Part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing reopened this morning almost a month after Mt Tongariro erupted.
Just under half of the track, from Mangatepopo Valley to Red Crater has been opened, but the rest remains closed because of the risk of ongoing volcanic activity.
The mountain is still steaming, with ash and sulphur visible around the vents, and the Department of Conservation (DoC) says it cannot send workers in to repair sections of the track damaged by the August 6 eruption until the risk level is reduced.
It hopes the full track, New Zealand's most popular tramp, will reopen by summer.
Local hapu Ngati Hikairo ki Tongariro blessed the track this morning at the Mangatepopo carpark and iwi representatives were helicoptered to the summit of Red Crater where they placed a rahui, or protective restriction on the remainder of the track from Red Crater to Ketetahi. The rahui is intended to respect the mana of the mountain and ensure the safety and protection of all people entering the region.
Local tourism operators report they are already receiving enquiries about walking the reopened section of track, with Tongariro Expeditions owner Jared Thomas saying they had had several calls from people to book guided tours of the Crossing.
The temporary closure of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing also had the effect of restarting talks between Ngati Hikairo ki Tongariro and DoC on the best way to manage the track, and the estimated 60,000 visitors it attracts each year.
They have come to an arrangement where volunteers from Ngati Hikairo will be at the Mangatepopo end of the track to offer manaakitanga, or hospitality, to the trampers as well as cultural and safety advice.