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/rotorua-daily-post/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503438&objectid=11896303
To Whom It May Concern
In Late November, 2018, I, and another family member, was fortunate to be able to take a holiday to North Island, New Zealand. One of the activities we chose to complete while there was the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is listed as an intermediate walk in New Zealand government documents and although a distance of 19.4 km is usually completed in 7-8 hours.
The day we walked was Friday 23rd November 2018. It was a perfect day, clear skies, no rain and many, many others also completing the walk that day, estimate of over 2000. We chose to stay at Turangi and catch a shuttle bus to the starting point of the walk. The bus picked us up at 6am and we were on the trail by a little after 7am. There were no dramas on the ascent and apart from having to allow other walkers to pass or wait for a space to re-join the trail, if we stopped to rest, we were easily able to be at the various points as suggested for time management.
Once up by the Red Crater we had our lunch stop then proceeded to descend. I believe descent of the crater in the slippery scree may have been when I first noticed my ankle become painful. This pain increased as the descent continued and by the time we got to the Ketetahi Shelter at 2.30pm, I had to bandage it to help me continue walking.
At this point we tried to make contact with the shuttle bus company to inform them we were going to be slow getting back. However the Global sim in my mobile phone was not cooperative and service was not sufficient for a call to be made. At this stage we knew we would not make it back to the carpark on time to catch the last bus at 4pm. (Our motel hosts had indicated that they would be able to arrange pick up if this late finish occurred so we were not too concerned.)
However as we slowly made our way the last 6 kms and finally at the carpark at 6pm, we did not manage to find mobile phone service for us to make contact with anyone. Tired and sore we asked the last few people there if anyone was going to Turangi. None of the other bus companies were, but some young students with a camper van were agreeable to give us a lift.
Once back at the motel we found out that the shuttle service had tried to contact us but as there was no mobile phone service, they could not. They had alerted the motel owners and that was all the follow up we had. We were able to use a land line to try to ring the shuttle company, but at that time of day they had an answering service that did not allow messages to be left.
My concern is that if we had not been able to continue to find our way back to the motel, what were the consequences likely to be?
As this is such a popular and highly advertised walk, there should be more safety nets in place. There were approximately 2000+ people completing the walk that day, the majority being tourists. I was surprised to see such a volume of people participating in this activity. As tourists, it cannot be certain that they have reliable phone service in a foreign country, we certainly did not.
I believe there should have been Parks personnel on duty at strategic points such as the Ketetahi Shelter and at the carparks, with phone access to allow for people to report in if they needed to. And these personnel should be on duty until late in the day, as there were still people ascending from the Ketetahi road end as we were descending in late afternoon.
There should also be a pay phone with a freecall number to appropriate authorities clearly visible, or reliable mobile phone service at the Ketetahi Shelter and/or the carparks to allow people to make contact with the shuttle companies that have left them behind, or with a base contact to give assistance if necessary.
If the New Zealand tourist industry wants to continue to have the Tongariro Alpine Crossing listed as a day walk, there needs to be improvements made for safety for the thousands who choose this walk. Changes in weather, minor or major injuries, lack of preparedness are daily occurrences. We were thankful that my minor injury did not stop us from completing the walk, but frustrated that the end of the walk did not offer any services to assist us to leave the park. All we wanted was mobile phone service and/or someone who could offer assistance.
After sending her the newspaper articles she commented further:
Hi Ross and Pip
Thanks for the newspaper report. My letter has created quite a stir and maybe more thought and comment to come. Tongariro Alpine Crossing is certainly not for the unprepared. Making it sound easy may result in more like the unfortunate man who lost his life on the mountain last October.
I can certainly see two sides to the argument.
-We could have had a personal locator beacon with us, and we do carry one for the remote areas of our region. We also know phone service is pretty non existent in many parts of our ‘bush’. But we were lead to believe NZ has good service with coverage along many parts of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
-We could have asked someone for assistance when we thought it was needed, oh hang on we did.
-I liked the comment from Colin Baker that a list of contact numbers could be displayed on a notice board at the carpark.
-We would have taken our car closer but all info we found was that parking was restricted to 4 hours so the shuttle bus was more or less mandatory. We knew we were going to take longer than 4 hours, we weren’t planning to run and not take in the scenery.
-So they want people to use the shuttle buses, just allow for some back up for the ones who want to or need to take the full day.
-It seems odd that the last shuttle was so early for that company when there were other buses still operating at 6pm. Unfortunately for us, they were all returning to Taupo via the west side of the lake.
-Yes it is a remote trek requiring self reliability but when it becomes so popular and crowded, perhaps there should be a rethink of having personnel on duty somewhere near the end. (If they use the excuse that it is too dangerous because there was an eruption there 6 years ago, why are they letting anyone near the mountain.)
-Great walk, beautiful scenery, fantastic experience. It appealed to me because it could be completed in one day.