Traffic woes facing tourists attempting Tongariro Crossing during popular holiday season

Vehicles were banked up for 2km along  Mangatepopo Rd during Labour Weekend. Photo / National Park Village
Vehicles were banked up for 2km along Mangatepopo Rd during Labour Weekend. Photo / National Park Village

One of New Zealand's most popular pristine wilderness excursions is looking at turning roads into makeshift parking lots to counter nightmare traffic woes.

Hundreds of vehicles line the narrow gravel roads leading to the internationally acclaimed Tongariro Crossing in the central North Island during peak holiday times as carparks fail to cope with the enormous demand of daytrippers.

It's now so bad the Department of Conservation (DoC) is considering temporarily closing the Mangatepopo and Ketetahi Rds to all private vehicles and turning them into pop-up parking lots.

Visitors wanting to walk the Tongariro Crossing at peak times of the year would need to be ferried by shuttles to the start of tracks.

During the recent public holiday some 150 vehicles that missed out on a carpark at the start of the track lined the Mangatepopo Rd for 2km on the Sunday of Labour Weekend.

Chair of the National Park Village business association Murray Wilson said while the situation was "in a state of flux" it was being talked about at all levels.

"It's becoming an issue of national concern.

"It's just monstrous congestion at busy times and almost daily through the height of summer.

"We've been talking with DoC but it's all in a state of flux."

He said the carpark situation had not kept pace with the phenomenal growth of international visitors to the area desperate to fulfil bucket lists and walk the crossing.

Wilson said the existing carparks quickly filled with the 600 to 1000 people coming into the National Park every day from January through to March. Last Easter 1800 visitors descended on to the Tongariro Crossing on one day alone.

There are approximately 65 carparks at the end of the Mangatepopo Rd and 100 parks at the end of Ketetahi Rd.

Tourists look towards Blue Lake, the half way point on the Tongariro Crossing. Photo / Greg Bowker
Tourists look towards Blue Lake, the half way point on the Tongariro Crossing. Photo / Greg Bowker

He said the idea was to close the roads leading to the start of the tracks to private vehicles and have them open to buses and guiding services.

This was being met with some trepidation by the National Park business community who were concerned tourists would bypass local tourist services and miss on business altogether.

"The local businesses are not so keen on carparks out in the country side," he said.

Tongariro Alpine Transport and Guiding Group spokesman Terry Blumhardt said while it was largely a seasonal problem much of the problem centred on people insisting on parking as close to the start of the track as possible.

"If people had the mantra that I'm going to do everything I can to not park my vehicle inside the National Park we would have the carparking solution quite quickly and easily regardless whether these are New Zealanders or overseas visitors.

"One of the solutions is to simply park in the outlying towns and taking a transport shuttle to get there."

Blumhardt, who owns Tongariro Guided Walks, said he was having "quite frank discussions" as part of a consultation group that included DoC to find a sustainable answer to the problem.

He said there were already numerous shuttle options visitors to the area could use.

"That side of things we don't need to invent but a lot of times people just simply don't want to spend the money on people who are running a commercial business."

He said at the moment queues of badly parked cars were back up 2km along the affected road and this was causing enormous frustration for people seeking a memorable wilderness experience.

DoC was approached for comment.

- NZ Herald

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