Tongariro National Park is at the top of the list for tramping-related search and rescue incidents on all public conservation land in New Zealand, and one in every five search and rescue callouts on a Saturday in New Zealand is to the Central North Island, a study has shown.

The study by the Mountain Safety Council has shown the Central North Island is disproportionately represented when it comes to search and rescue missions across New Zealand.

A Walk in the Park?, which was released in July, analyses tramping trips, fatalities and injuries during those trips, and search and rescue missions.

Read more: Decision on air rescue tenders due soon


As part of that it lists tramping hotspots, including the Central North Island.

The report's data shows 14 per cent of all New Zealand's search and rescue incidents for trampers are in the Tongariro National Park, and 22 per cent of all New Zealand's Saturday search and rescue callouts are to the park.

The report states that in 2016/17 there were 141,000 walkers on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and numbers are continuing to rise.

In the last seven years 294 trampers have been rescued from the crossing.

Between 2010/11 and 2016/17 there was a 168 per cent increase in search and rescue incidents for trampers in the Central North Island.

"In comparison, all other hotspot areas are relatively stable or decreasing."

Many of the incidents occurred around the Red Crater and Mt Ngauruhoe summit areas, where people often got lost or injured, or in the area between Ketetahi Shelter and Ketetahi Carpark, where people who found the track harder than expected or hadn't allowed enough time, needed help to get off the mountain.

Tongariro National Park. Photo / Bevan Conley
Tongariro National Park. Photo / Bevan Conley

Nationally, the main causes of tramping fatalities were falling, drowning and hypothermia and the report shows the Central North Island has the highest number of search and rescues for people who have fallen.


The high number of search and rescue callouts, many of which are currently performed under the umbrella of either the New Zealand Police or the New Zealand Rescue Co-ordination Centres and use volunteers from Land Search and Rescue, Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation and/or St John almost always use Taupō's Greenlea rescue helicopter for help with transport, searching or both.

If and even how that function would continue to operate is up in the air at present while the Ministry of Health's National Ambulance Sector Office reviews tenders for rescue helicopter bases across New Zealand. NASO's request for proposal was silent on whether rescue helicopters would continue to be available to be used in search and rescue operations.

Last year Taupō's Greenlea rescue helicopter flew more than 250 missions. But given its proximity to the Tongariro National Park and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, skifields and forest parks, the helicopter also spent a large amount of time searching for and rescuing lost or injured hunters, trampers and skiers. At least 37 of its missions last year were search and rescues, but the actual number is likely to be higher as any rescues involving injured people are classified as accident callouts.