A battle is brewing between Tongariro Alpine Crossing shuttle operators over fears some of them are taking hikers up in bad weather.

The Department of Conservation said it was aware of cases where shuttle operators had been dropping people off in poor weather.

Wilderness magazine reported 15 people had to be rescued over summer and six more during the Easter weekend.

And a number of shuttle operators have called foul on competitors going up on days deemed unsafe.

The weather protocols shuttle operators use to decide if a journey is unsafe.
The weather protocols shuttle operators use to decide if a journey is unsafe.

The most experienced operator in the area and the chairman of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing Transport and Guides' group (TACTAG) is Jared Thomas.

He's the owner and operator of Tongariro Expeditions.

"I think at the moment there's around 53 concessionaires ... the same one or two muck it up for everybody else," he said.

Concessionaires are shuttle operators and walking guides that have permission to commercially transport visitors to and from the crossing.

"If we sent a bunch of buses down there and it was even forecasting to be a nice day and we get there and it's absolutely terrible, we'd say sorry, we're coming back.

"If you're a commercial operator .... and you actually take people to the mountain, you get there and it's actually s**t and let them go; that's a different story.

"How would you feel as a client that's been dropped off, not knowing the environment, and a transport operator just says 'yup sweet as, we'll drop you off'?

"This whole issue boils down to that one point: if you drop them off in bad weather, that's a problem."


Thomas wanted safety guidelines built into the concession documents so careless operators would be blacklisted and denied concessions.

At the moment there are a set of weather triggers agreed upon by the various operators.

But, as the owner of Tongariro Crossing Shuttles, Andrea Messenger, outlined, the "weather protocols" as they are known, are not hard and fast rules.

"The protocol just doesn't cover the right criteria to manage a safe hike and a safe plan.

"That protocol is too broad."

Messenger preferred companies like hers decide on the day if it is safe enough to drop people off.

"There is no black and white answer to when people should be dropping hikers off on good or bad weather days.

"Everyone's got an idea of what a cold day is, what a wet day is and what their hikers are like."

Messenger said unless it was in the news, her company was unaware of cases where hikers had to be rescued.

Colin Baker runs one of the smaller shuttle operators, Ruapehu Scenic Shuttles.

He said operators and guides met last week with DoC to discuss the weather protocols.

"It was touched upon about running in those [difficult] conditions. Basically DoC cannot regulate to stop us going up to the crossing.

"So it needs to be self-regulated within the industry. Unfortunately some members of the industry are not playing by the rules.

"I've actually had people say to me they've gone with other operators when I haven't been running ... on days there's been unfavourable conditions."

DoC's operations manager for the Tongariro area, Bhrent Guy, said there were no plans to put more rules in place and it was up to the concessionaires to make better decisions.

But he did say the department was considering a live weather station on Tongariro to help operators decide to take hikers to the crossing or not.

A number of operators discounted that idea, saying there was already a station there that was unreliable because it would freeze and give false information.