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As one of the most accessible of the Great Walks of New Zealand, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is also one of the most popular.
Since the 1990s the numbers on the track have increased tenfold, to around 130,000 annually, with the snake of tourists trekking the alpine trail earning the nickname a “conga line”.
Sam Clarkson, owner of iconic Skotel Alpine Resort, has been a guide on the crossing since the 1990s.
“In the 90s we had the eruptions of 1995-96 and then in 1998 there was this terrible snow year,” he said. “Everybody thought ‘we are going to have to do better than to rely only on the ski area’. A lot of people started to think the Tongariro Crossing is probably quite good to promote in summer.
“I think probably at the same time it came on the radar of Lonely Planet and all those quintessential publications that drove your backpacker market around the world.”
The flood of international tourists meant that on a peak day, up to 2000 people would wind their way across the 20km trail.
With Covid-19 spelling the end of international tourism for some time, it’s providing a rare opportunity for those of us lucky enough to live here.
“The next two summers I think is the opportunity for Kiwis to experience the crossing in a way they’ll probably never get the chance to again.”
Clarkson says there are a variety of stunning walks in the national park ranging from 5 minutes to 5 days and rates the Tongariro Crossing as one of the best in the country.
“The crossing is such an amazing walk. There are so many variances of terrain and so much history and vulcanology and geology. The views are amazing and now you can do it with much less pressure and take your time and enjoy it.”
In settled summer weather, the trail is literally a walk in the park, but in winter it comes with a few more challenges.
“You’re much better to take a guided tour in winter because they’ll fit you out with crampons and look out for avalanche hazard and generally make sure you are a) safe and b) thoroughly enjoy the day.”
Connie Norgate, Department of Conservation operations manager for the Tongariro National Park says if you are planning to walk the crossing next summer, sticking to the tracks is essential.
“Enjoy them but please take out your rubbish, use the toilets and generally respect the place, particularly from a cultural perspective, and prepare yourself.
“Make sure that you do all your homework before you go. There’s a lot of information out there on i-Site, visitor centres and on the DoC website there’s a lot of information. So please prepare yourself. That’s the best advice.”