The number of search and rescue safety-related incidents on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing has more than halved following a peak over the 2016-17 season.
Fifty-six safety-related search and rescue incidents occurred between July 2016 and June 2017, representing nearly 20 per cent of all search and rescue activity for trampers in New Zealand.
Following the introduction of several prevention measures by New Zealand Mountain Safety Council and Department of Conservation, recent analysis shows the number dropped to 38 in 2017-18 and 23 in 2018-19, the Mountain Safety Council says.
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The council's publication A Walk in the Park showed a growing number of safety incidents on the crossing.
To address the problem, the council established an advisory group with the Department of Conservation and hapū Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro, the kaitiaki for the mountain and the surrounding environment.
"The data made it clear that the Tongariro Alpine Crossing needed to be looked at closely and something needed to be done to help reduce the number of people being injured, requiring rescue or dying on the track," the council's chief executive Mike Daisley said today.
The 12-person advisory group included industry experts and academics with backgrounds including tourism, marketing, local business and search and rescue.
There was also representation from mana whenua through Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāti Hikairo.
Topics addressed included the high search and rescue incident rate, the crossing's high-risk potential for severe weather events and the significant number of generally under-prepared users.
"We understand who is getting into trouble and how. We've been able to target our efforts and it's already proving to be effective" Daisley said.
"The reduction in search and rescue events on the crossing is very pleasing - the downward trend signals that the initiatives are a credit to all involved," Taupō Senior Constable Barry Shepherd said.
"For the number to continue going down, trampers need to respect that this is a tough track and not for everyone. It requires a good level of fitness as well as preparation for varying terrain and weather."
The council has published the advisory group's report, which identifies the leading causes of safety issues on the crossing and proposes eleven prevention solutions.
Previous efforts to improve safety on the Tongariro Crossing
• For several years, transport operators have followed a protocol that determines whether they will operate on a particular day due to 'adverse weather' conditions.
• In spring 2017, the Department of Conservation began employing rangers to provide advice to people starting the track and monitor operators who dropped customers off on bad weather days.
• In October 2018, the Mountain Safety Council launched the Tongariro Alpine Crossing video as part of a twelve-part tramping safety video series.
• In December 2018, the council and Department of Conservation placed posters inside all toilets along the track with key safety messages for the upcoming section and advising people how much time it would take for them to complete the walk from that location.
• In spring 2019 the department replaced old signage with new safety signs using the insights and expertise of the advisory group and GNS Science.
"We're encouraged to see these initiatives are making a difference and more people are making it home safely," Connie Norgate, operations manager for the Department of Conservation in Tongariro National Park said.
"The crossing is a very popular and beautiful track, but it requires good preparation, is not well suited for everyone and the conditions can change quickly."
Bubs Smith of Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro said it was "promising to note the reduction in incidents and callouts over the last couple years on Tongariro, especially given the ever-increasing number of visitors trekking the maunga over that same period."
"Alongside experiencing the natural and cultural values of this very special place, we are wanting to ensure visitors safety while on our ancestral maunga."
Following the advisory group report, the department of conservation has continued to employ rangers to interact with people in Mangatepopo Valley.
It is also trialling a bad weather advisory on days when adverse weather protocols are activated.
An automated email is sent to transport operators and signage is deployed at the ends of the track, as well as on the main highways.
The department is working with MetService to add the weather advisory to the MetService Tongariro National Park weather forecast.
Over the coming year, the council will be working to implement further advisory group recommendations.
The years counted run from July to June.
Incidents may involve more than one person; where known, all medical events have been removed (e.g. heart attacks); fatalities have not been included within these counts; these numbers do not include participation rates nor do they reflect a ratio or rate against participation numbers.